The first weekend of NHL Free Agency was not kind to the Pittsburgh Penguins. None of the Penguins free agents have thus far re-signed and the dynamics inside the Penguins locker room are about to undergo a large change. Several stalwarts who were large pieces of the instrumental team chemistry are gone, and with their departures, they have taken part of the Penguins heart.
The Penguins were able to repeat as Stanley Cup champions because of guts and heart. Unlike a year ago, the 2017 version did not ride a wave of momentum and were not superior to their opponents. This team had to scrap and fight their way past playoff opponents.
Now, The 2017-18 Penguins will have to rebuild and discover new dynamics, as they quest for a coveted 3-Peat.
Gone is stalwart Chris Kunitz, who played 569 games for the Penguins and won three Stanley Cups. Kunitz was one of Sidney Crosby‘s closest friends and a team leader. Kunitz flanked Crosby for years, earned a trip to the 2014 Olympics, and scored 169 goals in the process. He was often the most physical forward on the roster. He is now with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Trevor Daley quickly became a large piece of the locker room immediately upon being acquired from Chicago for Rob Scuderi. Daley’s speed on the blueline, as well as his personality quickly became prominent parts of the Penguins. Daley was such a large part of team chemistry that he was the first person to receive the Stanley Cup from Sidney Crosby in 2016. Daley’s mother was terminally ill and the gesture underscored his place in the team hierarchy.
Blood and guts center Nick Bonino hobbled to Nashville for a healthy payday.
The man they call “Dad”, Matt Cullen, is currently sitting at home deciding if he has indeed played his final hockey game. Cullen’s veteran leadership was a voice of accountability to all. Head coach Mike Sullivan, on numerous occasions, referred to Cullen as an extension of the coaching staff.
Marc-Andre Fleury, who was part of the Penguins beating heart, is teaching street hockey clinics in Las Vegas. Thousands of words have been written and spoken about his importance to the team. Fleury is now the face of the Vegas Golden Knights.
For the first time since trading Jordan Staal in 2012, the Penguins are choosing to replace core players. The 2017 Penguins were fortunate–nearly all of their core players returned. The roster remained intact and the 2016 Stanley Cup dynamic remained.
Sidney Crosby’s workplace has changed. A few of his closest friends in the locker room are gone; the guys who had his back when he was frustrated with former head coach Mike Johnston. The guys who helped keep the locker room together when the undercurrent was tearing at them are playing elsewhere. Key supporting players of a team who achieved something no team has in the salary cap era are gone.
Now, the Penguins are searching for players to fill the voids on the ice left by the players who received large free agent paydays. And the locker room will have voids for new players to fill, too.
The biggest challenge to the new players signed and not yet acquired–To replace part of the Penguins giant, indomitable heart.