The Pittsburgh Penguins are now two weeks into their offseason. The dust should be settled and the emotions faded as the Penguins look for assistant coaches and opportunities for the Penguins trades to affect the change that GM Jim Rutherford seeks. The NHL playoffs will conclude in about seven weeks and the most truncated offseason in NHL history will begin.
This fall, there will be less than six weeks between the free agent frenzy and the start of training camp. We don’t yet know the dates for the first days for the start of free agency, but the madness will begin seven days after the Stanley Cup presentation. The NHL wedged the draft into that week, too.
The draft is tentatively scheduled for Oct. 9-10, but if the Stanley Cup is awarded on the last possible day (Oct. 2), we could have a collision of free agency and draft trades madness.
When the offseason activity begins it could be like riding the Thunderbolt…without a seatbelt.
Pittsburgh Penguins Offseason Predictions
1. Matt Murray will not fetch what the Penguins hope
Three years ago, NHL GMs were falling over themselves to pry Murray from the Penguins. Oh, the King’s ransom was available. Three years, numerous injuries, slumps, and softies later, its the wrong summer to get a big return in a Penguins trade.
There are a growing number of teams that want to address goaltending. That’s good news. However, there is an equally growing number of starting goalies on the market. Braden Holtby, Robin Lehner/Marc-Andre Fleury, Jacob Markstrom, are just a few. There is some wonder if Tuukka Rask, Henrik Lundqvist, and even Freddie Andersen will move.
Somewhere in that mess, Murray fits. Is he the big, quiet, and steady backstop? Or is he the iffy goalie who had more downs than ups without playoff success in the last two seasons?
The Penguins’ opportunity to use Murray as an asset to move an unwanted contract may come back around, but it looks less than likely at the current moment.
Minnesota, Edmonton, New Jersey, Toronto, Carolina, Detroit, Calgary, and even Ottawa could be on the goalie hunt. Colorado is still TBD.
If Rutherford gets more than a second-round pick, call him a winner.
2. Penguins will non-tender Dominik Simon, but sign him anyway
In front of an arbitrator, Simon could net well over $1 million, perhaps closer $2 million. He scored only 22 points (7g, 15a), but played first-line minutes and any agent worth his salt would hammer that fact.
The Penguins simply can’t afford Simon to soak too much cap money, but Simon has real value. He consistently raises the offensive output of his linemates, even though he somehow is absent on the score sheet.
He’s worth $1 million to the Penguins because he can play a fourth-line role, he can plug-in on the top line when circumstances dictate, and there’s always the chance that one day soon he will not drive you nuts with glorious chances which nestle neatly into the goalie’s crest.
3. Jack Johnson will be back
In perhaps one of the great twists of the Jack Johnson saga, the intense attacks, wailing, and gnashing of the teeth may keep Johnson around longer. Seriously, if you blame Johnson for the playoff failure, you absolutely must read and absorb the goal breakdowns.
However, based on comments to The Athletic, Jim Rutherford has also dug in his heels on the matter, too. Understand, it’s not about Jim Rutherford or his ego to defend a signing. He’s defending his player who is the scapegoat for everything, large and small, simply by being present.
Rutherford won’t let Johnson be railroaded out of town.
It’s also not a coincidence that Johnson’s value and play immediately rose when he played with Marcus Pettersson in 2018-19, and when he played with John Marino in 2019-20. A complementary defenseman did wonders.
Though Mike Sullivan would be wise to never, ever, ever again pair Kris Letang and Jack Johnson. That may have been the worst of both.
4. The Penguins will not go through wholesale changes
Wholesale changes are big, they’re scary, and they often don’t work. And, sometimes they are necessary.
However, Rutherford will not put the Pittsburgh Penguins through the wash and jettison a multitude of players because he still has hope. The Penguins still believe with a tweak, or two, with a spark, they’ll be back fighting for the Stanley Cup.
To paraphrase Shawshank redemption, “hope is a dangerous thing in here.”
5. The third-line center will define the Penguins offseason
The Penguins are handcuffed by Nick Bjugstad. He had spinal surgery during the pandemic and isn’t a lock to be ready for the next season. He makes $4.1 million, so he takes a mighty chunk of change, too.
The Penguins need a third-line center to add some energy and life into a sagging lineup. They need defensive zone faceoff wins, defensive prowess, and more than a bit of offense, too. Defacto third-line center Jared McCann isn’t really that guy.
So, if the Penguins cannot trade Bjugstad, they will have a full boat and must sacrifice an asset to clear cap space to make real changes.
An industry source in Florida relayed that Bjugstad hasn’t been the same player since concussions sidetracked him a few years ago. Bjugstad has talent, size, and the ability to chip in 40 points from the middle. But Bjugstad isn’t the energy or youth the Penguins need.
So, Bjugstad is the fulcrum on which several changes hinge. The bet here is the Pittsburgh Penguins get stuck with Bjugstad unless Rutherford is willing to veer towards those wholesale changes.