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Murray, Johnson and Change: 5 Predictions for Penguins Offseason

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Nick Bjugstad, Matt Murray, Jack Johnson, Pittsburgh Penguins

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.

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Pittsburgh Hockey Now Editor-in-Chief, formerly 93.7 The Fan, Sportsnet Hockey Tonight, NHL Home Ice. Catch Dan tweeting @theDanKingerski and the official @pghhockeynow account.

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mstar80
mstar80
11 months ago

So if this is all true, don’t look for much more than a first round playoff loss or possibly missing the playoffs.

Frank
Frank
11 months ago

I am not sure what to think about the value on Murray. I am also not absolutely sure about what a team signing him as an RFA must provide as draft pick compensation. I have no doubt there will be interest. I also think he is something of a dice roll. He is probably the youngest of the goalies that could move and the only one at that age with two Cups in hand. Plus I do not think he will command what Holtby or Lehner or others will command in salary. I am fairly confident his days here are… Read more »

Katz
Katz
11 months ago

I agree,and it is Groundhog Day. I for one will be very cynical and be watching how long Rutherford and Sullivan can remain while this team both atrophies and continues to pretend they are either fast or a contender.

They are neither. They may in reality be a sad collection of vastly overpaid and contract hamstrung pretenders. I see absolutely no reason for any excitement. And as long as the pretending and sizzle with no steak continue, the fan bases cynicism will grow.

Hatrick Pornqvist
Hatrick Pornqvist
11 months ago
Reply to  Katz

I agree that trying to build a pure speed team around our stars is not going to happen. 2016 was a long time ago and other coaches have long since figured out how to neutralize it. What’s not really ever mentioned is that we already have a blueprint of how to be successful with this team from the last two seasons. Injuries forced us to simplify our game and start concentrating on a two way game heavy on checking and youthful energy. We have to rethink what we do around an aging core. A bit less Ferarri and a little… Read more »

Hatrick Pornqvist
Hatrick Pornqvist
11 months ago

Sorry about the length, but I have a lot to say on the things Dan mentions above. As one of JJ’s few defenders online I’m going to take this opportunity to fire back at the mob. But first the other two guys. When it comes to Murray, he’s gone. And it’s the right move anyways. It’s not so much about Murray (even though he has struggled for a while), but really it’s all about the fact that it would allow us to sign Jarry. You can see just how crazy his potential is. Lock him up for as long as… Read more »

Katz
Katz
11 months ago

Johnson is not the most serious issue. He is an overpaid 3rd pairing D-man. The problem is his Contract. That’s not Johnson’s. Why he was acquired for the mismatched amount of money and length per talent? Was Rutherford lobbied by a friend of Johnson, and could this be factor involved in many poor acquisitions?

IDK,but while Rutherford has made some great decisions,and Johnson was a great Coach, time has altered my perception of both.And given the public statements of both I lack confidence they can right this sinking ship.

Katz
Katz
11 months ago
Reply to  Katz

should read… ‘Thats not ‘Johnson’s fault’

Hatrick Pornqvist
Hatrick Pornqvist
11 months ago
Reply to  Katz

I’m not a huge fan of his contract either. If it were two years less, and maybe 2.5 million I’d think that was fair but you generally don’t get a veteran D man of his age for that so I get it. I think Rutherford’s thinking, which applies to the Tanev contract, was that he hoped the player could fill a bit of a bigger role and that in the long run the deal would end up being really smart. If say Marino/Johnson were the second pairing and they played well, nobody would bat an eyelash at the salary. So… Read more »

Rich Filardi
Rich Filardi
11 months ago

Well, if this is true, expect this team to be a bubble playoff team and probably 1 round. I know you support Johnson, but to be honest he is not good and 3 mill for a 5-6 is not a good financial deal. Especially when you figuring out ways to sign your rfa’s – this is indeed a problem.

Ro b AZ l d Kuhn
Ro b AZ l d Kuhn
11 months ago

K tt hink missing llahoffs next year, too old and slow. Watch Flyers and Isles to see what speed means in to days NHL.

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