From Patric Hornqvist to Nick Bjugstad, Matt Murray, and (trigger warning) Jack Johnson, this season the Pittsburgh Penguins shuffled the ancillary players around their Big Three core, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang. In most cases, financial motives drove the Penguins roster moves, but former GM Jim Rutherford also wanted to get younger and faster.
Exit Hornqvist. Enter Mike Matheson. Exit Nick Bjugstad, exit $2 million, enter $2 million savings.
Conor Sheary walked via free agency, as did Justin Schultz. Both landed with the Washington Capitals.
Interestingly, in the Penguins trade for Matheson, or trade of Hornqvist, the Penguins took on more salary ($6 million) than they traded ($5.5 million). After this season, when throw-in Colton Sceviour’s contract expires, the financial table will tilt towards the Penguins because Matheson makes only $4.8 million.
For five more years.
Perhaps it was the kick in the pants, the motivation to prove the Penguins wrong, or simply a Penguins mistake, the now-former Pittsburgh Penguins are tearing up the NHL.
Patric Hornqvist: Proving a Point
Hornqvist has been a demon for the Florida Panthers. The indomitable Viking has seven points, including five goals in just six games.
Hornqvist was not a happy camper after the trade and expressed his feelings in his first post-trade press conference. “Pittsburgh didn’t want me,” he said.
The local Fox Sports is finding out what Florida acquired:
Patric Hornqvist's SOOOO DISRUPTIVE when he camps out in front of that net! ⛺
— FOX Sports Florida & Sun (@FOXSportsFL) January 31, 2021
Justin Schultz: Proving a Point
Schultz was another player whose time had probably come to an end in Pittsburgh. Washington, which has historically been a home for wayward Pittsburgh Penguins free agent defensemen, snapped him up. Schultz was thrust onto the Washington second pairing, and the results have been good. Very good.
In eight games, Schultz has six points, including three straight two-assist games. Schultz also has three power-play assists in his last three games.
Update: Schultz is currently out of the lineup for a second consecutive game after taking a puck to the face last week.
Conor Sheary: Wait and See
Sheary was gifted top-line duty upon his return from Buffalo, where he toiled for one-and-a-half seasons after the Penguins signed him to a three-year, $9 million deal but traded him one season later.
The second time around, he didn’t do much in a Penguins sweater, though his statistics were surprisingly good. Sheary scored four points (1g, 3a) in eight games between the trade deadline and the pandemic pause. He scored two points (0g, 2a) in the four-game NHL postseason.
Sheary was allowed to go via free agency without much fuss. Washington signed him for depth, but the diminutive forward has been a solid third line contributor.
In seven games, Sheary has three points (2g, 1a), including two goals last Thursday against Boston, which spurred a dramatic Washington comeback.
Matt Murray: Wait and See
It’s tough to play goal when the team in front has less interest in playing defense than social media patrons have interest in differing political opinions.
The Penguins had to trade one of their goalies, and it was Murray’s turn after the Penguins kept him for Marc-Andre Fleury in the summer of 2017. Current Penguins No. 1 goalie Tristan Jarry was a lower-paid goalie and an All-Star.
The Penguins got prospect Jonathan Gruden and the 52nd overall pick in the 2020 draft. The team selected Swedish goalie Joel Blomqvist with the pick.
Opponents in the North Division have lit Murray like a Christmas tree in his last couple of starts. He’s 1-4-1 with an .849 save percentage and a 4.82 GAA. Ottawa mercifully pulled him in two of his last four starts, including Sunday night when Edmonton rolled over Ottawa 8-5.
Ottawa signed Murray to a four-year, $25 million deal after the trade.
Nick Bjugstad: Wait and See
Injuries racked the $4 million third-line center last season. He played just 10 games after core muscle surgery. Later, he had spinal surgery and missed the NHL postseason.
Rutherford dealt Bjugstad and $2 million to the Minnesota Wild for a conditional pick. Minnesota will bestow a seventh-round pick upon the Pittsburgh Penguins if Bjugstad plays 70 games or scores 35 points.
If the NHL arbitration uses a proportional ruling, that would be 24 points or 48 games.
Bjugstad, 28, does have three points (1g, 2a) in his last five games, as the big 6-foot-6, 215-pound center is getting his legs back and sometimes playing as Minnesota’s first-line center.
(Trigger Warning) Jack Johnson: Sinking Fast
That disclaimer makes me laugh every time. Johnson is a bubble player for the New York Rangers, who signed him to a one-year, $1.15 million contract. He’s been in and out of the New York lineup.
Thus far, he has no assists, is a minus-4, and the social media crowd has begun scoring points with each other by dunking on Johnson even when he makes the play. This will likely be Johnson’s last or next to last year in the NHL. The 34-year-old defenseman is slowing, and he didn’t have speed to spare.
After vigorously defending Johnson, Rutherford bought out the defenseman after acquiring Matheson. We also had a little fun at yours and the situation’s expense with a Welcome Back tribute video.
The maligned little winger who managed to increase the team’s offense but scored few points bolted via free agency when the Penguins declined to tender him a Qualifying Offer.
The Calgary Flames signed Simon, who does not have a point in five games. He began training camp on Calgary’s top line but does not appear in the lineup today.
We trust Calgary has slightly more shots and scoring chances with him on the ice than not; the Simon magic trick. Maybe someday, the points will follow.
The 41-year-old who played a few games with the Penguins after the team acquired him for a second-round pick from the Toronto Maple Leafs but made a scant impact returned home to San Jose.
In eight games, Marleau has one assist and is a minus-3. He is centering the San Jose fourth line with fellow momentary-Penguin Stefan Noesen.