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5 Penguins Offseason Predictions: Who Stays, Goes, and Who Could Arrive?

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It’s not even June, and the Pittsburgh Penguins probably have not finished all of their internal reviews and organizational meetings. To make prognostications and predictions at this stage is more like trying to guess the weather next Thursday, but there are plenty of arrows pointing in specific directions.

We’ll circle back in September to see how we did.

I’m learning one little fact through Ron Hextall’s tenure: He’s not quick to act, no, but he’s precise. Jeff Carter and Rickard Rakell were shrewd gets. He also patched the Penguins’ blue line with a pair of depth d-men, Chad Ruhwedel and Mark Friedman. Both outperformed their roles.

I know fans want Jim Rutherford-level activity and chatter, combined with Jim Rutherford’s 2015-16 level of success. As GMJR hit home runs for a year, he began to swing and miss in 2018. Do you remember Tanner Pearson, Jack Johnson, Derick Brassard?

So, hyper-activity cuts both ways. However, Hextall does have a few opportunities to move contracts to save money and capitalize on bargains.

5 Pittsburgh Penguins Predictions:

5. Malkin meets the Penguins more than halfway.

Evgeni Malkin said, “I’m ready both ways.” And the reality is that he’s had more than a few opportunities in his career to go elsewhere. Sure, maybe his rockstar wife would prefer another city? Maybe he’d prefer a team with a few Russians or a larger Russian community? But he’s chosen to stay in Pittsburgh.

Could the Penguins get better with a second-line center who is faster and more linear? Probably. Pittsburgh-native Vincent Trocheck springs to mind. But if I have to bet–and I’m not confident–Malkin chooses to stay.

He’s not aging well. He’s a toe injury from completing the song Hands-Shoulders-Knees and Toes! Knees and Toes!

If he weren’t Evgeni Malkin, this would be an easy separation, but…

Prediction 5A: He signs for about $7 million AAV, but perhaps only two seasons?

4. Kris Letang Bolts

Count me firmly in the camp that Ron Hextall should move others to pay for Kris Letang. There are few, if any, viable options available. Jeff Petry? Colin Miller? The dropoff is steep, regardless of what message boards, including the one below (geez, some of you are stubborn and just unhappy!).

Letang wears his heart on his sleeve. He wants to stay. The Penguins can’t do any better.

And yet, in a reversal from above, this player will leave. Letang also needs to feel respected. He’s a premier RHD. In this market, he is THE premier RHD. He again placed near the top of defensemen scoring. He finished sixth with 68 points (10-58-68), behind such luminaries as Roman Jossi, Adam Fox, Cale Makar, Victor Hedman, and John Carlson.

That’s the company Letang keeps. None of them would sign a $5 million contract, either.

Spare me the Letang hate. When hockey people start saying it, then I’ll listen.

Prediction 4A: He’ll get $9 million for four seasons, somewhere.

4B: Petry is the odds on favorite to replace Letang if he departs. Also, watch Filip Hronek on the NHL trade market.

3. Hextall restocks the Middle-Six

In consecutive postseasons, the Pittsburgh Penguins outplayed their opponent but were partly victimized by a lack of physical presence. In this case, physical would be defined in different ways. Against the New York Islanders, the Penguins didn’t win enough net battles and had trouble fighting through obstruction. Against the Rangers, they didn’t have anyone to tap Messieurs Lindgren or Trouba on the shoulder to politely ask that they stop flinging elbows with intent to injure, or Adam Fox would suffer the same fate.

The Penguins do need a bit of muscle.

That’s another reason I think it’s iffy at best if Kasperi Kapanen and Danton Heinen return. Heinen is soft and may get expensive. The Penguins need a bit more scrappiness to push back when things go sideways when teams get too physical or take the vinegar out of the other team when the Penguins have a lead.

Prediction 3A: Kapanen’s rights have some value. Look for those to be discussed on the NHL trade market, especially as the Draft approaches.

2. Penguins Get a New Backup

Casey DeSmith turned his miserable season around. He was pretty good in the second half. But his star-crossed Penguins tenure may end. He bought a house in Pittsburgh because he was to be the backup three years ago. Then Tristan Jarry shoved past him and Matt Murray, and DeSmith had to spend a season with the WBS Penguins.

Last season, DeSmith was badly needed in the playoffs but was unavailable.

This season, DeSmith was badly needed in the playoffs but was unavailable.

Bad luck, yes. Tristan Jarry showed he’s the man. Playing on that broken foot in Game 7 was spectacular. If the Penguins won that game, he’s a legend. Jarry looked physically different this season. He stood taller on and off the ice. He spoke differently. He’s “the guy.”

The Penguins need a reliable backup.

Prediction 2A: No chance in hell it’s Marc-Andre Fleury. None.

1. The Penguins Will Get Better

Call it a hunch. Hextall has a chance to remake the team without gutting it. Here’s his big chance. I think everyone would like to bring back Rickard Rakell, but his contract status may not be cleared up until the Penguins have a bit more clarity on the big two.

But the wide-open forwards crew can be used to reestablish the Pittsburgh Penguins identity, whatever Hextall and Mike Sullivan decide that should be.

No, I don’t think most of the WBS Penguins crew are truly in the mix. Radim Zohorna was a cute story for a while and made me ponder his ceiling, but he didn’t deliver after his adjustment period ended. Drew O’Connor is a nice fourth-liner, but he’s not a great penalty killer, which makes him a bubble player.

There’s another handful of Penguins prospects from WBS, which Hextall specifically mentioned last week. There’s always hope for sale, especially in Pittsburgh, where prospects are fair-haired beauties without baggage. But don’t buy too much.

Jason Zucker’s long-term prognosis is cloudy. He took note on breakup day when he said the doctors were trying to figure out what comes next. I continue to watch my email for an update from the Penguins that he’s had surgery.

A healthy Zucker would be a blessing. An injured Zucker provides even more capital. The Penguins have about $23.2 million to spend, not counting any salaries that depart or long-term injury designations.

All of that uncertainty and need create Hextall’s big opportunity. There will be plenty of bargain shopping. Some grit. Jam. Some hands–perhaps Heinen does return if the Penguins can add other missing pieces.

It should be a fun offseason. There’s no secondary prediction needed for that.

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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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Mark Fisher
Mark Fisher
1 month ago

How about playing Zahorna for 20 straight games at the start of next season instead of dismissing him so quickly. Where once the Pens relied on rookies for Cup runs, now it’s prove it in one or two games sporadically and then they’re banished to Wilkes.

Tom
Tom
1 month ago

Dan,
Would NJ be interested in a Dumoulin for Miles Wood trade? I’ve always liked his speed and jam.

If LA goes after Forsberg, I’m sure they wouldn’t sign Andreas Athanasiou. He has really good speed.

I’m hoping Kapanen’s down season would allow us to re-sign him to an 8 year deal at 3.125 per?

Jay95
Jay95
1 month ago
Reply to  Tom

My mind is trying to wrap itself around the third comment…Why in the world would a team put him on the books for 8 YEARS!? And, why would a team pay him that much money even short term?

Jeff Young
Jeff Young
1 month ago
Reply to  Jay95

Surely he can’t be serious. I’d trade his rights for future considerations.

Dean
Dean
1 month ago

Especially don’t agree with Fluery and Letang. There is more in life than money. 5. Malkin signs for $6M – 3 years. 4. Letang signs for $7.5M – 4 or 5 years. I say 4. (Taxes in Canada are 60%. $7.5M in Pittsburgh = $9m in Canada, plus no move and legacy. 3. Agree don’t sign 3rd and 4th line guys. My target would be Nick Paul he is a ufa. Pens may be lucky and get JT Miller for Marino and a 2022 1st. Rutherford loves Marino. 2. Fluery will sign a 1 year deal for $3M 1. Buyout… Read more »

Troy Garrah
Troy Garrah
1 month ago
Reply to  Dean

I agree Dean. The other piece that will have Letang stay is that the Penguins organization “saved” his career, when he had a “stroke”. No need to say more, however Letang “owes” the Pens a 3 yr. $23.5 mil contract.
I wouldn’t buyout Zucker, trade him to Ottawa for the 7th overall pick- or find the best draft pick out trade out there.
I’d rather sign Rakell to a 5 yr/27.5 mil deal, then lose Marino/1st rounder for Miller….

Jeff Young
Jeff Young
1 month ago
Reply to  Troy Garrah

I’d be OK dealing another 1st or POJ to get a good return. Gotta give up to get. But you aren’t getting that pick from Ottawa with anything that includes Zucker. If he isn’t healthy enough to play, LTIR. I’m afraid he’ll be in a Pens jersey next year… So here’s hoping he gets healthy.

Bob
Bob
1 month ago
Reply to  Dean

I agree about Marino because after he signed that big contract hrs not been that same player. Even Peterson looked better! Personally I thought Crosby made Rust look better than he is just like Mario made Warren Young look better and then he goes and signs a big contact with Detroit and was a flop!

ThePenguin71
ThePenguin71
1 month ago
Reply to  Dean

You may not like it, but Kris Letang wants paid and has made it pretty obvious that the first number in his new deal probably needs to start with 9, and any hometown discount would probably be $8.5.

Bob
Bob
1 month ago
Reply to  ThePenguin71

Guess if he wants to stay in the family he’ll have to give some. One good hit on him and another concussion could end his career.

Stephen Powanda
Stephen Powanda
1 month ago

Dan really good article. I agree with just about everything. We need grit and muscle. Malkin stays and LeTang goes. Need a new backup. Man would Trocheck look good. Kapanen really needs to go. Keep Friedman, Ruhwedel, Matheson, Let EROD and Heinen go. Lots of room to sign people!

Vittorio
Vittorio
1 month ago

The problem is that there isn’t a D-Man in FA that is worth signing should they lose Letang. Nobody is trading for Zucker so move on. Since the NHL wants PHYSICALITY so badly I say the Pens should sign GOON Type Players and let them deliver dirty and vicious head shots to the opposition and let’s see if Bettman and Don Fear have the balls to hand out suspensions. Yeah I know I will get flak for the last part of my comment but I ask you all since the league is to stupid to deter headshots why shouldn’t the… Read more »

Bob
Bob
1 month ago

I’d keep Erod and Heinen and Kappy before Malkin. At least Erod and Kappy hustle every shift and gets back in the defensive end when necessary unlike Malkin who drags his feet at times. Heinen is a sniper and at least stays healthy and was just or more noticeable as Malkin in the playoffs.They could sign them all and still have money to spare instead of giving it all to one player in Malkin. Need more players who are physical along the boards. Wish I had a dollar for every time the Pens had a chance to hit someone and… Read more »

Tim Curtis
Tim Curtis
1 month ago

Malkin has to go! $7 million/yr is way too much for a player who only plays 1/2 season and take 1/2 of that off when he’s on the ice. The rare times that he plays spectacularly, he follows that up with the performance of a ghost.
Re-sign Letang and Rakell and pick up a couple quality pieces and this team has Cup potential!

Last edited 1 month ago by Tim Curtis
Tom
Tom
1 month ago
Reply to  Tim Curtis

No 6’4″ 230 lb muscle, no hope of a cup run in this goon league. Geno, do svidaniya!

Curt Lindner
Curt Lindner
1 month ago
Reply to  Tim Curtis

Agree 100%. The Russian turnover machine has to go. Rakell was a great addition and will prove it. If the Pens let Letang walk they are “D” oomed on the blueline. Oh yea, AND GET AN ENFORCER SO SID CAN FINISH HIS CAREER ON HIS TERMS! THE ORGANIZATION OWES HIM THAT MUCH!

Keith T.
Keith T.
1 month ago

If the Pens re-sign Malkin they will live with that regret for the duration of the contract and that is true if it is 4M AAV let alone 7M AAV. If the Pens are smart they will move on. They would be far better off to use that improve organizational depth across the board.

James
James
1 month ago
Reply to  Keith T.

I think that’s a valid opinion to have. The problem I see with it is that whatever Malkin’s salary would be moving forward, nearly all of it would be needed to replace him at 2c. After that you are looking at league minimum salary left over for depth roster spots. So I just don’t see the upside honestly. I think you resign him and Letang somehow and then move everything around beneath them. That’s my amateur take.
Will be an interesting summer for sure.

Geo Svaranowic
1 month ago
Reply to  James

nearly all of it would be needed to replace him at 2c

Not necessarily. There have always been 3C’s who are young and have potential to be 2C. Find one who fits Sully’s stubborn system, and you have addition by subtraction. Malkin has NEVER fit Sully’s stubborn system.

Patrick Niederriter
Patrick Niederriter
1 month ago

Can we get Nino Niederreiter? He’s good, right? He might not be what we need, but I want that name on a jersey. He spells it a little differently but it’s close enough.

Geo Svaranowic
1 month ago

Just not understanding AT ALL the nostalgic rabidity of the need to re-sign Malkin?? Why??? Haven’t we had enough of Geno’s lazy hockey? Haven’t we seen enough blind pass/turnovers? Haven’t we been fed enough Malkin injury bugs to feed an entire Survivor cast? Seriously.
Malkin does not in any way, shape or form play “Sullivan Hockey”, and is completely uncoachable. Geno does what Geno wants.

So now we are expecting anything different, or better, at age 37???

Please. No.

Last edited 1 month ago by gsvarano
Bob
Bob
1 month ago
Reply to  Geo Svaranowic

Exactly! Tired of the favoritism politics and family policy.

Frank
Frank
1 month ago

Dan, all of the thoughts in your article are realistic and logical. At the same time, they are just as likely not to happen as to happen. But speculating is always interesting for hockey fans. Contracts and factors unknown to fans get in the way of course, but . .. . I am not sure who comes and goes except to say Crosby is a lock and it would take an incredible deal to move Rust or Guentzel. But after that as a GM you absolutely have to look at any option. They seem committed to Jarry, so maybe he… Read more »

BocaMarine
BocaMarine
1 month ago
Reply to  Frank

So Pittsburgh’s senior management, who had to give their blessings to any trade or signing, said, “sure, go ahead and sign Carter because you’re friends“?? I think not.

Jeff Young
Jeff Young
1 month ago

I’d offer 58 3×9. But I’m watching a $9M defenseman tonight and it’s Makar. 58 isn’t Makar. If Letang goes, good luck to him. (And if GMRH has offered $5M AAV, I wouldn’t sign it either.)

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