In the age of polarization, too often nuance or clarity are muddled in the snark and grouping of opinion. It is or it isn’t. For or against. As Pittsburgh Hockey Now continues to cover the Pittsburgh Penguins on a daily basis, but news becomes scarce and analysis fills our pages, it seems an appropriate moment to set forth our official opinions on the Pittsburgh Penguins situations.
Position: Six years for Brandon Tanev is unusual but not egregious.
Reasoning: Some players choose amount over annual value. For example, Jack Johnson specified an amount and was flexible regarding term. It is quite possible, Tanev had higher-salary offers, but the Penguins won the player with extra years on the contract but a lower AAV. It wouldn’t be awkward to sign a 30-year-old to a three-year deal so while the six-year deal is unorthodox, the risk is average.
Position: The Penguins defense is good enough to win.
Reasoning: There is a big gulf between good enough and the best. The Penguins defense has too many defensive defensemen and not enough offense. However, the Penguins can win games with the defense because they are able to suppress the opposition and the new forward crew is both responsible and deep. Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan will have his “five-man effort.”
One change to the defense could necessitate an overhaul, which isn’t necessary and may not lead to improvement. It’s a perilous situation.
Position: Jim Rutherford has improved the team.
Reasoning: PHN has been clear on what we believe to be Rutherford’s mistakes (not dealing Derick Brassard sooner, perhaps not dealing Kessel sooner are two examples). The additions of Jared McCann and Nick Bjugstad, with Marcus Pettersson on the backside, set the Penguins ahead last season. The subtraction of Kessel and acquisition of Alex Galchenyuk was an A+ effort given the circumstances.
Tanev will be a firecracker in the Penguins lineup, too. However, we also think Rutherford will need to add a dash of offense before the trade deadline.
Position: A trade will be easier to clear cap room but more difficult to execute.
Reasoning: More nuance. We detailed the dominos of a Jack Johnson trade and the resulting needs which would require one or two additional moves. We’ve also dabbled in a Justin Schultz-deal speculation as a way of salary cap relief. A trade of Johnson, Schultz, or forward Bryan Rust would be the easy way, but for several reasons including salary cap constraints, the Penguins expected returns for Johnson or Rust would unlikely make the team better.
Short of finding a good deal, the best way is to chop salary as we detailed Tuesday and wait for an opening to make a good deal, most likely after the season begins.
Position: Too many have got the Jack Johnson situation all wrong.
Reasoning: The Penguins took a step down when they dealt Ian Cole after making the internal decision they would not re-sign him. Cole to Johnson is not a winning swap for the Penguins. But to splash Corsi numbers and endless stats on Jack Johnson is to omit too many real-life variables, most notably playing out of position in mismatched defensive pairings and his work in his own zone.
Rutherford erred by signing Johnson, a defensive left-side defenseman when the Penguins needed an offensive right-handed shot for the third pairing. That doesn’t mean the barrage of endless silliness against Johnson is warranted. We receive some outlandish stuff. It’s worse elsehwere.
Somewhere above the vitriol and relentless attacks, Johnson provides value. Though our favorite line which has been echoed several times is, “I see no evidence Johnson is a good player.” Good is a subjective term, but rejecting the evidence of value after the mountain of corrections, diagrams, and information put forth by PHN doesn’t prove the opposite.
Position: Mike Sullivan didn’t lose the team but next season will be interesting.
Reasoning: Sullivan lost a couple of key players, one of whom has a history of grinding coaches. Otherwise, the team as a whole played hard. The coming season will be interesting because Sullivan does not begin on the hot seat, but begins with a recent negative history and the task of re-acquiring full-scale buy-in. In many ways, he is starting at square one; he’ll need to reaffirm commitment to a complete game, command a team with entirely different chemistry and preside over a shift towards the type of fast, tough-to-play-against hockey he has stressed. Sullivan will get his wish with a roster capable of executing the new style and he’ll do so with a new four-year contract.
On paper, it is a much better situation for Sullivan but those can sour in a hurry. Star Trek plots always killed the new guy for dramatic effect, but the Penguins are almost out of available shakeup moves. Next comes the stars.
Position: The Penguins will not miss the playoffs but they must prove they have enough offense.
Reasoning: Suppression will not be an issue for the Penguins deep, heavy and fast roster. Filling the net will be the issue. Galchenyuk hasn’t scored 20 goals in any of the past three seasons. The Penguins may full well emulate the New York Islanders success of 2018-19.