Home > Uncategorized > Penguins Current Offseason Analysis

Penguins Current Offseason Analysis

The Penguins offseason seemed to start off with a noticeable bang in free agency, but along with the rest of the league things slowed down from there.  Some speculate the never-ending pursuit of Ilya Kovalchuk has brought free agency to a grinding halt but whatever the reason many mid-level free agents are still waiting for an NHL suitor.  Long story short, things are slow so I figured at the risk of being redundant I’d write something to frame where the team currently stands and how things could ultimately shape up for opening night.

First let’s take a look at the current roster including all additions and departures (line combinations TBD):

Kunitz-Crosby-Dupuis
Staal-Malkin-XXXX
Cooke-XXXX-Kennedy
Rupp-Adams-Talbot
Godard

Martin-Michalek
Orpik-Letang
Goligoski-Lovejoy
XXXX

Fleury
Johnson

I’ll talk about the additions first.  I hadn’t seen much of Zbynek Michalek in his career up to this point (Phoenix being one of the sport’s TV dead zones), but his performance a few year’s back in Phoenix caught my eye at the time and I filed his name away ever since.  A plus player on a horrid Phoenix team who also happens to be a young, right-handed defenseman?  Sounded very promising, so I was really happy he came here since he was one of the few players I’ve ever specifically targeted that ended up coming here.  He’s not overly physical but he blocks more shots than almost anyone (led the league two years ago) and is a nice stay at home addition, which is something the Penguins desperately needed.  A solid buy at $4 million.

Paul Martin is a signing I like as well, but only upon the recommendation of others.  I don’t know much about him.  I was always under the impression he was a lanky but solid defenseman who ran the Devils power play but only by default (career high of 37 points).  Turns out that many claim he’s actually as reliable as they come on defense, he rushes the puck very well, and again, can run a power play in a pinch.  So all in all the label says we’re getting yet another defensive stalwart who has an uptempo dimension to his game.  I’m not so sure but apparently people that know much more than I do are.  Ray Shero certainly disagrees, handing Martin $5 million per year.  We shall see.

Matt Cooke was also re-signed for $1.8 million per year for 3 years, breaking one of Shero’s previous rules not to give role players over 30 any more than a 2 year deal.  With or without Cooke I think the Penguins could have managed but he’s an effective player so I have no complaints.  Sergei Gonchar bolted to Ottawa about three seconds into free agency, receiving the 3 year deal he so coveted.  I don’t blame Gonchar or the Penguins.  Money is tight around here and while the future is now, it would have been hard to spend $5.5 million in each of the two seasons after this next one and not know what we’re getting.  On the flip side Gonchar deserves the money and it was no secret there would be a team out there willing to take the chance in exchange for his skills.  Mark Eaton departed to the New York Islanders for $2.5 million a year, which is too much but the Islanders actually have TOO much cap space and the experience he brings will be welcomed.  Jordan Leopold received a 3 year/$9 million deal from Buffalo, which was an overpayment I have no problem with the Penguins not matching.  He’s an okay defenseman but Pittsburgh already has enough lightweight, somewhat offensive defensemen.

So where do we go from here?  Well the Penguins had roughly $13 million to spend when it appeared Gonchar was leaving.  When Cooke re-signed it was reduced to about $11.2 million.  With Michalek at $4 million and Martin at $5 million what’s left comes to about $2.2 million.

With that $2.2 million the Penguins presumably need two forwards and a seventh defenseman.  There’s been some debate as to whether or not you have to have exactly 23 players on your opening night roster (13 forwards, 7 defensemen, 2 goaltenders).  I assumed that was the case, but there’s been a lot of talk about eschewing one of those by trading a 4th liner or using an AHL call-up as the spare defenseman.  All I could find is that the maximum number of roster players you can have is 23 and the minimum appears to be 20.  I’m not quite sure if this is accurate or not, but that’s just what the consensus seems to be.

Let’s assume for a minute that that’s true.  I still have a major problem with it.  If your seventh defenseman is say, Deryk Engelland.  First of all he’s not every good otherwise he wouldn’t be an AHL regular in his late 20s.  Just as troubling, he won’t be practicing with the big club hardly ever.  Sure he’ll practice a system that’s probably identical but it’s not the same thing.  Did I mention he’s not every good?  It’s sort of a risky proposition unless the Penguins defense is very fortunate in terms of injuries.  You know what’s even riskier?  The possibility of TWO defensemen getting hurt.  Between Lovejoy being a rookie, Goligoski being shaky, and two guys that don’t belong in Pittsburgh the Penguins could be giving up points in the standings that could certainly affect who they face in the playoffs.  The Penguins need an experienced seventh defenseman.  They cannot afford one while also fulfilling their other needs.

As far as what those other needs are, it really depends on how often you think Jordan Staal will play wing this year.  It sounds more and more like a reality and is reflected in my line combinations above.  Assuming that’s going to happen the Penguins need a right winger for Malkin’s line and a third line center that’s worth a damn.  I don’t know how this is all possible with $2.2 million but I’m holding out hope.  “In Shero We Trust” as they say.  Staal should be adequate at that position.  To be honest I see him putting up similar numbers to last year:  just over 20 goals and about 50 points.  The real question is are we getting $4 million worth of hockey out of him?  I’m thinking no.  You could argue wherever he’s put on that line that he’ll be the defensively responsible one, but anyone can do that.  That’s not the answer.  I don’t think he’s good enough as a winger to do that and provide the shot in the arm Malkin’s line desperately needs.  I think you’ll see the usual, just from a different spot in the lineup:  Solid defensive play and so-so numbers.

So we need a right winger for Malkin’s line but it doesn’t have to be anything special.  No, Nick Johnson is not an answer.  Eric Tangradi supposedly can play both sides but is probably a left winger by trade.  Do we want to mess with that right off the bat in his career?  I’m not sure.  Plus he’s arguably a year away from being completely ready.  Staal could play the right but he never has before.  There are more questions than answers here.

There are some third line centers to be had but for different reasons they’re all questionable in terms of acquiring them.  Is John Madden still any good at 37 years of age?  23 points in 79 games last year seems to suggest ‘no.’  Eric Belanger would be nice but he’s worth a good $2 million which just isn’t possible.  On and on.  And why are we doing this anyways?  This is why we have Staal supposedly.

The Penguins need two serviceable forwards.  They cannot afford them while also fulfilling their other needs.

And that’s where I take issue with what Shero has done so far.  Don’t get me wrong, I was in total agreement that the defense was all of a sudden a major problem and he addressed it in spades.  Unfortunately I think he went a little overboard.  Personally I budgeted about $7-8 million for the defense, leaving $3.2-$4.2 million for some type of forward acquisitions.  Maybe I didn’t set my sights as high as Shero, but that would have still allowed for the acquisition of Michalek and a good, solid option like Toni Lydman who I had pegged at $3 million.  He ended up getting $3.3 million for Anaheim, so we’re right on track.  That’s only one example too.  It could have been Andy Sutton, who is still out there by the way and will undoubtedly be taking a paycut from his prior $3 million salary.

Yet Shero values puck movers regardless of how many we already have which results in Martin.  Like I said he better be worth it because the forward corps is hamstrung once again.  To be honest we could have had Michalek and Volchenkov for $8.25 million, still leaving $2.95 million.  It’s not enough but the defense would be equally as good and you’re a small trade away from it being enough, but I digress.

Essentially what we’re dealing with now is finding a 3rd line center for cheap, which I don’t see a problem accomplishing, signing a seventh defenseman for about $600k if possible, and allowing whichever rookie impresses most to play on Malkin’s right wing.  Not the end of the world right?  Well, I still kind of think it is.

Tangradi is included in the cap number for the Penguins as of now so assuming he plays there is $2.2 million for a spare defenseman and a third line center.  I’m not sure how this is going to work.  $600k for a defenseman brings it down to $1.6 million.  How good is this third line center going to be?  Remember you have to leave space for callups and most likely a deadline acquisition.  Looks like we’re in the market for someone who is well past their prime.  Either that or the Penguins secretly have no worries about Letestu doing the job.

As of now, given that Staal could very well play wing most of the year here is what I prefer:

Kunitz-Crosby-Dupuis
Staal-Malkin-Tangradi
Cooke-Letestu-Kennedy
Rupp-Adams-Talbot

Admittedly I hate rookies playing until it’s apparent they’ll be part of the team that year (I believe Lovejoy fits that description), but given that people make too much of the 3rd line center position since Staal came along Letestu is a suitable replacement in my opinion.  I expect 25-30 points and reliable two-way play, nothing special especially for the price of $500k.  I don’t want Tangradi in the lineup much at all but he’s young, can skate, and hopefully can reach 17-18 goals which is at least an improvement.  That’s mostly by default, but it’s still an improvement.  Plus he’d be alongside two established players so there won’t be much pressure on him.

Add in a seventh defenseman that’s been around and you have about $1 million left over.  By the trade deadline you should have between $3.5 and $4 million in free money to make a trade.  The problem is I don’t really think there’s anyone out there.  Andrew Brunette is the only feasible option I see and that’s if he doesn’t plan on simply resigning with Minnesota, where he’s been for a little while now.

I could go on and on about how I’m conflicted by this roster.  I’m really excited about not having to worry about a shoddy defense.  That’s key to winning a championship.  My problem is despite the fact the Penguins have no problem scoring goals, it’s about consistency and timely goals.  That’s what they lack outside of Crosby and Malkin.  If they need a goal and those guys can’t create it, that particular game is a loss plain and simple.  One top six forward would have had a nice ripple effect:  Crosby still have Kunitz and Dupuis, who can at least keep up with him.  Malkin has a new toy to play with that will only make him better and create space for him and the right wing would be lacking, but you can’t have everything right?

Pull the trigger on trading Staal.  Either that or explore trading Letang.  He’s still really young but you have to give to get.  Maybe think about trading Despres.  Our defense is set for the next 5 years.  Package him with Dupuis to clear some salary for a young forward.  None of these have to be done this year, but in my opinion if one of them was this team could be primed for a serious run.  They still could be this year, but a sizable bit of luck and superhuman performances will be required.  Why not tilt the odds more in your favor?  Make a bold move and make this team a completely well-rounded force.  Staal looks incredibly redundant now more than ever, especially now that he’s being bounced around to try and accommodate the fact that we have too many centers and not enough wings.  If Shero is dead set on keeping him try something else.  We actually are deep on defense here and in Wilkes-Barre.  We don’t lack centers either.  Maybe Dustin Jeffrey could be part of a package as well, who knows?  Even Tangradi if it means an upgrade there.

Enough rambling.  I don’t think they have enough money and I can’t believe they don’t know it too but it seems Staal shifting to wing will cure the cap woes enough to put a nice team together.  I guess that’s fine, but with a confident trade from a confident general manager I think this team could be set for years to come.

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Categories: Uncategorized
  1. John Kovach
    July 14, 2010 at 2:19 pm

    The only hope I have is that’s its a long way to the trade deadline and moves can be made. With the amount of experienced defensemen they have, I think Shero is contradicting himself. Last year he said you “can’t have enough” defemsemen and I think he said he likes to have 10. We’ll be lucky to have 7. As you stated, depth is the main issue. Wings are still a problem and an injury on defense would really hurt them. Their only real depth is at center and that means trading Jordon Staal to get the wing we should have drafted in his place. I can’t criticize Shero for the pick because we won a Cup with him. But that was then and this is now. They are way too weak at wing and unless they get 2 proven wingers (via development of Trangradi, trade, whatever) by the trade deadline, it will be the same thing in the playoffs. Box in Crosby and Malkin and let the wings have the puck because they can’t do anything with it for the most part.

  2. Tom
    July 15, 2010 at 2:16 pm

    I would exchange Michalek and Letang. Put Martin with Letang so he can cover for him and then have a shut-down pair of Orpik/Michalek.

    I still think they can get Mike Modano cheap as the third line center.

    I’m OK with Engelland as he will eventually be replaced by Strait.

  3. Dan
    July 16, 2010 at 12:48 am

    I would normally have just as long as a reply as what you wrote but I’ve already fried my brain thinking of the best possibility for this year so I just can’t do it anymore so I will keep it short.

    My prefered method would be to somehow get Belanger but that may not be possible even if they would dump Dupuis and Talbot. They need to add a 7th Dman for 800k which basically means that 2 of Tangradi, Jeffery, and Johnson will make the team. The only other thing they can really do is dump Dupuis if they can find an acceptable 3rd line center but then you still have Talbot playing in the top 6 then.

    Basically Talbot or Letestu will have to step up and be an acceptable 3rd line center. I think Talbot would do a decent job IF he stays healthy. Staal has to be a big boy and put up at least 25 goals and 60 points on Malkin’s line.

    O forget it my head hurts again. Good luck Shero!

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