Pittsburgh Penguins: 10 Thoughts On The Penguins Off-Season

PITTSBURGH, PA - JUNE 14: Phil Kessel
PITTSBURGH, PA - JUNE 14: Phil Kessel /

The Pittsburgh Penguins have been busy piecing together the puzzle for their next run at the Stanley Cup, and I’ve got some thoughts on their off-season.

Here are 10 thoughts on the Pittsburgh Penguins off-season so far:

1. Acquiring Ryan Reaves snapped a, nearly exclusive, trend of being a possession driven, fast paced, high octane offensive monster. The reasoning behind the move is pretty cut and dry: teams took cheap-shots at the Pens stars in the post-season and Rutherford didn’t like it.

If you’ve been paying attention to Sidney Crosby’s entire career you’ll notice that cheap-shots on the games best player have been consistently present since he entered the league – regardless of who was on the team.

What Ryan Reaves brings is replacement level shot generation, negligible offense and 3rd-4th line shot suppression. Essentially he’s a player who doesn’t bring much to the table based on the type of game the Penguins play – and the cost to acquire was criminal.

2. Of all the defenders to go after for a short term deal, Matt Hunwick wouldn’t have been my first choice – but then again I’ve painfully watched him with Toronto on his last deal.

The problem with Hunwick in Toronto wasn’t Hunwick himself – it was his usage.

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The Leafs tried to force Hunwick to be a bigger role player and, initially, that was the right call. But that turned out to be a false narrative. He was over-used in not only minutes, but in his role with the team throughout his time in the six.

In Hunwick lies a player who, if utilized properly, can be an effective player. He’s a very good bottom pairing player and a salvageable second pair if need be. That’s exactly the role he’ll be looking at in Pittsburgh, so it’s not a bad signing at all.

3. Niemi is a risky choice, because he hasn’t played well the last four seasons. That being said, it was all in a starting – or split-starting – role for both the Sharks and Stars.

There is a chance that Niemi can have a better production rate playing in minimal games, which is what the Pittsburgh Penguins need. The price was right at $700K and further displays the one-time Cup winners fall from grace.

Where this becomes an issue is if Matt Murray finds himself injured. Niemi simply isn’t good enough to handle the run and gun style of hockey the Penguins play on a nightly basis.

There’s a lot of stock being put into Murray being healthy this year, let’s just leave it at that.

4. The Tyler Bozak rumors are out there, so let’s talk about that.

The cost to acquire Bozak isn’t going to be as high as some people suggest (Maata). Bozak is good, but he’s not that good – and he’s in rental territory now. Toronto doesn’t have the leverage they would have had last off-season.

Pittsburgh has the cap space to make this move without even dropping any salary while still having room for more signings/trades. The best part about Bozak is that he’s a great 3C – and he’s better than Nick Bonino. The Pens have a chance to three-peat, but they can’t do that without a talented center for the 3rd line.

GMJR needs to get this done, it’s that simple.

5. There are actually people talking about moving on from Phil Kessel. That’s nonsense. Why would you ever get rid of a player like Phil Kessel while you’re in the middle of a dynasty opportunity? You don’t. You just don’t.

Kessel is a star and he’s been nothing short of fantastic for Pittsburgh, especially in the post-season. There are no salary cap problems here so this type of chatter is baseless.

6. Rutherford chose not to pursue loyalty when he let Chris Kunitz walk for a deal the Pittsburgh Penguins could have easily given the long-time wingman of Sidney Crosby, and that’s perfectly fine.

The Penguins owe Kunitz nothing, and they have other options now for Sid. Loyalty is a stupid way to go about being a GM – just ask Dean Lombardi.

Old Dean was loyal to Mike Richards and if it wasn’t for a bag of pills at a border crossing, that would still be biting him. He was also loyal to Dustin Brown on a massive contract, which the Kings would love to be rid of right now.

While Kunitz was still effective and not overpriced, it’s good to see a move based on current roster construction over a heart strings maneuver. Even still, it’d be easier to swallow if Ryan Reaves wasn’t a real thing on the roster.

7. Risky, and questionable, signings aside; how good has Jim Rutherford been when he’s allowed to spend money as GM of the Pittsburgh Penguins?

The players he’s added, his usage of money and term. It’s been an integral part of why the Pens have won back to back Cups. You could almost say it’s as important as the on-ice performance of his players.

Sure, Botterill and others have had a hand in it all but at the end of the day Rutherford has the title. He’s been able to do something here that he wasn’t allowed to do in Carolina – make this team a legit contender every year, not a surprise one off.

8. Botterill’s departure hurts. There’s no other way to put it. He was a major voice in the front office and there’s an argument to be made that he had equal amount of pull as Rutherford had.

He’s a forward thinking front office guru who will find success in Buffalo while he fixes the mess that are the Sabres. The Pens aren’t worse off because of it, though, since they have the pieces in place to win another (few?) Cup very soon (this year?).

Best of luck to Jason.

9. Rick Tocchet was not the reason Phil Kessel had success here. You know what was? Phil God Damn Kessel was the reason.

He was a star in Toronto that was underappreciated and made a scapegoat. He was able to avoid being “the guy” in Pittsburgh and everyone thinks he played better. Well, newsflash, he played the same. He is still a star player. He’s done nothing different except rid himself of the garbage media types from Toronto who wanted to blame him for the second world war.

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I don’t want to take away from the knowledge that Tocchet has passed on, but he isn’t the reason Phil Kessel had success in Pittsburgh. That’s just a garbage narrative the media drummed up.

10. The Pittsburgh Penguins have a lot of wingers under contract, which hurts the chances of Daniel Sprong making the jump. Personally, I’d like to see him on the opening night roster over some of the bottom 10-12 forwards.

Two seasons ago he got a chance as an 18 year old, but that was under Mike Johnson. It’s time for Sullivan to give him a chance to steal a roster spot right out of the gate.