The 2018-2019 National Hockey League season is about to officially kick-off for the Pittsburgh Penguins with the first round of the NHL Entry Draft on Friday, June 22, 2018.
During the draft and once free agency starts on July 1st, many teams will be trying to improve their teams from the previous season. The Pittsburgh Penguins followed their back-to-back championships with a second-round loss to the eventual champions, the Washington Capitals.
Here is some advice for Penguin’s General Manager Jim Rutherford and his team to follow throughout the next few weeks to avoid the same fate:
Do: Use the 2nd and 3rd round picks we have to draft someone
The Penguins have the 53rd and 64th overall picks in this year’s NHL Entry Draft. In recent years, the Penguins have found success with drafting in the first few rounds of the entry draft. Filip Gustavsson, Daniel Sprong, Tristan Jarry, Jake Guentzel, Teddy Bleuger, Oskar Sundqvist, and Matt Murray were all drafted in those rounds since 2012. While predicting whether anyone above a top-ten pick will pan out in the NHL is a crapshoot, the Penguins scouts have done well finding players who they can develop into NHL talent. Take the risk and hold onto the picks.
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Don’t: Even consider in the slightest signing Slava Voynov
This should be a no-brainer for every GM in the NHL, but apparently it’s not, so I’m going to make it very clear. Do not sign him GMJR. From Wikipedia: “He was accused of choking, kicking, and punching his wife, Marta Varlamova, and it was even said that he threw her into a TV.” Yes, the Penguins could use some help on defense, and I’m sure he’s a serviceable defenseman still, but under no circumstances should the Penguins sign him.
Do: Consider signing Ilya Kovalchuk, then have yourself a good laugh
Someone is going to pay Ilya Kovalchuk a good chunk of change to play hockey in the NHL this year. Think about it and how fun it would be for Malkin to play alongside him and have him switching in and out on the top power play. Then put that thought far out of your mind. He’s 35. He hasn’t played in the NHL in years. And will cost too much.
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Don’t: Trade Phil Kessel, Unless you can somehow replace him with Artemi Panarin
Unless the Penguins get a spectacular offer for winger Phil Kessel, they should plan on keeping the team’s leading point getter around for at least another season. Phil Kessel had a less than fantastic postseason and has been the subject of much media malaise since. That is not enough of a reason to jettison a 92-point scorer when you need help on the wings. Add into that that Kessel is on a very reasonable deal, they just shouldn’t trade him. The only way that sending Kessel off to another team could help the Penguins, is if they somehow managed to land Artemi Panarin, who’s now rumored to be available. Panarin is a creative, puck-handler with an eye for the net. He is younger, faster, and has a year left on his contract before he’s in line for a very big raise.
Do: Call the Flyers FO and probably the Sharks or Golden Knights FO about a trade or three-way trade for Wayne Simmonds daily.
Most Penguins fans find themselves rooting for the rough and tumble Patric Hornqvist as he plows his way through opponent after opponent. Wayne Simmonds is a couple years younger, but very much a similar type player that could make both Penguins top-lines cruel to face-off against. Once again, since Simmonds is from a division rival, trading with the Flyers directly is almost definitely a non-starter, but that doesn’t seem to prevent three-way trades from being a realistic avenue. I’m not saying the Penguins first choice for help on the wings, but he’d be a heck of a player to have on your side next season.
Don’t: Sign Jack Johnson
Yes, I’m well aware who his best friend is. Sidney Crosby has won three Stanley Cups without his best friend on his team, I’m sure he can continue playing hockey without his best friend on the team next year, too. Jack Johnson is not good at defense and is expensive. There are very few people who should be below him on the list of Penguins targets to sign to bolster the defense. Just don’t do it Rutherford.
Do: Sign John Tavares after clearing cap space
John Tavares has spent the early part of his career mostly watching the playoffs from the comfort of his couch. Tavares has never been to the second round of the playoffs. Now, I know the Penguins would need to clear significant space, even for a season or two of Tavares’s services, but this is the move the Penguins need to complete a full heel turn in the NHL. If Kevin Durant can join Golden State, there’s no reason John Tavares can’t join the Penguins.
Don’t: Plan on starting the season with the same defense core we have now
Kris Letang, Brian Dumoulin, Justin Schultz, and Olli Maatta are a great top-four defense corps. Jamie Oleksiak is big and solid and has made great strides in locking down his game. Chad Ruwhedel is serviceable and Matt Hunwick probably could be too. Just because players can work and do adequate, it isn’t enough to keep them around. The Penguins could use a defenseman in the 4/5/6 spot at a reasonable value, which they are currently not getting with Matt Hunwick at $2 million a season.
Do: Make sure Conor Sheary and Matt Hunwick find nice landing spots
If there’s two people the Pittsburgh Penguins should make sure are no longer sporting the black and gold come October, it’s Conor Sheary and Matt Hunwick. Sheary, quite possibly the streakiest player in the NHL currently, is not the answer for what plagues the Penguins on the wings, especially not on Crosby’s wing. When Sheary is on, he can be a speedy playmaker that can beat others to pucks and find Crosby or Guentzel with time and space. If he’s off, he’s not just unhelpful, he’s harmful. During a streak of negative play, Sheary becomes easy to take off the puck and a turnover machine.
Frankly, the Penguins can’t afford to pay someone with ups and downs like this $3 million a year. As far as Hunwick goes, I’m sure he’s not the worst option at that cost (that would be Jack Johnson), but he’s still not the right fit for this team.
Do: Enjoy watching the NHL Draft and Free Agency
I can’t remember a crazier lead-up to a NHL draft weekend and free agency period in recent history. Tavares, Karlsson, Carlsson, Panarin, Thornton, Grubauer, and many others all stand likely to start the season with different teams than they finished last year. Whatever happens it should be entertaining to see the moves teams across the league make in the next few weeks. Sit back and enjoy!