State Of Mind: Where Are The Penguins At After Recent Decisions?

Matt Murray #30 of the Pittsburgh Penguins. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
Matt Murray #30 of the Pittsburgh Penguins. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images) /

The Pittsburgh Penguins have made several trades, signings and decisions since their collapse in the qualifying round. Where is their state of mind after the recent transactions?

After the Pittsburgh Penguins were eliminated in the qualifying round against the Montreal Canadiens, Jim Rutherford knew he needed to change the makeup of the roster in order to fully max their remaining time with superstars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

There is no doubt that the Penguins felt the pain that came in the aftermath of the dramatic exit in the bubble that ended their injury-riddled season.

When the Penguins acquired Jason Zucker, their goal was to improve their current roster despite giving away some of their future in Calen Addison and a 2021 first-round pick. Furthermore, losing in the qualifying round as the favorite certainly wasn’t the plan.

It is all about winning now and maximizing Crosby and Malkin.

Jim Rutherford has never displayed a fear of making transactions, he will make any trade that he feels will improve his roster and that has certainly been evident from day one.

He is not preparing for the future, he is making transactions to make this Penguins roster more of a legitimate contender right now.

Let’s assess the transactions Jim Rutherford and the Pittsburgh Penguins have executed in the past month or so.

Kasperi Kapanen Trade — August 25

The Penguins traded center Evan Rodrigues, defenseman David Warsofsky, forward Filip Hallander and a 2020 first-round pick (15th overall) to the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for winger Kasperi Kapanen, rights to Pontus Aberg and defenseman Jesper Lindgren.

Another signal of the win-now mode that has been displayed. I don’t think it was an awful trade given the 24-year-old winger has some upside and has shown signals of flashiness.

It was clear that the Penguins were targeting a scoring winger to complement their top-six forward group. Kapanen fits the bill perfectly and has all the attributes that Rutherford desired. He is a speedy winger with top-six upside and has a very good shot. Remember, Rutheford drafted Kapanen back in 2014 in the first-round.

It was a hefty price tag no doubt, and the Penguins definitely paid it.

Kapanen recorded 33 goals, 47 assists and 80 points in 147 games during the past two seasons. He held a 51.4 Corsi for percentage this season.

The former first-round pick was fantastic in the 2018-19 campaign, but he then saw his underlying numbers drop in the 2019-20 season. If he can regain the spark he had in the 2018-19 season where he provided the Leafs with 1.4 wins above replacement, he definitely can be a strong top-six winger.

Ruhwedel, Riikola & McCann Extensions —- August 28th to September 18th

The Penguins first extended 30-year-old defenseman Chad Ruhwedel to a one-year extension worth $700K that locks him up for the 2021-22 season. He is a perfect example of a defensive defenseman. He has proven to be a very good cost-effective third-pairing defenseman.

Secondly, the Penguins extended 26-year-old defenseman Juuso Riikola to a two-year extension that pays him just over a million annually. He provides Pittsburgh more defensive stability and depth in the backend. With the acquisition of Mike Matheson, Riikola will likely slot in as an extra next season. It is unfortunate because Riikola provides more value overall than Matheson, but he will be a victim of the depth chart, or the Penguins could try him on the left side.

Lastly, Jared McCann signed a two-year extension that will pay him $2.94 million annually. McCann is a solid top-six center and is a strong all-around forward. There has been significant discussion that the Penguins could move him which would be a costly mistake unless a get significant value for him. The former first-round pick recorded 14 goals, 21 assists and 35 points in 66 games in the 2019-20 campaign. Looking at wins above replacement which is a comprehensive metric that takes into account all aspects of the game, he provided 2.3 wins above replacement which ranked third on the Penguins in terms of overall value behind Bryan Rust and John Marino this season.

Hornqvist dealt to Florida —- September 24th

The Penguins dealt Patric Hornqvist to the Florida Panthers in exchange for defenseman Mike Matheson and forward Colton Sceviour.

Hornqvist, 33, was an integral piece that helped lead the Penguins to two Stanley Cups. Hornqvist was the best player involved in the deal, but you can understand why Rutherford did this as he got much faster and younger.

Hornqvist is still a quality top-six forward but has seen his point totals diminish over the past two seasons. He finished his time in Pittsburgh with 132 goals, 132 assists and 264 points in 407 games. He helped the Penguins win the Stanley Cup twice and it was clearly a tough decision.

The reason Rutherford had so many critics of the trade was because of Matheson’s awful contract that is now on the Penguins books for six more seasons at just under five million a year. Matheson recorded 8 goals, 12 assists and 20 points this season. He is a quality third-pairing defenseman who is being paid to be a top-four defenseman. The contract makes him look bad and now the Penguins are tied for half a decade, but there could be a chance he improves on the Penguins if utilized and deployed correctly.

Colton Sceviour was the other piece acquired in the trade. He is a decent fourth-liner, nothing more. The 31-year-old accumulated 6 goals, 10 assists and 16 points in 69 games. He has one-year remaining on his deal which means that this season will be a leading factor in whether or not he is re-signed beyond this season.

The Penguins returned was simply a very good third-pair defenseman and a decent fourth-liner. It wasn’t a great deal, but I don’t think it was as bad as people made it out to be. Hornqvist has three-years remaining on his deal and he is beyond his prime, the final two years could become problematic for the Panthers.

Tristan Jarry is extended — October 3rd

The Penguins signed Tristan Jarry to a three-year extension that pays him $3.5 million annually. This extension just furthered proved true that Matt Murray would be moved this offseason.

This is an excellent extension for the Penguins. Jarry, 25, helped provide stability between the pipes. Jarry posted a .921 save percentage in 33 games this season. Using goals saved above expected which takes into account shot quality, he saved 0.99 goals more than he was supposed to save.

Using GSAA which is basically the league’s average save percentage that takes into account the number of shots a goalie has faced, Jarry’s 10.03 ranked 11th among all NHL goaltenders.

He was a pleasant surprise after only playing two NHL games in the 2018-19 campaign, he is a quality starter and should provide the Penguins with solid goaltending in years to come.

Jack Johnson Buyout — October 5th

The Penguins finally bought-out defenseman Jack Johnson. He is arguably the worst defenseman in the NHL, he has awful underlying numbers and there are several metrics that display he actually makes his defensive partners and teammates significantly worse. The Penguins do not buy players out, but they made the right choice here. He should not have ever been given that lucrative contract as a fringe NHLer.

Matt Murray moved to Ottawa

The Penguins had limited options in dealing Matt Murray. They moved him to the Ottawa Senators on draft day for a second-round pick and forward Jonathan Gruden. I thought this was a decent return actually and a good move by Jim Rutherford.

Jarry is the better goaltender and Murray has been struggling. The two-time Stanley Cup Champion fell out of favor as numbers have been diminishing and going the wrong direction.

Murray was a strong starter in 15-16 and 16-17, but since then his numbers have been poor. The 2019-20 campaign was the worst of his career to date. His -13.98 goals saved above expected was sixth-worst league-wide. It is kind of ironic because former Penguin and Stanley Cup Champion Marc-Andre Fleury was right below at 5th worst in the league. He finished the season with a .899 save percentage too.

Free Agency Acquisitions

The Penguins didn’t make any significant splashes in free agency which is a given considering their cap space. They did, however, sign free-agent Evan Rodrigues to a one-year contract. He was part of the package to acquire Kasperi Kapanen. They also signed Mark Jankowski to a one-year contract.

Rodrigues, 27, is a decent depth piece. Jankowski is a very intriguing acquisition because he scored 17 and 14 goals in 2017-18 and 2018-19 respectively.

As well as, the Penguins signed Josh Currie to a one-year contract.

Other Notes

The Pittsburgh Penguins gave qualifying offers to Pontus Aberg, Anthony Angello, Sam Lafferty and Sam Miletic.

Dominik Simon was not given a qualifying offer. This was a very puzzling move and I think this was a mistake.

Sam Lafferty was given a two-year extension.

Where is the Penguins state of mind at?

The Penguins are younger and have acquired more depth pieces for next season. I do think the Penguins will improve from this season with all the injuries they dealt with during the regular season.

However, if they don’t want their bubble bursted a second time, they have to figure out where the problem lies.

(All Data & Information Via Evolving-Hockey

Hockey-Reference & CapFriendly)