The Pittsburgh Penguins had high expectations heading into the playoffs this year and were Stanley Cup favorites. Pittsburgh made big moves at the trade deadline to avoid another early outing in the postseason when they acquired Jarome Iginla, Brenden Morrow, Douglas Murray, and Jussi Jokinen. In essence, the Penguins were "All In". Despite this, Pittsburgh's gamble did not pay off with a high reward. In return, it cost them prospects and draft picks.
Now with the off-season approaching, General Manager(GM) Ray Shero has quite a bit of thinking to do in regards to what players will be a part of the Penguins future and whom they will part ways with.
(Disclaimer: Some of this piece will be purely written out of speculation based on sources that I have read http://www.thefourthperiod.com/news/pit130608.html)
Unrestricted Free Agents
Jarome Iginla- Iginla was brought in at the trade deadline to provide leadership, additional scoring, and not to forget, he has great chemistry with Sidney Crosby. Though primarily used on Malkin line and as Left Wing (LW) instead of his traditional Right Wing(RW) position, Pittsburgh is very much interested in re-signing him. The feeling is mutual for Iginla and may sign somewhere in the ballpark of a 3 year deal with $16.5 million. If used properly, Iginla can still be very much capable of being effective offensively. (Case in point, Martin St. Louis still putting up huge numbers in Tampa Bay at the age of 38. Iginla is turning 36 in July.)
Pascal Dupuis- Since arriving in Pittsburgh in 2008, Dupuis has produced some of his best offensive stats to date. He registered his first back to back 20+ goal seasons (2011-12, 2012-13) of his career and was part of the highest scoring line in all of the NHL alongside Chris Kunitz and Sidney Crosby. Dupuis also had a +/- of 31, best in the entire league(with linemate Kunitz right behind him with a +/- of 30). Dupuis has stated he wants to remain in Pittsburgh and would be willing to take a pay cut to do so. As long as the price is right, Dupuis will most likely end up re-signing and staying in Pittsburgh.
Brenden Morrow- Morrow, like Iginla, was brought in at the trade deadline to provide veteran leadership in the locker room, and was noted for having playoff success. Unlike Iginla, Morrow is not as offensively productive as him and despite being a year younger than him, Morrow is pretty banged up. Morrow does not appear to be apart of the Penguins future and out of all the pending UFA's for Pittsburgh, Morrow is the one least likely to re-sign.
Matt Cooke- He is known as one of the more dirtier players in the game. Cooke has many tangibles he brings to his game (secondary scoring, good on the Penalty Kill(PK), grit and toughness). Despite cleaning up his game though significantly, Cooke's past reputation seems to continue to follow him. For instance in Game 1 in the Eastern Conference Finals(ECF) against the Boston Bruins, Cooke was given a 5 minute major and ejected from the game on a questionable call. This was arguably one of the moments to set the tone for the series, as Boston went on to sweep the Penguins in 4 and showing that Cooke's track record seems to still impact the Penguins negatively. Since Cooke will be 35 at the start of next season. Look for the Penguins to possibly let him walk so they can bring up younger players in the system.
Craig Adams- Like Cooke, Craig Adams also brings grit, toughness, effectiveness on the PK, and does a lot of small things that make a big difference in games. Adams is 36 though, and the Penguins could easily replace him with the likes of Joe Vitale, or another young prospect in the system. I feel the Penguins may be on the fence about this. If the price is right, Adams may remain a Penguin, but I think his age may be a factor when it comes down to it.
Mark Eaton- Eaton's presence in the defensive game really showed. Though Eaton did not register a point in the regular season, Eaton was always making something happen as evident of his +/- of 9. Eaton's second tenure in Pittsburgh will most likely be short lived though, as the Penguins are deep in talented defensive prospects and will most likely have one of them called up to play the role.
Douglas Murray- Murray with his 6 ft 3 245lb. frame, was brought in to add toughness to the Penguins blueline. Murray would surprisingly also find offensive success as he scored his first regular season goal since the 2010-11 season after being traded to the Penguins. As I mentioned in this previous article I wrote, http://noodleofnam.blogspot.com/2013/05/what-we-have-learned- from-pittsburgh.html Murray had only scored twice in 57 playoff games. In the first round alone against the Islanders, Murray matched that by scoring twice. Despite all of that, Murray may not be a part of the Penguins future as well, as again, they may look to bring up some of their younger talented prospects to fill the role on the blueline.
Restricted Free Agents
Tyler Kennedy- Kennedy's regular season performance this year was not one of his better offensive wise. Kennedy did however redeem himself in the playoffs as he provided spark and energy alongside Joe Vitale. Kennedy scored the first (and eventual game winning goal) in Game 5 of the Quarterfinals against the Islanders after being scratched in the first four games. The Penguins may think long and hard as to what to do with Kennedy. Will they re-sign him? Trade his rights? Or will they simply let him walk?
Dustin Jeffrey- Jeffrey has not been really used much during his time in Pittsburgh. Though he has shown he is capable of being a 3rd and/or 4th line center, Jeffrey's best bet may be to look for a change of scenery to have a productive career if Pittsburgh can not find a spot for him.
Robert Bortuzzo- Even though he is not one of Pittsburgh's more highly touted prospects or younger talents, Bortuzzo could still provide depth for the Penguins blueline. It may be beneficial to keep Bortuzzo around just in case some of the younger defensive prospects need a little more time developing their game(s).
Possible Players Penguins Buyout or Trade
No matter what anyone says, there is indeed goalie controversy in Pittsburgh. Marc Andre Fleury still has two years remaining on his contract, but with a $5 million cap hit, the Penguins could possibly look to move him in order to shed some cap space in order to retain the services of Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang. The Penguins may shop Fleury around for prospects and draft picks.
Paul Martin, even though he has done a complete 180, is possibly talked about being bought out with his $5 million cap hit. Jussi Jokinen who still has a year remaining on his current contract may be used a trade bait in order to free up additional cap space and acquire young prospects and draft picks in return.
The Penguins will have roughly $8 million in cap space to begin with. Pittsburgh will indeed use that cap space the best way they can to re-sign the players they wish to retain. Some trades and buyouts as mentioned, are not out of the question. Especially if the Penguins want to improve and do what is best for the team. Look for young talent in the system, such as; Simon Despres, Anton Zlolin, Beau Bennett, Scott Harrington, to start cracking the Pittsburgh Penguins future lineups.
Image Sources: (1.) http://sinhlredlight.files.wordpress.com/2013/06/bylsma-penguins.jpg?w=610&h=382
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