Pittsburgh Penguin’s Offseason & Expectations

Brandon Karafilis, Staff Writer

As October arises that means it is time for hockey season to begin. The Penguins had a rough sendoff last season in April after getting swept by the New York Islanders in the first round of the playoffs. With the new season just around the corner, they have some new faces, high expectations, training camp rosters, and early season struggles. These next 7-8 months are going to be a roller coaster of emotions along with highs and lows for us fans.

The Penguins and General Manger Jim Rutherford have had a very busy offseason. On June 29, star forward Phil Kessel was traded to the Arizona Coyotes for forward Alex Galchenyuk and 2017 first round pick, Pierre-Oliver Jospeh. Even-though it took the majority of the offseason, the Penguins and defenseman Marcus Pettersson finally reached a deal on September 12th. Pettersson signed a one year contract with an annual value of $700k. The Penguins also traded defenseman Olli Maatta to the Chicago Blackhawks for forward Dominik Kahun. Kahun is coming off his rookie season were he put up 37 points and was a +10. Kahun is projected to play on the top line with Crosby and Guentzel.

On July 1, Rutherford signed free agent Brandon Tanev from the Winnipeg Jets to a six year deal worth $3.5 million a year average. Tanev is coming off his fourth season in the NHL where he put up 29 points. Tanev is speedy and quick player who is projected to play on a line with Evgeni Malkin and Alex Galchenyuk.

It is no surprise to say that the Penguins are tight on cap space. On September 30, the Penguins had to put goaltender Casey DeSmith on waivers in order to clear up cap space. Luckily, DeSmith cleared waivers and is in Wilkes-Barre Scranton. The Pens also had to put Bryan Rust on LTIR (long term injured reserve) so his contract didn’t count towards the salary cap. Training camp was a success and so was preseason. Justin Schultz put up six points in three preseason games. Schultz is coming off a shortened season where he was only limited to play in 29 games due to a broken leg.

The Penguins also got a good look at their young and talented prospects in those six preseason games as well. Galchenyuk and Crosby were limited in the preseason due to injury. Speaking of injuries, the Pens currently have a boat load of them. Team captain Sidney Crosby is currently ruled day to day after blocking a shot from Buffalo Saber’s defenseman Marco Scandella in a preseason game. Coach Mike Sullivan did not confirm whether Crosby was out for the season opener on October 3rd. Along with Crosby, the Pens are going to be without top six winger Bryan Rust for a while after sustaining a hand injury after blocking Buffalo Sabers defenseman Colin Miller’s shot in the same preseason game as Crosby.

Rust is out for at least the end of October but there is no timetable return. Another injury is recently acquired forward Alex Galchenyuk. Galchenyuk has been dealing with a nagging lower body injury for two weeks now and it is uncertain if he will play in the season opener as well. Crosby and Galchenyuk have both been ruled by head coach Mike Sullivan to be game time decisions for the season opener.

The Penguins are entering this new season with a lot of expectations. Evgeni Malkin recently said in an interview that he didn’t feel himself last year and is working on his 200 foot game this year. Malkin is coming off a below average season where he only posted 72 points in 68 games. On the other hand, Guentzel is coming off a career year where he posted 40 goals. Crosby assisted on 25 of those goals. Crosby himself also had a phenomenal year, playing in 79 games and posting 100 points. Defense has been an issue for the Pens the past few seasons. This year is different. The Pens have a strong top 4 defensive core with Letang, Dumolin, Schultz, and Pettersson.

Jack Johnson, Erik Gudbranson, Juuso Riikola, and Chad Ruhwedel are all battling for the last defensive pairing. As of now, it looks like it is going to be Johnson and Gudbranson. Johnson was signed to a five year deal worth $3.2 million a year last offseason. Johnson played in all 82 games but only scored 1 goal, was a -4, and had 41 penalty minutes. It isn’t surprising to say that signing Jack Johnson last year was a mistake and he hasn’t played up to his expectations at all. Rutherford has been trying to deal him away all offseason but is very difficult to do so with his bad contract.

If they manage to free up cap space, the Pens are eligible to make a lot more of moves. The Pens are also going to have to improve the amount of short handed goals they gave up. Last year, they gave up 15 short handed goals, most in the league. Along with that, the penalty kill has to get better and it should with a full season of McCann and Gudbranson. Another key factor into this season is the production of goaltender Matt Murray. Murray didn’t necessarily have bad season last year he just never made the key saves when they needed them the most. After coming back from his injury late December, Murray was one of the hottest goalies from that point on. The Pens lost 12 games in either overtime or a shootout last year. If they would’ve won at least half of those games, they would’ve finished 1st in the Metropolitan division and maybe could’ve avoided elimination.

The Penguins window for another championship is slowly closing every year. Crosby is 32, Malkin is 33, and Letang is 32 years old. Also, next offseason, Rutherford needs to resign Matt Murray, Alex Galchenyuk, Jared McCann, Dominik Kahun, Marcus Pettersson, and Justin Schultz. The time to win is now. Out of their first 9 games, 7 of them are at home. The Pens went 23-14-4 at home last season and are looking for an improvement. A key to a successful season is getting a good start. Last year, they went off to a 6-3-1 start. The top two lines are projected to be Guentzel, Crosby, and Hornqvist and McCann, Malkin, and Galchenyuk. The hunt for the sixth Stanley cups begins. Lets go Pens!