The Pittsburgh Penguins are a few months from the start of training camp where quite a few questions will be answered. Not only will we know who will be on the opening night roster, but we will see if any further roster moves will occur. Currently the Penguins are less than $100,000 under the salary cap, assuming they send a 22-man roster to the ice.
Any further free agent signings can only occur if a player or two is traded. The three players who are most likely to be on the move are Chris Kunitz ($3.85 million dollar cap hit), Brandon Sutter ($3.3 million) and Rob Scuderi ($3.375). Of the mentioned three, Kunitz actually might be the safest on the list. Scuderi is now a 36-year-old defender, carrying a large cap hit and his skills have been on the decline for the last few seasons. Then there’s Brandon Sutter, I’ve discussed him at length before, there is very little chance that he remains on the roster past the trade deadline. General manager Jim Rutherford has publicly voiced support for Sutter and despite trade rumors, he is perceived as a valuable asset for the team. However, he’s also an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season and will be looking for a raise the Penguins cannot afford to give him.
It’s been a long and interesting situation for the Penguins, especially considering that the franchise is for sale. Now that we’re less than three months from the first puck drop, let’s discuss three bold predictions for the Penguins 2015-16 season.
1. Conor Sheary Cracks the NHL Roster and Scores 20 Points
A few months ago, not many people would have known who Conor Sheary was, that is, unless you followed the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins closely. We ranked Sheary as the Penguins’ 7th most encouraging prospect and 3rd top forward within the system. The biggest knock on Sheary is that he’s an undersized forward, as he stands at 5 foot 9 inches and only 180 pounds.
Up until last week when development camp occurred, the Pittsburgh media hardly talked about Sheary and his great upside. The Penguins have some holes to fill on the fourth line, Rutherford is searching for “four lines that can score” and Sheary fits the bill. My first bold prediction is that Sheary not only makes the NHL roster, but starts as the fourth line left wing and scores 20+ points in his rookie campaign.
2. Rob Scuderi Plays Less Than 30 Games
If there’s one player on the Penguins roster that had a chance to have his contract bought out, it’s Rob Scuderi. He counts for $3.375 million against the salary cap and is their seventh or eighth defender on the depth chart, at best. Yes, the Penguins second highest paid defender is one of their least productive.
After hearing many encouraging rumors and speculation, it seemed that Scuderi was bound to be bought out. However, the buyout deadline came and passed, and the Penguins stood their ground and did not execute the first contract buyout in franchise history. Those who are holding out hope that Scuderi could be traded, it might be time to give up. His contract has a limited no-trade clause, he’s 36 years old and makes a high salary.
The only teams that he would accept a trade to don’t want him or his contract. The only conceivable way that he is not on the roster to start the season is if the Penguins want to pursue a free agent defender like Cody Franson or Christian Ehrhoff. Rutherford would have to find a trade partner to simply get his salary off of their cap and even then it’s a long shot.
Seeing that it’s almost a certainty that Scuderi is a Penguin to start the 2015-16 season, here’s a bold prediction that you will like: Rob Scuderi plays less than 30 games this season and is bought out next summer.
3. Beau Bennett Remains Healthy and Scores 40+ Points
We’ve covered Beau Bennett pretty extensively over the last few weeks and what began the conversation was the one-year contract that he signed. It’s not uncommon for players to sign a one-year deal, but it is uncommon when the mentioned player is a restricted free agent. The Penguins broke the mold by giving Bennett just one year, he has been signed to a “prove it” contract.
It’s no secret that Bennett has had health issues during his brief career. In fact he’s played in 39% of possible regular season games over the last three seasons. It’s looking like 2015-16 is Bennett’s last chance with the Penguins and I think he’ll prove the doubters wrong. He’s been pushing himself to bulk up this offseason and working with a new trainer and nutritionist. Yes, just doing these basic things correctly does not guarantee that he will stay healthy through a gruelling 82 game season, but it’s certainly an encouraging sign.
I don’t expect Bennett to be able to play all 82 games, but here’s my bold prediction: he is healthy enough to play 70 games and scores 40+ points.
Michael Pityk is an analyst who has written for numerous sites since beginning his professional career. He’s acted as a credentialed member of the media for the Philadelphia Phillies, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Pirates and the Pittsburgh Penguins. His work has been featured in Sports Illustrated, The Sports Journal, MSN, PensLabyrinth, Montreal Hockey Talk, ESPN Pittsburgh, The Hockey Writers, Todays SlapShot and The Bleacher Report. He formerly was the editor of Pens Labyrinth and an analyst for The Sports Journal. Michael presently acts as an NHL Analyst for The Hockey Writers