The Pittsburgh Penguins are enjoying some success this season, even though they’ve dealt with a wide range of injuries, COVID-19 battles, and some players who are struggling to find their form. The team is expected to be buyers at the trade deadline, as the Stanley Cup is front of mind for the Penguins in 2021-22. Next season, however, could be a different story, as there’s expected to be several changes to the roster over the summer. Let’s take a look at five Penguins are who likely enjoying their final season in Pittsburgh.
Boyle is the easiest target of them all, as the veteran forward is getting up there in age, he’s a fringe player, and he currently doesn’t have a contract for next season. The towering center has only appeared in 18 games, recording two goals. Boyle’s averaging just over 10 minutes of ice time per game, and could potentially be upgraded even in-season, so the odds of him being back next year are awfully slim.
Boyle is the type of player who is willing to do whatever it takes for his team to win. He’s a great teammate, and someone who is very popular in the Penguins’ dressing room, and across the NHL. Soon-to-be 37 years old, there’s no doubt retirement is creeping into the conversation, but at this point it doesn’t appear to be any decisions made on his future past the season. Regardless, don’t expect to see him back in Pittsburgh next season.
The Penguins’ management duo has some major decisions to make when it comes to the contract extensions of Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang. Meanwhile, Zucker is slated to make $5.5 million on the cap next season, and there’s been a ton of disappointment in his game since his arrival.
Make no mistake about it, the Penguins will try to move on from Zucker in time to spread his money around. So far in 27 games, he only has managed to record 10 points, playing mostly on the team’s second line, and has seen plenty of power-play time this season. While some players aren’t expected back next season, there’s a chance he gets moved before the trade deadline.
Zucker holds no-trade protection against 10 teams, but expect management to gauge the market before March of next year to see if there’s any interest. One team to watch here, the Vancouver Canucks, as ex-Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford is now in charge out west and is a huge fan of his game.
The backup netminder is in the final season of his contract, and while he’s certainly been better of late, expect to see the Penguins try and upgrade the position. Tristan Jarry is in the prime of his career and isn’t going anywhere, and there’s some speculation management would prefer someone to either provide veteran experience especially in the Stanley Cup Playoffs or be good enough to push Jarry as a 1-B type of goalie. DeSmith isn’t either of those elements for the Penguins.
The 30-year-old makes $1.25 million on the salary cap, and will have to play exceptional the rest of the 2021-22 season in order to be considered for an NHL contract anywhere next season. After a very shaky start, DeSmith is now 2-3-1 on the season with a 3.03 goals against average and one shutout. He’ll need to keep it rolling to stay in town for the Penguins. Next season, no chance he’s still in Pittsburgh.
Pettersson was awfully lucky to have Rutherford as his general manager when he arrived in Pittsburgh, because he was able to land a long-term contract at $4.02 million on the salary cap. You can bet your bottom dollar Brian Burke and Ron Hextall would have never signed him to that type of deal. In 2021-22, Pettersson has been playing pretty well, recording six points in 23 games and averaging just under 17 minutes of ice-time a night.
There’s been some speculation brewing that Pettersson has been a part of some trade conversations this season, but so far nothing has materialized. It’s believed that Hextall and Burke prefer to bring in someone more physical and cheaper in place of him, so this is certainly something to watch as we head into 2022. The trade deadline isn’t until late March this season so there’s some time for the Penguins to work something out. Paying depth defensemen $4 million to play third-pairing minutes and produce minimal for the team is not a recipe for success.
When I didn’t mention the contract extension earlier in the article, yes, I was foreshadowing. The Penguins only have four forwards signed for next season, and nine player contracts in total. They have just over $33 million in cap space, and given that Rust has been one of the most cost-effective players throughout his tenure with the Penguins, unless he takes a “home-town discount” he’s likely wearing another jersey next season.
Rust has been banged up, and is currently out of the lineup. An in-season move is not likely, and expect to see the speedy forward finish his current contract in Pittsburgh. He’s making $3.5 million on the cap, and frankly should be making north of $6-million. There will be a ton of interest in his services next offseason, and some team with cap space is going to outbid the Penguins. Look for the Detroit Red Wings to be extremely interested in the Michigan native.
If the Penguins are expected to re-sign both Letang and Malkin and it’s going to mean some of their current roster could be moved before next season. These five players are likely on management’s radar as players who if moved would help create some flexibility, and a few don’t have contracts for next season and will need to look elsewhere if they want to stay in the NHL.
Shane’s been a part of The Hockey Writers team since 2020, covering the Toronto Maple Leafs & Pittsburgh Penguins. A constant contributor, his versatile perspective on game results and everything off the ice produces diverse content. You can also find him on the Maple Leafs Lounge podcast with Peter Baracchini and Alex Hobson. Follow along on Twitter @ShugMcSween