The Pittsburgh Penguins have a lot of defensemen at training camp. In fact, general manager Jim Rutherford actually believes the team will start the season with eight defensemen. But which eight defensemen will be on the roster to start the season? If we’re going to take a stab at the octuplet, it should be Kris Letang, Olli Maatta, Derrick Pouliot, Ian Cole, Ben Lovejoy, Brian Dumoulin, Sergei Gonchar and Rob Scuderi.
The most polarizing name on the list has to be Scuderi’s. Fans have either blindly loved or defended him for the last two seasons, but facts are facts, he has played at an AHL level. He was signed two offseasons ago to a four-year/$13.5 million contract that carries an annual cap hit of $3.375 million. Scuderi’s first season in his return to Pittsburgh was a disaster, he suffered an ankle injury and never fully recovered. This last season was an improvement, but still no where near what the Penguins signed him to be.
There are a lot of questions about where each player would contribute on the ice. Here are the pairings from the first day of training camp, which should be taken under the notion that it was just the first day of training camp.
If you're looking to read too much into defense pairs, a few pertinent ones have looked like this:
— Jason Mackey (@JMackeyPG) September 18, 2015
Mackey addressed the issue before it became a problem. It’s widely accepted that fans love considering line combinations and want to know what’s going on inside the mind of head coaches and general managers. When sending out a tweet like that, it’s obvious there would be a lot of overreacting to the combinations, but some new information came out a day later.
Johnston gives the green light to read into defense pairs. Remember, it was:
— Jason Mackey (@JMackeyPG) September 19, 2015
Where Does Rob Scuderi Play?
Head coach Mike Johnston spoke with the media and actually said it was ok to discuss what these defensive pairings mean. A lot of these combinations were expected, except Ben Lovejoy playing on the second pair instead of Ian Cole. But those two can easily be swapped during the season. Lovejoy and Pouliot had some nice chemistry together in the limited time they had together. It’s clear that Johnston is trying to see if those two can recapture that success.
However, what is interesting is that the 42-year old Gonchar is actually on the fourth pairing, while Scuderi is on the very last pair.
I previously suggested that the Penguins and Toronto Maple Leafs might not be finished trading, and the subject of that move was Scuderi. There are a lot of factors at work and Rutherford has not ruled out more trades as training camp progresses. Scuderi has a partial no-trade clause and has a hefty cap hit of $3.375 million, but from looking at the defensive pairs and the talent on the Penguins roster, is there still a place for him?
My opinion is that there is not a place for him, but moving his contract will be quite a tall task for Rutherford. But at the same time, he did acquire Phil Kessel without having to trade Maatta or Pouliot. Scuderi is the Penguins seventh or eighth defenseman, at best, and with younger, faster and more talented players ahead of him, a trade could be coming.
However, if moving Scuderi and his contract proves to be too difficult, what does Pittsburgh do with him? The only real option is making him a healthy scratch, but can they actually scratch a player who makes that much money? It should be an interesting couple months for Penguins’ fans.
Thanks for reading! Feel free to leave your comments below or tweet me anytime @MPityk
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