The Pittsburgh Penguins have signed defenseman Justin Schultz to a new three-year extension, brought in defenseman Matt Hunwick for three years and signed backup goaltender Antti Niemi on a one-year deal. Over the past couple weeks and on July 1, the Penguins lost a number of players. These three signings will help alleviate some of that pressure.
Justin Schultz Extension
Somewhere, Craig MacTavish is saying I told you so.
As part of the Edmonton Oilers, Schultz was figuratively run out of town and traded for pennies on the dollar to the Pittsburgh Penguins when it was deemed that MacTavish’s comments about Schultz having Norris Trophy potential were a bit premature. Fast forward two seasons and Schultz has now finished tenth in Norris voting and just re-signed with the Penguins on a three-year deal worth $16.5 million.
When Schultz arrived in Pittsburgh during the 2015-16 season, he wasn’t a world-beater of the gate. He had one goal and seven assists in 18 games but was placed in a more limited role that accentuated his strengths. It was a much more sheltered position than the top-four role he was thrust in as a college free agent signing with the Oilers in 2012. It worked for the Penguins at the time and gave Schultz a lot more confidence.
During the 2016-17 season, the Penguins were decimated by injuries. Schultz was once again thrust into a top-four role, but this time shined. He finished the season with 51 points in 78 games and was the Penguins best offensive defenseman by a mile.
His new three-year deal will make him the second-highest paid defender on the Penguins roster behind only Kris Letang.
When Ron Hainsey departed for the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Penguins needed a replacement. They found one in 32-year-old Hunwick, who signed a three-year deal worth $2.25 million per season.
Hunwick will provide the Penguins with a depth, veteran NHLer who is a decent puck-mover and will look right at home on the third pair. He’ll also add some strong penalty-killing play.
When asked about signing in Pittsburgh, Hunwick said it was a no-brainer:
Part of it had to do with the caliber of team they have, the championship window that they’re in right now… Part of it was the opportunity that I have in terms of playing close in proximity to where I live. There’s a lot of things that go into making a decision like this, and certainly you have to think about your family when you have a wife and a son and a dog and those kinds of things. You kind of couple everything together and if you have a chance to be on a really good team, it was just a no-brainer for me.
Antti Niemi Gets Another Shot
After a disappointing season with the Dallas Stars, Niemi is getting a chance as a backup in Pittsburgh, where he’ll be taking the place of recently expansion-drafted Marc-Andre Fleury. Fleury went to the Vegas Golden Knights and the Penguins needed a backup, seeing as how important a strong tandem was to their playoff success last season. Niemi will get $700,000 on his one-year contract.
At now 33 years old, Niemi spent the past two seasons with the Stars and before that played for the Sharks and Blackhawks. He was amazing in the Blackhawks 2010 playoff run and in his first year in Dallas, he effectively carried the load in a winning season for the team.
Over his career, he has a 2.49 goals-against average and a .913 save percentage with 227 wins. There is some concern that his best years are behind him, but Niemi will back up Matt Murray and is expected to make around 25 or so starts. That kind of load should keep the veteran in much better shape to perform better than he did last season.