Penguins’ Forward Changes ; Free Agent Options

The Penguins have it pretty good right now. You know, being Stanley Cup winners and all. Not to mention that they will feature virtually the same roster when next season begins. But even under the best of circumstances, some change is inevitable.

We know that Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin aren’t going anywhere (despite rumors). The HBK and the “kids” from Wilkes-Barre are set for another round. But Matt Cullen is a UFA who could retire, and Chris Kunitz could, and should, be moved. So obviously somebody needs to take their place should they move on. There is always the option of replacing them via free agency or trade, but the answer may come from within the organization.

Bennett’s Last, Best Chance

Beau Bennett’s career has been a train wreck to this point. The talent is there, but he just cannot stay healthy. When he has played, it was primarily in a checking line role, which in no way suits Bennett’s skillset. Should Kunitz be on the move, Bennett’s last hope might be on Malkin’s wing.

Clearly this is not an “apples for apples” situation as Kunitz has a much more physical style than Bennett is capable of playing. But if he can stay healthy, and capitalize off of playing with Malkin, we may see what Bennett is made of. There would need to be some level of patience with the former first-round pick. In the past, the team has been quick to bench or demote him. Give him a chance, albeit a last chance.

Let’s be Fehr

Eric Fehr did not have the year everyone expected in Pittsburgh. But he is a skilled player that has shown in the past that he is capable of taking on a lot of responsibility. He played on the third line in Washington and was very successful. In 2015-16, Fehr spent most of his time alongside Cullen, who he could potentially be replacing.

Oskar Sundqvist was the heir-apparent to Cullen, and this could still be the case. Sundqvist is a big-bodied, skilled player who might still be too raw to be ready for regular NHL action. Would I rule Sundqvist out? No, but I’m not comfortable saying that it’s his job yet. Likely the best scenario for the Penguins is for Cullen to return, at a reasonable price.

Contingency Plan

So here is what the Penguins’ lines would look like with the in-house options.

Sheary – Crosby – Hornqvist
Bennett – Malkin – Rust
Hagelin – Bonino – Kessel
Wilson – Fehr/Sundqvist – Kuhnhackl

It is always a good idea to look around though. In the realm of unrestricted free agency, Dominic Moore could be a reasonably priced replacement for Cullen, while Darren Helm would be an interesting replacement for Kunitz. Moore, a former Penguin, will be 36 years old before the season starts, but is still serviceable and would fit in with the way that Sullivan utilizes his fourth line. Not to mention that he would come at a low cost.

Helm is a gritty speedster, which would fit perfectly within the Penguins system, especially replacing a physical guy like Kunitz. Many consider Helm to be a bottom-six player, but he spent a fair amount of time playing with Pavel Datsyuk, so there is a lot of versatility there. Playing Mike Sullivan’s system alongside Malkin would do wonders for the 29-year-old winger. The primary question is the asking price. If he is looking for $3.5 million per, then Pittsburgh needs to stay away.

General Manager of the Year

Congratulations to Jim Rutherford for being named GM of the year. He completely transformed a team from a draft lottery contender, to a Stanley Cup winner in a very short time. He had a vision, and he made it a reality. Well deserved.

That being said, if Rutherford leaves the team after next season, and the new Las Vegas team snatches up Assistant General Manager Jason Botterill, where does that leave the Penguins? Bill Guerin?

Even a Stanley Cup winning team doesn’t have time to relax.

Until next time.