The Pittsburgh Penguins will look to make some changes to their roster with the 2020 NHL offseason coming up shortly. The Pens have seen a steady decline since winning back-to-back Stanley Cups in 2016 and 2017.
Pittsburgh lost in the play-in round to the Montreal Canadiens in the 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs, and the New York Islanders swept them in the first round of the 2019 Stanley Cup playoffs. The club needs to make some changes due to the poor results over the past three seasons. With their star players, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkinm reaching their mid-30s, general manager Jim Rutherford will attempt to surround them with younger pieces.
Reaquring Kasperi Kapanen
Rutherford started the offseason by trading for Kasperi Kapanen. The Penguins traded their 2020 first-round pick (15th overall), Evan Rodrigues, Filip Hallander, and David Warsofsky to the Toronto Maple Leafs for Kapanen, Jesper Lindgren, and Pontus Aberg. The club drafted the Finnish forward in 2014 with their first-round pick but traded him to Toronto in a deal for Phil Kessel. The deal was worth it as Kessel helped the team win the Cup in 2016 and 2017.
Through five seasons with the Maple Leafs, Kapanen posted 90 points in 202 games. Rutherford stated he is hoping to acquire young players who are eager to fight for a roster spot. Rutherford traded a 15th-overall pick for a 24-year-old who has played over 200 games, which shows the club wants young players who are ready to play in the NHL immediately, instead of waiting for a player to develop. They are hoping Kapanen will slot into the top six next season.
“Kasperi is a good, young player that brings speed to our lineup and plays the way we want to play. Having previously drafted him, we know him as a player and feel he can improve our top-6.”Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford said.
Moving on From Schultz
Justin Schultz will not be re-signed by the Penguins this offseason, according to Rutherford. The defenseman’s three-year deal with the club comes to an end this offseason. Rutherford believes the team will not be able to offer Schultz the money he can earn through free agency.
“We’ll move on from Justin. He’s going to do better in the marketplace than what he can do here, based on our cap situation.”Rutherford on Schultz and free agency.
Schultz had a disappointing regular season and playoff performance. The defenseman played with Jack Johnson in the postseason, who had been heavily criticized by Penguins’ fans. Rutherford deflected the criticism of Johnson onto Schultz, saying he thought the defenseman could have offered more (from ‘Penguins GM Rutherford rips Justin Schultz, leadership: ‘Changes need to be made,’ The Athletic, 08/11/2020). He posted 12 points in the regular season, though he only played in 46 games due to a fracture to his lower left leg. He also struggled to produce in the playoffs, as he finished with one point in four games.
Schultz’s play may not be worth the market value, which seems to be the reason why Rutherford will not re-sign him.
Potential Letang Trade
Kris Letang believes he is on his way out of Pittsburgh, although Rutherford has stated he, along with Crosby and Malkin, are untouchable. Letang told those close to him he may be traded in the offseason or the 2020-21 regular season (from ‘Fearing a trade, Kris Letang is at a crossroads,’ The Athletic, 09/08/2020). Rutherford had reportedly been fishing the veteran defenseman’s name to other teams to gauge his value in the market, with no real intention of trading him. The general manager did the same with Malkin last season but figured out a way to make it work for him.
Trading Letang won’t do the Penguins any favours, especially with the team moving on from Schultz. The team is in win-now mode, and losing the franchise’s all-time top-scoring defenseman is not ideal. Letang has struggled in the club’s last two playoff appearances, as he posted one point in eight games, but the team is hoping to change that. The Penguins hired Todd Reirden as an assistant coach, and this will be his second stint with them. Reirden could potentially help the veteran defenseman take his game to the next level at this point in his career.
“I’ve talked to Tanger about Todd. He loved him. And if there is a better level from Letang at this point in his career, Todd is the one coach who can probably help him get there.A former Penguin told The Athletic’s Rob Rossi.
Trading a Goalie
Rutherford plans to trade one of his goalies, as Matt Murray and Tristan Jarry are both pending restricted free agents (RFA), and the cap crunch will make it tough to keep both. The Athletic’s Josh Yohe reported the Penguins see Jarry as the franchise’s goalie of the future, and Rutherford has little interest in trading him away (from ‘Yohe: What we know about the Penguins’ offseason plans,’ The Athletic, 09/09/2020). Therefore, Murray will be on his way out of Pittsburgh soon.
The Maple Leafs are one of the teams that have rumoured interest in Murray. With Fredrik Andersen already in Toronto, a deal will be hard to make, since he has one more season left on his contract, with a $5 million cap hit. TSN’s Darren Dreger reported there is an offer on the table from another team that Rutherford would consider. The Penguins could move Murray for depth on their blue line with Schultz on the way out.
Rutherford made his second trade of the offseason on Friday, sending Nick Bjugstad to the Minnesota Wild for a conditional seventh-round pick in the 2021 NHL draft. Also, the Penguins retained 50 percent of Bjugstad’s contract, which has one season remaining.
During his time with the Penguins, Bjugstad played 45 games over two seasons. He struggled with injuries and was unable to join the team in the 2020 playoffs due to spinal surgery. The Penguins offloaded a portion of Bjugstad’s $4.1 million contract without adding another piece to the trade, which gives the club some extra cap space to acquire other assets.
Rutherford’s Last Chance
The 2020 offseason will be crucial for Rutherford and the Penguins. The Penguins’ star players, Crosby and Malkin, are getting older, and the window to win another Cup is closing for the club. Rutherford has a few pieces to move around to help retool his team. Their attempt at acquiring younger players may extend the contention window a bit longer.
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If the club fails to make a deep run in the playoffs, though, it could mean the end for Rutherford in Pittsburgh. The Penguins hired him in 2014, and he has built two Cup-winning teams during his tenure. He will have one last shot to repeat his success, starting this offseason.
Sartaaj has been watching hockey for over 15 years and covers the Vancouver Canucks for The Hockey Writers.