Penguins’ Musings: Murray, Sundqvist, Top-Six

When the Penguins signed Matt Cullen last season, not everyone considered it to be a good acquisition. Many felt that at 38, Cullen did not fit in with the Penguins’ perceived need to get younger. The veteran center was likely blocking the progression of youngster Oskar Sundqvist. Sixteen goals, and a season of incredible play later, everyone had forgotten about their reservations.

Astonishingly, after the Penguins announced a week ago that they had retained Cullen’s services for another year, there have been many of the same old grumbles among Penguins fans.

Cullen was instrumental to the Penguins’ success last season, and likely will be again in 2016-17 despite his age. While Sundqvist has the potential to be a solid player in the NHL, he is simply not ready to fill “Dad’s” skates. Cullen is crucial in 5-on-5 play, as well as the penalty kill and in important defensive situations. Sundqvist cannot be counted on to handle the same workload. He needs another year in Wilkes-Barre, adjusting to the North American game. There will be inevitable injury call-ups that will give him the opportunity for experience.

Sundqvist’s time will come, until then the Penguins need every advantage that they can get in their quest for a repeat.

Top-Six Talk

The yearly call for the Penguins to get another top-six forward is here. Do not count this writer among those clamouring for a new toy…at least not yet.

This discussion originates from concerns about the role of Bryan Rust, and to a lesser extent, Conor Sheary. Nothing about their pedigree screams top-six, but given the results of last season they have earned the right to show that they deserve their roles alongside Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby.

Even if Rust and Sheary don’t repeat their performance of last year, there is no hurry to go after a winger. Penguins’ fans know all too well how much a team can change from October to March. There is a reader of this website that frequently posts to have “faith in this organization” in the comments section. Who are we to disagree?

The Goalie Gamble

Right now the Penguins are pinning their future in net on the continued development of Matt Murray. With the expansion draft looming, Marc-Andre Fleury is likely on his way out of the organization.

Allow me to propose a hypothetical scenario to you. Murray is 22, while Fleury is 31. When the expansion draft comes, the Penguins can only protect one netminder. Given that Fleury has a no-trade clause, Pittsburgh has to protect him if he is still on the roster. If they are to keep their young, currently inexpensive, Stanley Cup winning goalie, Fleury would logically have to be moved. But what if Murray plays terribly in 2016-17?

What happens if Fleury has the better play, while Murray plays badly? So badly in fact, that people start calling his play last year a fluke. Can the Penguins part with Fleury and hope that Murray finds his game? What happens if the situation in net takes a dramatic turn?

I am not saying that this will happen, I am simply proposing a hypothetical that has not been much discussed. I am not even going to offer a solution. I will leave that up to you all to debate (nicely) in the comments section and cast your vote in our poll below. I’ll let everyone know how the poll turns out in a couple days on Twitter.

Stay tuned to THW’s Penguins’ content as things are ramping up for next season. A season preview and a podcast are both in the works, so check back frequently.

Until next time.