Penguins’ Top 5 Questions to Answer This Offseason

This offseason for the Pittsburgh Penguins will either be really quiet or very busy. After their playoff exit thanks to the New York Islanders, the Penguins have many questions heading into next season. Here are the top 5 questions heading into the offseason.

Do the Penguins Trade Evgeni Malkin?

This trade does not seem like it would happen and maybe it doesn’t. Let us think about this — what if it does? People around the hockey world also believed Wayne Gretzky would not be traded either. Malkin has been dominant since entering the league as a rookie in 2006-07. He has produced to his highest capabilities and also was part of three Stanley Cup championships.

The bad news about this once elite center is that the Penguins are right up against the cap ceiling; he has one of the highest salaries on the team; and the AHL affiliate, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, are starved for better prospects. Malkin is also 34 years old and has not played a full season since 2008-09. The team, if he is traded, could get a king’s ransom, reload the depth chart and prospect pool, plus shed some salary. The trade seems far-fetched, but it may be worth a look from the Penguins’ point of view.

Yes, Malkin does have two more seasons left on his current deal. Yes, he does have a no-movement clause. However, if he feels this group has run the course and does not feel they are Stanley Cup contenders, he may very well waive that no-movement clause to sign with a top contender. Malkin, if he stays healthy, can help keep the core together for another Cup run if he stays. When he is healthy, he is still one of the best players in the NHL. Although this core may not have that much time together, the team always has a chance to hoist the Cup when they are together. He is a key piece in the future of the Penguins whether he is on the 2021-22 roster or not. If he is not, he will bring a return that will stock the organization with picks and prospects ready for the future.

Is Tristan Jarry the Solution in Net?

Tristan Jarry was lights out during the 2020-21 regular season, finishing with 25 wins. Before this season, he was kind of an unknown to the hockey world and was just an average netminder. Couple that with the blunder in this year’s playoffs against the Montreal Canadiens, the Penguins may be looking to move Jarry for a veteran goalie for a lengthy playoff run next season. He is an excellent young goaltender who is still in his prime, but the Penguins have relied on veteran goaltenders in the past.

Tristan Jarry Pittsburgh Penguins
Tristan Jarry, Pittsburgh Penguins (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Let us not forget who took over the general manager and president of hockey operations positions — Ron Hextall and Brian Burke. If they keep Jarry, who is still more than capable of holding down a No. 1 spot, he, like Malkin, can turn this around real quick and be serious Cup contenders again. One bad playoff series should not be held against him but, once again, Hextall and Burke are noted for making deals, and unexpected ones at that. If moved, Jarry could fetch a return similar to Malkin and set the Penguins up for future success.

Who to Re-Sign and Who to Let Go?

This is going to be an important offseason for the Penguins. The front office has a lot of decisions to make in order to make next season’s team a force to be reckoned with in both the regular season and playoffs. The Penguins have no cap space, but have a number of unrestricted and restricted free agents to deal with. The list of unrestricted free agents includes center Josh Currie, right winger/center Frederick Gaudreau, right winger Colton Sceviour, defenseman Kevin Czuczman, defenseman Yanick Weber, center Evan Rodrigues, defenseman Zach Trotman, defenseman Cody Ceci, and goaltender Maxime Lagace.

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The restricted free agents are forwards Sam Miletic, Zach Aston-Reese, Kasper Bjorkqvist, Teddy Blueger, Radim Zohorna, defensemen Mark Jankowski, Jesper Lindgren, and lastly goaltender Emil Larmi. The Penguins really only have two options here. The first is to let them all go and re-sign with new teams. Again, the Penguins are capped out with no money to spend. Some of the unrestricted players will either sign elsewhere or be dealt. Second, trade some of your higher-salaried players and then sign most or all of the unrestricted free agents. Good luck to Mr. Hextall and Mr. Burke.

Retool or Rebuild?

There is no secret that the Penguins’ core of Sidney Crosby, Malkin, and Kris Letang are getting older. Aside from Crosby, their best days may be behind them. The question is do you rebuild on the fly or do you somehow retool and prep for next season? Do you mess with that core and see what you can get for Malkin and Letang? The Penguins could retool by making small moves to improve their farm system and go with basically the same roster as this past season.

Philadelphia Flyers general manager Ron Hextall
FILE – In this April 11, 2016, file photo, Philadelphia Flyers general manager Ron Hextall speaks with members of the media during a NHL hockey news conference in Voorhees, N.J. The Flyers fired Hextall on Monday, Nov. 26, 2018. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, FIle)

The Penguins have no cap space to be active in free agency nor do they have many big-name assets to trade. The Penguins could very well make NHL draft day deals to acquire more assets and draft picks to hurry the process along. The other way to go would be to let the unrestricted free agents go and fill those spots with players from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. The Penguins could very well look different next season, but if nothing else they could return close to the same roster.

What Do the 2021-22 Penguins Look Like?

The only guarantee is that Crosby will be centering the top line on opening night. That’s it. The rest of the team will be decided this summer as Crosby is the only player truly off-limits. The others may be signed by a new franchise or be traded during the summer. Everyone who is an unrestricted free agent or restricted free agent has one year left on their deal and could be re-signed. However, as mentioned above, the Penguins have no cash to spend and very few assets to move. General manager Hextall will have to get creative in order to make moves and make this team better. Hextall wanted to wait and see what he had when he took over the job to make moves. He has the whole summer to think about what is best for this team.

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