Guentzel Contract Extension a Home Run for Penguins

After a rough start to the season for the Pittsburgh Penguins, the tides have finally started to turn. Not only have they won six of their last seven games and sit comfortably in third place in the Metropolitan Division, but on Dec. 27, the Penguins announced that they had signed forward Jake Guentzel to a five-year, $30 million contract extension, which will have him with the team through the 2023-24 season.

Since being drafted 77th overall in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft by the Penguins, the road to the NHL has been long and arduous for the Omaha, NE native. After playing three years in the NCAA with the University of Nebraska-Omaha, Guentzel spent 44 games in the American Hockey League with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Baby Penguins before finally being called up to the NHL in November of 2016. In his NHL debut against the New York Rangers, Guentzel scored twice and has been an offensive machine ever since.

Guentzel’s Chemistry With Sidney Crosby is Unmatched

While Guentzel has put up extraordinary offensive numbers wherever he has played, the biggest bonus of signing him long term is the fact that he has built remarkable chemistry with Sidney Crosby. Still considered the best player in the world, Crosby is the ultimate playmaker who could turn any ordinary Joe into a goal scorer, but this hasn’t always been the case. Throughout his career, Crosby’s linemates have shuffled constantly, but ever since Guentzel became a mainstay, the two have clicked.

They’re not only linemates but also have lockers right next to one another in the dressing room. Guentzel and Crosby have very high hockey IQs and sometimes appear to see the game in slow motion. They always seem to know where the other one is going to be, and Crosby has noticed that in his time playing with Guentzel:

“It’s just being able to anticipate plays,” Crosby said. “He’s reacting a lot of the time out there, not necessarily having to think. A lot of times when you have to think, you’re a step behind or you’re hesitant. He’s just got good hockey sense. He knows where to go to support the puck, where to go to find holes. He can make plays when the puck’s on his stick, too,” (from ‘Penguins’ Sidney Crosby happy to have Jake Guentzel as his left-hand man,’ Pittsburgh Tribune-Review – 12/28/18).

This season, Crosby and Guentzel have been electric. After missing a handful of games with an upper-body injury, Crosby returned on Nov. 21, and since then he has eight goals and 16 assists in 18 games. Over the same span, Guenztel has 8 goals and 12 assists. It’s no surprise that in the 18 games where the two have combined for 44 points, the Penguins have a record of 12-4-2.

Guentzel’s Game Elevates in the Postseason

While Guentzel’s chemistry with Crosby was likely a key reason for the big payday, the main reason for his substantial raise is his performance in the playoffs. Even before being called up to the Penguins, Guentzel was lights out in his first professional postseason in the AHL.

After only playing 11 regular season games with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in the 2015-16 season, Guentzel led the team in points in the playoffs after registering 14 points in 10 games. After being knocked out of the AHL Playoffs, he had to sit on his couch and watch as the parent organization won the Stanley Cup.

Jake Guentzel, Pittsburgh Penguins
Jake Guentzel has been a monster in the playoffs for the Penguins. (Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports)

One year later, Guentzel was helping the Penguins win back-to-back Stanley Cup championships in his rookie year. While he made a little bit of noise in the regular season by scoring 16 goals and adding 17 assists in 40 games, it was in the playoffs where he really turned heads.

At just 21 years old, Guentzel finished the playoffs with 13 goals and eight assists in 25 games. On a roster that included Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, and Patric Hornqvist, Guentzel led the team in postseason goals. Last season, although the Penguins were bounced from the playoffs by the Washington Capitals, Guentzel had 21 points in 12 games. When the playoffs concluded, only four players had more points.

While it’s always nice to have players who contribute in the regular season, it doesn’t mean much if they can’t get it done in the postseason. After his performance last season, it was no secret that Guentzel was due for a raise.

The Penguins Are Clearly in Win-Now Mode

Inking Guentzel, who is still only 24 years old and far from reaching his peak, to a long-term deal is a leap in the right direction for the Penguins. It proves that they are still in win-now mode, and are going to do everything they can to capitalize on the remaining years of Crosby and Malkin’s careers. There have been rumors that Kessel might be traded, which is ridiculous, and this signing further proves that the Penguins’ front office believes this roster is good enough to make a run for another title.

With one Stanley Cup title already, Guentzel will do whatever it takes to bring another parade back to Pittsburgh. (Brady Smith/ The Hockey Writers)

The contract is perfect and he has earned every penny he will make based on his past performance, but it doesn’t make Guentzel a lifelong member of the Penguins quite yet. He will be 30 years old when this contract expires, which means there is at least one more long-term paycheck to be earned. Sometimes players finally get paid and then their drive and effort gets tossed out the window. They’ve earned their keep, so why continue to try and improve?

Guentzel will have to continue to improve in order to earn his next lucrative payday and prove himself to the Penguins organization. When the contract expires in 2024, Crosby and Malkin might no longer be in the league, as they will both be nearing 40 years old. It’s going to be extremely difficult to have an immediate transition once those two players are gone, and hopefully, the Penguins can squeeze out another Stanley Cup run in the meantime, but when 2024 rolls around, it might be Guentzel’s team.