After a disappointing conclusion to the Pittsburgh Penguins 2019-20 season, it was no surprise to see many offseason roster moves after Pens General Manager Jim Rutherford vowed that changes will be made. Heading into the Stanley Cup Qualifiers, the Penguins had high hopes for a deep playoff run, but that was quickly nixed after a surprising 3-1 series loss to the Montreal Canadiens. The alarming defeat proved that some changes were necessary, and Jim Rutherford made it clear that nobody on the roster was untouchable…except, of course, for superstars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
The Penguins GM was quick to act following the team’s exit as he immediately let several pending UFA’s walk including Justin Schultz, Conor Sheary, Patrick Marleau, Dominik Simon, and Thomas Di Pauli. Rutherford also bought out the remaining three years left on veteran defenseman Jack Johnson’s contract.
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Pittsburgh has already been involved in three trades during the offseason. The first trade was with the Toronto Maple Leafs which saw forward Evan Rodrigues, defenseman David Warsofsky, defense prospect and former second-round pick Filip Hallander, and the 15th overall pick (Rodion Amirov) in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft depart the Penguins with forwards Kasperi Kapanen, Pontus Aberg, and defenseman Jesper Lindgren the return.
The key piece in this trade was forward Kasperi Kapanen who will likely take the roster spot of Conor Sheary and could see playing time alongside one of either Crosby or Malkin. Kapanen’s speed, skill, and grit make him a very exciting player for Penguins fans to watch next season. Aberg, who is currently an RFA is a solid depth player who will compete for a spot in the Penguins bottom-six if given a contract. Lindgren, who has one year left on his ELC is a former fourth-round pick and is off to a fantastic start to the season in the HockeyAllsvenskan league with MODO Hockey where the 23-year-old has 12 points through 16 games this season and a +2 rating. Lindgren will either play the duration of the season in Sweden, or in the AHL for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
The second offseason trade the Penguins made saw veteran forward Patric Hornqvist head south to the Florida Panthers for forward Colton Sceviour, and defenseman Mike Matheson. Hornqvist had 17 goals and 15 assists in 52 games last season in what was an injury-riddled year for the 33-year-old. The move helped Pittsburgh’s cap troubles by offloading the final three years of Hornqvist’s $5.3M contract. In addition, the two players coming in return will likely both be on Pittsburgh’s starting roster on opening night this season.
Matheson will slot into one of two open roster spots with both Jack Johnson and Justin Schultz departing the team. The 26-year-old had eight goals and 12 assists last season in 59 games and carries a cap hit of $4.875M contract for the next six years. Aside from Kris Letang quarterbacking the Pens’ first powerplay unit, it’s possible that Matheson sees minutes on the second unit as he plays a solid two-way game. Sceviour, however, has proven himself as a very useful depth player and will be a key part of Penguins bottom-six forwards and penalty-kill. The 31-year-old center scored six goals and had 10 assists in 69 games last year and carries a cap hit of $1.2M. Sceviour led the Panthers in penalty-kill minutes last season. This is a contract year for the former Dallas Stars fourth-round pick and with his small cap hit, this is a low-risk move for the Penguins.
The most recent acquisition the Penguins made this offseason saw two-time Stanley Cup Champion goaltender Matt Murray depart the Penguins for prospect Jonathan Gruden and the 52nd overall pick (Joel Blomqvist) in this year’s NHL Entry Draft. In five seasons with the Pens, Murray had a record of 117-53-19 in 199 career games. The Penguins made the playoffs in all five seasons with Murray on the team. The Penguins GM made the trade five days after inking goaltender Tristan Jarry to a three-year contract with a $3.5M cap hit.
Jonathan Gruden, whom the Penguins acquired in return for Murray is a former fourth-round pick by the Ottawa Senators who had 30 goals and 36 assists in 59 games last season with the London Knights of the OHL. The second-round pick in the trade for Murray ultimately became goaltender Joel Blomqvist, a highly touted prospect who is already off to a good start to his season in Finland so far boasting a 2.56 GAA and a .900 save percentage, with one shutout thus far through nine games.
Offseason Free Agent Signings
In addition to being active in the trade market, the Penguins have made several key free agent signings including taking care of several of their own. The Pens re-signed defensemen Chad Ruhwedel to a one-year extension worth $750K and Juuso Riikola to a two-year extension with a cap hit of $1.15M. They also locked up forward Jared McCann to a two-year extension worth $2.94M per year. McCann had 14 goals and 21 assists through 66 games in his first full season with the team last year. Tristan Jarry’s three-year, $10.5M extension was the largest contract extension handed out by GM Jim Rutherford, solidifying his role as the team’s number one goaltender for this upcoming season. He will be backed up by 29-year-old Casey DeSmith. Additionally, the Penguins re-signed forwards Sam Lafferty, and Anthony Angello to two-year contract extensions, and Sam Miletic to a one-year extension.
Jim Rutherford was quite active on the free agent market as well as he signed depth center’s Mark Jankowski and Evan Rodrigues, who failed to come to a contract agreement with the Maple Leafs. Jankowski adds size and grit to the team’s offense, and Rodrigues provides skill and speed to an already quick offense. Both players are on league-minimum deals which makes the signings low-risk for the team.
Interestingly, Rutherford also signed free agent defenseman Cody Ceci to a one-year contract in what will likely be Ceci’s final shot as an NHL player. The former first-round pick of the Ottawa Senators struggled to live up to his potential and was traded by the Senators to the Maple Leafs where he struggled last season with injuries and poor performance. The Ottawa-native knows how important this upcoming season is and has a huge opportunity to revitalize his career with the Penguins. Additionally, the Pens added depth forward Frederick Gaudreau, as well as goaltender Maxime Lagace to respective one-year, two-way deals.
It has been a far from quiet offseason for the Penguins who may not be done making moves yet. Pens fans should expect the team to make one or two more moves ahead of a very important season. The team could potentially look to sign another veteran player to a one-year deal as they look for help from a leadership perspective, with many veterans still available on the market. Unless another trade is in the works, the team is unlikely to make any big free agent signings with just $1.32M in cap space remaining. However, more potential trades should not be ruled out as Jim Rutherford has been quite unpredictable this year.