by J.T. Toth
Photo of John Chayka, general manager of the Arizona Coyotes. Courtesy of KJZZ.
The Pittsburgh Penguins enter an off-season they have not seen in the Steel Town for the better part of 18 seasons. Since the 2004-2005 season, the Pens enter the first off-season where they did not make the playoffs and do not have an easy fix on the horizon. Since drafting “Sid the Kid” in 2005 things were in place to see improvement season to season.
The off-season started the way most hockey pundits thought it would—with the firing of director of hockey operations, Brian Burke, and general manager, Ron Hextall. As of today, the Penguins' front office has not filled Hextall’s position, and the off-season is going to be here soon. The NHL draft is June 28th, and free agency begins July 1st. It would seem to benefit the Penguins to have their GM in place sooner rather than later with the number of decisions they will have to make.
Frank Seravalli of the Daily Faceoff reported this week that the Penguins' front office positions will be filled in the next week or two. Kyle Dubas is the leading candidate, and the timing would make sense on why the Penguins had to wait. Dubas, the general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs, announced Monday night that he would not leave Toronto due to his family situation and if he wasn’t re-signed he could see himself taking a year off. So that takes Kyle Dubas out of the equation. The other prominent name Draft 412 is hearing is Carolina Hurricanes' assistant general manager, Eric Tulsky, but the Hurricanes have advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals, making it difficult for the Pens to wait on him. Draft 412 thinks that former Arizona Coyotes' GM, John Chayka, or former Montreal Canadiens' GM, Marc Bergevin, could be the front runners to become the Penguins' new GM.
The Penguins–under former GM, Jim Rutherford–made it a habit to include our first-round picks in trades to try and help make annual playoff runs, and this practice has caught up to the organization. This year, Hextall refused to move their first round draft pick at the trade deadline and therefore, will pick 14th overall in the draft. The Pens are in a spot where position in round one doesn’t matter much as they need to start rebuilding a minor league system and prospect pipeline decimated during Rutherford’s “win now” years.
The new GM will also have to mix and match future picks with needs of today, addressing a cache of free agents the Pens have and may want to sign or re-sign. Courtesy of Spotrac.com, take a look below at the 15 players under contract for 2023. Remember, Jack Johnson, of course, is off the roster, but part of his salary hit still persists.
With only 15 players under contract and just the backup goalie, Casey DeSmith, on the roster, the new GM will have to decide which of his own players he will go after. Here is the list of free agents for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
One of the pressing needs—besides goalie—is that the Penguins only have three wingers on their roster. Rust and Nylander at RW, and Guentzel at LW. With a little over 20 million dollars of cap space to fill out this roster, the new GM is going to have to be very creative on how he signs players.
For example, Is LW-Jason Zucker worth 7 million per year as he may demand on the open market? If so, that likely represents over 1/3rd of the salary left to spend.
What about Goalie? Is Tristan Jarry worth 4 or 5 million per year with his history of injuries?
These are all questions that need answered quickly. There are 284 players that will hit the open market on July 1st. Here is a list Draft 412 has assembled that may fit nicely with the Pens:
1)- LW-Max Domi- Dallas
2)- G- Laurent Brossoit- Nashville
3)- G- Adin Hill- Vegas
4)- LW- Michael Bunting- Toronto
5)- LW- Matt Nieto- Colorado
These five players are all under 30 years of age, and with the Crosby-Malkin-Letang marriage continuing for several more seasons, the Penguins need to start getting younger around the big three.
Of course, trades can always be used to improve the team. The problem here is the Pens only have two “moveable” assets that other “win now” teams may be interested in. LW-Jake Guentzel and RW-Bryan Rust would bring a decent return, but then the current roster is depleted with no relief available from budding players in the minors.
Or the new GM could trade the Pens first round pick, mortgaging futures for “win now” talent.
Whomever the new GM will be, he will have a whirlwind May and June, leading him to the July free agency period. Between trades, draft picks, and free agent signings, these next two months are going to reshape the Pittsburgh Penguins for years to come.