by J.T. Toth
Photo courtesy of The Hockey Writers.
The Pittsburgh Penguins and new GM Kyle Dubas were very active in the off-season, giving their roster a major and much needed facelift. The team added 12 new players via trade or free agency and lost 7, covering all areas of the rink.
Draft 412 takes a closer look at the three most important losses as the season nears:
1. Defenseman- Jan Rutta
The Penguins signed blueliner Jan Rutta two off-seasons ago to a 3-year, 8.25 million dollar contract, and the two-time Stanley Cup winning defenseman played well for Pittsburgh in 56 games last year. Rutta’s time in Pittsburgh was short lived as he was a part of the blockbuster deal that landed the Pens' Norris Trophy winning defenseman Erik Karlsson this past August.
Rutta’s rugged defensive play will be missed, but the Pens needed to give something to get something. His style of play lends itself to a nice pairing to offset a team’s more offensive minded defenseman. Rutta knows how to win, and the 33-year-old was a (+3) last year, playing over 17 minutes a night.
The Karlsson trade was perhaps the biggest in the NHL this past summer, adding all-world talent to the roster, but the Pens and their fans will feel the sting of Rutta’s departure. The team will struggle to replace his experience and leadership in the backend.
2. Defenseman- Brian Dumoulin
Was it time for the Penguins to move on from an aging Brian Dumoulin? Yes, but that does not make it any easier to move on from a player who played 10 years in the black and gold after coming over as the “throw-in prospect” in the Jordan Staal trade.
Though he played all 82 games last season, it was obvious that he could not play at the level he once did, when his defensive prowess often bailed out his more offensively aggressive pairing partner, Kris Letang.
There was a sense that if Dumoulin was willing to return with a diminished role and at a lesser salary, the Penguins may have brought him back for a bottom pairing along the blue line, but he signed with the Seattle Kraken early on in free agency.
Overall, he played in 546 games for the Penguins and was a (+93) in that time, helping Pittsburgh win two cups in 2016-17 and 2017-18. He was the kind of player a winning team needs, doing the dirty work that would go unheralded.
3. Left Wing- Jason Zucker
In February of 2020, the Penguins obtained Jason Zucker from the Minnesota Wild for winger Alex Galchenyuk, defenseman Calen Addison and a conditional first round pick that ended up being a 2021 first rounder.
Last season was Zucker’s best in a Pens uniform. For starters, it was his first healthy season with Pittsburgh, and he seemed to finally be finding his groove on the 2nd line alongside center, Evgeni Malkin.
But Zucker’s deal ended when the Pens missed the playoffs for the first time in seventeen seasons and instead of re-signing here, the Pens chose to let him explore free agency. He ended up signing in Arizona for a reasonable one year deal worth 5 million, which may make him a “rental player” candidate for a contender at the NHL trading deadline.