Some of the most remarkable accomplishments that GM Jim Rutherford completed when transitioning the Pittsburgh Penguins team to this 2017 season was keeping pretty much all of the roster in tact and together. The only player that the Penguins lost was Beau Bennet and Ben Lovejoy, and with all due respect to Mr. Bennet, I don’t think any Pens fan cares or even missed him. Lovejoy played well as a defenseman for the Pens, but was quickly replaced. Now he’s struggling just to remain on the New Jersey Devils roster, rough switch.
Now the transition after back to back Stanley Cups going into ’18, becomes a more difficult path as players have received lucritive free agency contracts. It’s widely known in sports that players who win a championship normally grab large offers in the following off season of free agency. They deserve to be compensated for such a grand accomplishment, but it’s also remarkable about how the Pens were able to keep most of their guys while winning numerous cup championships in that time.
I’m thankful for each of these athlete’s effort as a Pittsburgh Penguin, seeing them go hurts but that’s the difficult nature that this business does. Even so, the Pens main to core group is still in on the roster. For now, here’s the players who left that are the toughest losses to the team.
- Nick Bonino: Signed with Nashville Predators
Anchoring the 3rd line center role, Bonino would be a 2nd liner on most other teams if it weren’t for the Pens phenomenal talent. “Bonesy” brought grit, smarts, and reliability to the team. He provided top offense when needed and was always assuring to stop a top line with his defense, which is why he was the top penalty killer. While his play was more affective on the 2016 Cup team, there’s no better example of his heart and sacrifice last year than in this year’s 2017 Cup final (and win) when Bonino broke his fibula blocking a shot and than continued to finish the rest of the game. His departure leaves the biggest question on the Penguins for who will replace him, it won’t be easy.
2. Marc-Andre Fleury: Drafted by Vegas Golden Knights
This probably would have been lower on the list if it wasn’t for the nostalgia wrapped around it. There’s no question Fleury is loved by all Pens fans, people were heartbroken when he was gone and his contributions through the years go on and on. Obviously Matt Murray is the starting goalie so that role is filled, but as a locker room presence and great teammate, it affects the psyche of the team. Flower even sat next to Sidney Crosby on all flights! 3 Stanley Cups including a great playoff run this year until Murray took over in the Eastern Conference Finals. What a career in Pittsburgh for him. He’s the only player on this list that spent his whole time as a Penguin, there’s great reason for that.
3. Matt Cullen: Retired……?
The original “dad” of the Penguins roster brought a winning yet calming pedigree to the Penguins. He stabilized a 4th line to make them just as dangerous as all the others. Cullen had a knack for capitalizing offensively at the most crucial times. He would constantly produce between 10-20 goals a season for the Pens, a phenomenal of scoring for a 4th line player. Carter Rowney will likely take his spot at center unless he gets the 3rd line, you can’t quantify veteran knowledge Cullen brought to the roster though.
4. Trevor Daley: Signed with Detroit Red Wings
Daley’s 2nd Stanley Cup victory was a little sweeter because he actually got to play in the finals this time. The previous win had him nursing a broken ankle. Daley was an offensive defenseman through and through that fit the Penguins system. Because Justin Schultz improved in succession from each year, he was clearly the 1 to sign back. Also we should get Kris Letang healthy again, making a the 1-2 defensive punch lethal. The Pens have alot of depth going on behind the blue line, so Daley was nice but certainly replaceable.
5. Chris Kunitz: Signed by Tampa Bay Lightning
The 2nd longest tenured Penguin on this list, Kunitz experienced a wonderful time in a Penguins sweater. During his earlier time he was high level point scorer for the team, winging on the top line along with Sidney Crosby at center, Kunitz at 1 point was very prolific. His later years saw his role diminished to a protector role, taking the brunt of front net scrap ups just like Patric Hornqvist. Kunitz was able to change his game and help the team. His scoring fell off, yet he had his last great Penguins moments in game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals, scoring 2 goals including the winning goal in double OT. Unless he was coming back for smaller money, his body guard role was replaced by Hornqvist and Ryan Reaves. His scoring has long been taken by the stable of young guys like Conor Sheary, Jake Gutnzel and Bryan Rust all on lesser contracts. The Pens also have promising Daniel Sprong amongst others waiting in the wings to go. Kunitz time was up though it was a time worth remembering. In the twilight of his career, he has 4 (3 with the Pens) Cups and can prepare for retirement playing in Tampa. He will take on a veteran role there similar to the 1 that made him assistant captain here.
6. Ron Hainsey: Signed by Toronto Maple Leafs
Traded for at the deadline for insurance on defense, Hainsey progressed as the playoffs went on. I liked him in Pittsburgh, though there was no chance the Penguins would dream of giving Hainsey the money that Toronto did. As stated before about the Letang return along with some guys in the farm system, Hainsey was expendable. If the Pens need more help later in the season they can just trade for another Hainsey type player at the deadline for a similar end result.