Pens 7/7 Collaboration: Day 5

Let’s Talk Pens

I was mostly surprised that Jamie Oleksiak played the role that he did for the Penguins after his acquisition this season.

The Penguins traded a draft pick for a guy who was the odd man out in Dallas. He came to Pittsburgh and things changed.

He had a revelation when he came to Pittsburgh and began playing top-six minutes and immediately made his huge frame felt. He threw his body around, carried the puck and wasn’t afraid to get involved offensively.

It seems the Penguins have a system that suits defenseman comfortably. They’ve found another gem in Oleksiak.

He posted 14 points in 47 games with the Penguins this season and had three in 21 with Dallas. His 17 points more than doubled his career high of eight coming into the season.

His physical appearance was used as a deterrent once the Penguins traded Ryan Reaves to the Vegas Golden Knights to help acquire center Derick Brassard. He even fought Zdeno Chara in a game earlier this season.

The big man was a big get for the Penguins.

Puck Sniper

Heading into the new season, the Penguins will have a great need for a revitalized bottom six in their forward corps after a disappointing offensive output from them during the postseason. It’s been pretty common to knock Riley Sheahan for their struggles, but the numbers can be deceiving.

While Sheahan’s line wasn’t effective offensively in a numerical sense, from a more qualitative standpoint, Sheahan seems to me to be a solid asset for the Penguins for now. Even when his wingers weren’t doing the same, Sheahan generated looks in the offensive zone, protected the puck, and showed good puck movement – sometimes on a low-key, almost Crosby-esque level.

On the other side of the puck, he was responsible, had good sticks in the defensive zone, won faceoffs when he needed to, and was an incredible penalty killer.That is the type of player that the Penguins don’t want to give up too easily unless they know that they can get a truly good return. If Sheahan plays with good wingers, I can see him being more effective offensively.

Even if the numbers don’t necessarily back it up, even having a player who can give a bottom-six line good offensive zone time and prevent his line from being an opportunity to score for the other team gives the Penguins an opportunity to utilize those bottom lines as weapons.Of course, that doesn’t mean the Penguins should immediately hit Sheahan with too significant of a raise or lock him up longer term – there’s still not enough to warrant that.

Sheahan is an RFA entering this season, and the Penguins must either match or increase his $2.075 million salary. Here’s my proposal: the Penguins should try to offer Sheahan a two-year contract, but stay under his estimated contract value of $4 million from CapFriendly.com (a number based on similar contracts throughout the league). If they can secure him for around that time frame at a reasonable price, they have a chance to use him on an upgraded fourth line, without sacrificing too much ability to move him. In fact, coming off of a season where Sheahan posted his best offensive output since the 2013-14 season, he’s still to some extent in the game for seeing third line time as well if need be, having already shown he can fit either of those roles when the team needs him to. As an asset, I see a fair amount of support for his sticking around.

Again, while Sheahan’s numerical offensive output on an individual level and from his line as a whole was nothing impressive during the playoffs, I wouldn’t boil the problem down to him. First of all, from the visuals of the games themselves, I thought Sheahan was at many times the strong point on a weak line, and thought he was imperative to penalty killing efforts. Deeper stats reveal some bright spots for him too.

Consider this: with all the solid play Sheahan provided on the PK, he didn’t confine his contributions to special teams minutes, like a lot of players do. If a player limits their best play to the penalty kill, it lessens their value as an asset, but Sheahan brought a lot of good things in 5v5 hockey. After seeing his 5v5 points/60 on a pretty steady negative trend since the 2013-14 NHL season, Sheahan brought that number back up during the 2016-17 season to 1.69 points/60 at 5 on 5 hockey. And if you need proof of that being a very solid mark, I should mention that Sidney Crosby posted 1.67. Yes, Sheahan was more productive at 5 on 5 hockey through the season overall than Crosby, and to me, that is most definitely a testament to his potential value and the asset he could be.

Pens Army

The upcoming NHL offseason should be an exciting one, and surely an interesting one for Pens fans. Trades will be made, players will be drafted and we’ll see which UFAs and RFAs stay with new contracts.

The Penguins don’t have the hardest offseason of all teams, but there are still good regular players to re-sign. One of them is Pittsburgh’s forward Bryan Rust.

Rust is the Penguins’ third-round pick (80th overall) in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. Since that selection, he played in 181 games with Pittsburgh (scored 33 goals, earned 46 assists, for a total of 79 points). Last season was his best with 38 points (13G, 25A) in 69 games.

He’s that type of player who brings so much energy in a hockey game. He really wants to help his team and you can see it after every shift he plays.

He’s also so fast! He’s one of the fastest skater out there when he wants to break down the middle and go for a chance at the net. Rust draws so many penalties that way. He’s hard to play against because of his speed and energy all night long.

The Penguins also use him on the penalty kill. The Pens’ right winger does a fantastic job defensively. I think he’s really mature and responsible on and off the ice, with and without the puck. That’s why Mike Sullivan gives him ice-time in a lot of different situations.

Rust is now 26 years old and just finished a two-year contract that gave him $1,28M (640K AAV). Now, he’s looking for a new contract with the Penguins.

Luckily for him, I think he’ll get his new deal. I doubt Jim Rutherford will let him go. He’s a talented player.

I think it’s hard to predict what kind of contract he will get. I think that the terms of Rust’s next deal will be more about what he brings to the Pens than his stats. He’s not a scoring machine, as you know. However, he’s clutch when it comes to playoffs time and he fits perfectly in the Penguins’ system. That counts in the negociations.

I can’t see him ending up with a deal of seven or eight years. It also won’t be under a million per year (would be more than a steal). I think that Jim Rutherford and Bryan Rust will end up with a three-year contract. It could be one less or one more, but in the negociations it changes a lot.

GM Jim Rutherford gave Matt Murray a three-year deal ($3,75M AA) last summer. Murray was slowly becoming the starting goalie in Pittsburgh. He got a transition contract, after winning the cup. We all know that this was, and still is a steal for the Pens. Where am I going with this you’ll say? Well… Rust is one of our many talented wingers. Hornqvist just signed for a bit more than $5M per year and he is a key player in the organization. Without him, the Penguins are not the same team. Rust doesn’t offer the same production than wingers like Hornqvist. Yes, he scored almost 40 points this season, but GMs really look at this when it comes to contract negociations.

However, Rust’s ability to be a clutch player in important games could help him. His speed and defensive game also.

I think it could be something between $4,5M and $5,25M for three years. It would give him the opportunity to play for at least three more years for a team that has chance to win the cup. It always helps to play better and prove you deserve more for your next contract.

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