I’ve had very few entries on site since the Penguins were eliminated in round two by the Washington Capitals due to some time constraints and a lack of true news until the last week or so. I am back to give my thoughts on some of the happenings for the Penguins as well as some of the other signings and trades that have happened since.
- With what the Penguins had, they utilized their space well. The Penguins had made it clear they wanted to make some changes. Jim Rutherford usually follows up on his word. He began by trading forward Conor Sheary and defenseman Matt Hunwick to the Buffalo Sabres for a draft pick. Both Sheary and Hunwick were cap casualties on a Penguins team that didn’t have a ton of room to play with. They went out and then replaced those cap hits with defenseman Jack Johnson and familiar face Matt Cullen. He also signed a depth piece in Jimmy Hayes who should be a nice fill in fourth line guy in case of an injury on the wing. He got Riley Sheahan back for another season and soon will add Jamie Oleksiak back into the fold officially.
- The Johnson signing will be better than expected. I understand the frustration of signing a 31-year old defenseman who’s struggled in recent years especially considering the defense has been the shortcoming (if the Penguins truly have any) of the team. Johnson and Rutherford both believe that his demotion to the press box had a lot more to do with the incompetence of the Columbus coaching staff and they could be right. The price the Penguins will pay Johnson ($3.25 million AAV) isn’t the issue in my opinion. If there’s reason to be worried, it’s the term. The five years will lead into his age 36 season. Now there is a good chance the Penguins won’t be the ones paying him all five years as there is an expansion draft and potential compliance buyouts that could be used. He should fit in fine on the Penguins third pairing.
- Tavares to the Maple Leafs makes them better, but are they there yet? The Maple Leafs are a skilled, young, fast team quickly on the rise towards the NHL’s cream of the crop. They were able to add a guy some consider to be a franchise altering player in John Tavares. Tavares, easily a top 10 center in the league, got a seven year deal from the Maple Leafs to join his childhood favorite. With Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner, the Leafs are a legit offensive juggernaut. But do they have enough on the back end to be an actual Stanley Cup threat? Jake Gardiner had an off year in 2017-18′ and hopes to bounce back but the Leafs’ defense is comprised of a few question marks. They have Frederik Andersen in net but he can’t be the elite goaltender he is if he is facing 40 shots a night. It will wear on him. Mike Babcock has a talented team and he will be trying to push them on to the cusp of Stanley Cup contention.
- The Flames are slowly building on what should have been a winning foundation. Calgary was my pick last preseason to win their division and they completely fell short of the playoffs despite a talented cast of players. They went out and added an all-star goalie in Mike Smith to solidify a shaky goaltending situation and things didn’t play out as they had wished. This season, the Flames have made some noise. They acquired 2015 fifth overall draft pick Noah Hanifin and Elias Lindholm from the Carolina Hurricanes in exchange for Dougie Hamilton, Micheal Ferland, and Adam Fox. On the surface, it is strictly a hockey deal and both teams feel as if they upgraded. Personally, I love Hanifin’s game. I think he will fit in well on Calgary’s blueline and Lindholm should be a perfect complement to Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan. Then, on day two of free agency, the Flames inked former Hurricane Derek Ryan and also James Neal to a long term deal that gives them a former 40 goal scorer despite some of the baggage that comes with him after spearheading parts of the Vegas Golden Knights’ inaugural season. Speaking of the Golden Knights…
- George McPhee showing he isn’t afraid of handing out potentially crippling contracts. It’s hard to question a general manager who hand picked a hockey team from scratch and led them to a Stanley Cup Finals appearance in their first season in existence. Over the first few days of free agency, McPhee has shelled out some serious money. The more head scratching of the two major moves comes in the form of Ryan Reaves‘ 2-year, $2.7 million AAV contract. Reaves is a really good locker room presence as the Penguins found out for half a season before sending him to Vegas to help complete the Derick Brassard deal. Is that worth almost $3 million? I’d say no but I am no general manager. The Paul Stastny deal bolsters the Knights’ center depth in a big way after he had a solid series against them in the Western Conference Final. But Stastny hasn’t put up more than 40 points since 2009-10′ when he had a career high 59. They will be paying him $6.5 million for three seasons. It may prove to be worth it. We’ll see.
- Can someone explain to me what the hell the Blackhawks are doing? The Blackhawks just had a tumultuous season in which they missed the playoffs for the first time in a decade. Their solution to the problem? Get older. The three players Chicago signed on Sunday: Chris Kunitz, Brandon Manning, and Cam Ward. Kunitz is still serviceable and can kill penalties but plays a style of game that likely is beginning to really wear on him. Manning is an aging bottom pairing veteran defenseman who got paid handsomely to do so. And finally, Ward will likely provide solid insurance to Corey Crawford but is still no young man himself. If Crawford were to get hurt again, is Ward capable of carrying that load? The Blackhawks don’t strike me as an improved team with these moves.
- The Capitals did well to resign John Carlson. The Capitals were able to dump the salary of Brooks Orpik by packaging him with restricted free agent Philipp Grubauer who likely will assume the starting role in Colorado. The Capitals have Braden Holtby so, much like the Penguins, they couldn’t maintain the “two No. 1 goalies” luxury for too long. They dealt from a strength and dumped a bad contract to resign their number one defenseman long-term after it looked much like he’d be too expensive for the Caps. They also resigned Michal Kempny and look to resign RFA’s Tom Wilson and Devante Smith-Pelly as well.