Over the next week or so each of us here at PenguinPoop will be taking a hard look at whether or not the Pittsburgh Penguins organization needs to make any changes. First up is Disco Stu.
Time to Blow it up, or just do a remodeling job?
After three consecutive years of heading into the playoffs as prohibitive favorites to get to the Cup and then crashing and burning in the early rounds, the Penguins have to start wondering why they can’t turn regular season excellence into post season success. It’s a little difficult to know what the Pens will be able to do over the Summer with the new labor agreement still not settled and therefore no idea what type of salary cap they will be working with. Never the less, we can at least look at who the Penguins will need to resign, who they can start negotiating extensions with and who should be let go.
Let’s start at the top with GM Ray Shero and coach Dan Bylsma.
To anyone who thinks we should get rid of either go, get yourself some medical help. If either one of these guys were let go, they’d be snapped up by another organization so fast, it would make your head spin. Yes, both have made some mistakes, but the good they’ve done far outweighs the bad. Do the Penguins wish they were not saddled with the contracts of Martin and Michaelek, yes, but if you go back and read the reviews back around the time they were signed, it sure looks to me like everyone was pleased with the terms of both deals and the players involved. Have they not panned out? Debatable, but you had no idea of this two years ago when they were signed.
As for Bylsma, something about his style needs an adjustment to playoff hockey. Sure it isn’t easy having two of the best players in the world on your roster and keeping them both happy, but you know what, there’s 29 other coaches that would love to have that problem. Figure it out.
Let’s take a look at the team position by position and see what they will have to deal with going forward:
Like it or not, Marc-Andre Fleury is going to be the goalie here for a long time to come. He’s only 27 and I believe still has five years left on a seven year deal. He is still one of the premier goalies in the league as evidenced by his 42 wins in the regular season. Management needs to find him a better back up going forward so he doesn’t get as overworked during the regular season and can push him to get better.
Both Brent Johnson and Brad Thiessen are UFAs as of July 1. It is clearly time for Johnson to move on. His play clearly slipped this past season, and he isn’t getting any younger. Thiessen, on the other hand, has ben brilliant at times for the Pens’ minor league team in Wilkes-Barre, but this past season, he was a little more ordinary. He is on the smallish size for a position which has seen its players getting taller and larger in the past few seasons. He made $525K last year and would surely be looking for a raise if promoted to the big club. Not 100% sure what will be available in the goalie market this Summer, but if we can find someone better for somewhere around $1 million, I would prefer we do that and give Thiessen one more year in WB.
A. Asham – 775K -
S. MacIntyre – 600K -
S. Sullivan – 1.5M – R. Park – 550K -
Just about everyone in the forwards group is signed through next season except the above four. I personally think they can let Aaron Asham and Steve MacIntyre go. If Steve Sullivan will come back and play for the same salary as this past season on another one year deal, I say bring him back. He was just starting to find chemistry with his linemates as the season winded down, and his skill bringing the puck up the ice on the power play was a tremendous boon. Because the Penguins don’t seem to have much at the minor league level in the way of forwards that are NHL ready, I would have no problem bringing back Richard Park for another year at his same salary.
Eric Tangradi $845K
Tangradi is a real conundrum. He is about the only NHL ready forward the Penguins have at the minor league level. The problem is that they really have no room in their top 9 for him, and do you really want a power forward type prospect to be sitting on the bench garnering 4th line minutes and time on the second power play unit. Their best bet for him is to get him on a two way contract and let him keep improving in WB until there is someday an opening for him in the top 6.
All of the top six defensemen are signed. This is both a good thing and the problem. The Penguins have a plethora of young defensemen in their system but currently no room to bring any of them up. I seriously believe Shero needs to try and move Martin or Michaelek or both not only to improve the team’s overall defense but to free up cap space money and to get the youth to the major league level. I know Martin has a No Trade clause in his contract, but I have to believe that Ray can make him think about waving it if sitting in the press box or getting sent to Wilkes-Barre are presented to him as possibilities. Should Nashville lose Ryan Suter to free agency, I could see them possibly having an interest in one of them as well as Edmonton which has spent the last three seasons (Plus this year’s upcoming number one draft overall draft pick) on young forwards possibly moving one of them for a defenseman.
M. Niskanen – 1.5M
B. Strait – 862K
R. Bortuzzo – 550K
I think Matt Niskanen is going to be a casualty. He is going to want an increase in his $1.5M salary, and there are teams that will probably make an offer for him. With all of their other young defensemen, the Penguins will have to let him walk. Either Strait or Bortuzzo can fill his spot with the other one possibly leaving or going back to Wilkes – Barre. Strait is probably more NHL ready, but Bortuzzo has size as his advantage. I could also possibly see Ben Lovejoy being let go to be replaced by Simon Despres. This would leave Joe Morrow, Scott Harrington and Phillip Samuelsson as the top D in WB.
Then comes the really important decision on July 2nd. That is the day the Penguins can open negotiations for contract extensions with both Sidney Crosby and Jordan Staal. Sidney’s will be fairly easy as Ray will just ask Sid how much he wants, Sid will reply, and Ray will say OK. Staal, on the other hand, is going to be much more complicated.
The Penguins number one defensive Center has begun to again show his offensive chops. He was the team’s leading point getter in the post season, and is still only 24. If he desires the big bucks or to be a number one or number two Center, then there is no way the Penguins will be able to afford to keep him. If, on the other hand, he does the smart thing and talks to someone like his brother Eric who I believe would trade places with him in a heart beat, he might just realize that it is better in the long run to take less money and be in contention every year. Only Jordan can make that decision, and that will help Shero make his.
The window for this team to win still has a few more good years left to remain open, but every one of the early round post season exits removes another year of the Penguins chances to win multiple cups with this team. They have the talent and the management, now they just need to figure out what the problem is.