Penguins Update: Leavin’ on a Jet Plane – Pittsburgh Penguins – PenguinPoop Blog

Penguins Update: Leavin’ on a Jet Plane

All my bags are packed. I’m ready to go. I’m standin’ here outside your door. I hate to wake you up to say goodbye.

Folks of a certain generation will instantly recognize those lyrics as the opening to John Denver’s timeless classic, Leaving on a Jet Plane.


I thought it a fitting sendoff to free agents Nick Bonino, Trevor Daley, Ron Hainsey and Chris Kunitz, who signed with other NHL clubs yesterday. Marc-Andre Fleury, too, who only recently bolted the ‘Burgh for the glittering lights of the Las Vegas strip.

The times they are, indeed, a changin.’ Especially for our two-time Stanley Cup champions.

Heck, it seems we barely had time to celebrate the Pens’ glorious achievement, much less revel in it, before guys started leaving town. An all-too-harsh reality of the salary-cap era, I’m afraid.

It’s so hard to say goodbye. Especially to Kunitz, a driving force behind our three most recent Cup champions. The undersized battler and longtime Sidney Crosby sidekick signed a one-year deal with Tampa Bay.

One could argue that the Pens morphed into a legit contender the very day “Kuny” arrived from Anaheim in the spring of 2009, ready to blow up the first foe he encountered with one of his patented, bristling body checks.

Actually, you could say the same for Daley, who transformed the Pens’ defense from quicksand to quicksilver when he came on board in December of 2015. I doubt if the locals would’ve repeated as Cup champions without Jim Rutherford’s savvy—if not downright prescient—acquisition of Hainsey this spring.

Bonino? What more can you say about this bearded, shot-blocking warrior? Heart and soul of the HBK Line. Played Game Two of the Final on a completely fractured tibia. A black-and-gold hero for the ages.

A shame we couldn’t keep ‘em. “Bones” got a four-year deal from Nashville for a cool $16.4 million—not outrageous by today’s inflated standards but more than we could afford. Daley signed a three-year deal with Detroit worth $9.53 million.

The 36-year-old Hainsey dusted off his visa and went north of the border, inking a two-year pact with Toronto for $6 million. Kunitz gets $2 million to bang bodies and set a sterling example for the Lightning.

For the sake of fiscal sanity—not to mention cap compliance—Rutherford simply couldn’t match those offers.

So, grudgingly, we turn the page.

JR plugged the gap on D by signing Matt Hunwick for three years at an annual rate of $2.25 million. No, the 32-year-old rearguard isn’t a sexy addition, nor the backline bruiser many of us crave. But like a fine wine, his game’s improved with age.

Hunwick’s mobile, handles the puck well and is reliable in his own end. He’s developed into a good penalty killer, averaging 2:39 of shorthanded ice time a game for Toronto in 2016-17. He’s a leader, too, serving as an assistant captain for the Leafs.

In case you haven’t noticed, JR’s big on character. After all, it’s not about signing the biggest names. Just the right ones.

The Pens also added a veteran goalie. Antti Niemi, who won a Stanley Cup with Chicago in 2010, will back up Matt Murray this season. To be kind, Niemi’s numbers were awful with Dallas last season—a 3.30 goals-against average and a porous .892 save percentage. But as recently as 2013-14 the native of Vantaa, Finland won 39 games for San Jose; 24 the previous season when he led the league and posted a .924 save percentage to boot.

The pedigree is there. And at a bargain-basement $700,000 for one year, it’s hard to argue the price.

Rutherford also reinforced the Pens with a number of depth signings. Center Greg McKegg and defensemen Chris Summers, Jarred Tinordi and Zach Trotman agreed to one-year, two-way deals worth $650,000 at the big-league level. All have NHL experience. In particular, Tinordi (6’6” 230) and Trotman (6’3” 219) provide an element the Pens haven’t had in a while—brawn on the blueline.

The picture isn’t complete. Not by a long shot. There’s a glaring hole at third-line center that JR’s working hard to fill. Names like Matt Duchene, Alex Galchenyuk…even ex-Pen Jordan Staal…are churning through the rumor mill.

Rutherford still needs to sign defenseman Brian Dumoulin—a key cog—and forwards Conor Sheary and Josh Archibald. A left wing with some touch and sand to replace the departed Kunitz would be nice, too.

Still…all things considered, not a bad day’s work for JR and his staff.

Schultz Signs

In perhaps the most heartening news of the day for Pens fans, Rutherford inked Justin Schultz to a new, three-year contract with an average annual value of $5.5 million. A revelation since arriving from Edmonton at the 2016 trade deadline, the ultra-skilled Schultz tallied 12 goals and 39 assists last season for 51 points—seventh most in the league.

JR also signed a handful of fringe players to new contracts. Defenseman Frank Corrado, acquired from Toronto at the 2017 trade deadline, and heavyweight left wing Tom Sestito re-upped on one-year, two-way deals for $650,000 at the NHL level.

Goalie Casey DeSmith, who posted a sterling 2.01 goals against average in 29 games with the Baby Pens, signed a two-year, two-way deal at the same rate.

*Be sure to check out Rick Buker’s books,
available at TriumphBooks.com, Amazon.com, and BarnesandNoble.com

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  1. Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
    July 2, 2017 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

    Hey all,

    Interesting side note. The Caps signed Anthony Peluso, a pretty tough customer. I guess they felt with us getting Reaves, they needed someone to protect Tom Wilson.


  2. the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
    July 2, 2017 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

    Hey Rick,

    I though I posted a comment but apparently it got lost in the ghost in the machine.

    So here goes, I am re-writing it. This time I am writing it in word first so all I have to do is cut and paste.

    First, Agreed, the Pens and their Fans owe MAF, Kunitz, Bonino, Daley, and Hainsey gratitude for their efforts in the black and gold. You guys brought a special kind of Magic to the ‘burgh.

    Now, Rick, I would understand if you or anyone here would think that I thought JR totally dropped the ball yesterday, particularly judging by my last comment to your previous post, Rick. I do think that the Pens lost a lot more than they gained yesterday. Hainsey’s contributions weren’t that extensive, but he definitely did his share to earn that Cup. I really am glad for him.

    In the cases of Kunitz, Bonino, and Daley, they were big contributors.

    None of those players are irreplaceable but I am sorry, Niemi, Hunwick, and the 4 AHLers really do not equal out what was lost.

    However, I do applaud JR for what he did do and for what he didn’t do.

    Perhaps the most important thing JR did was what he didn’t do. He didn’t over-pay for anyone. Like I said above, I appreciate all that Bonino brought to this team. However, Bonino’s numbers do not support his contract, at least not on this Pens team. If the Pens didn’t have $7 mil tied up in a question mark on D, I may think differently. So, Kudos to JR for what he didn’t do there, he didn’t try and compete.

    Also, Kudos to JR on signing Niemi, $700K is a bargain; again there is a however. However, I really hope he didn’t mean what he was quoted as saying. He was quoted as saying he expected Niemi to play 30 – 40 games. If Niemi plays that many games, I do think the team is in a world of hurt.

    This year was not really deep in high end UFA’s; at least in areas where the Pens are weak. I am really glad JR resisted the temptation to throw away good money on marginal players. Maybe the only UFA’s that I would have gone afterif I had the Cap space and no RFAs to sign would have been Shattenkirk and Gagner.

    Where I think JR dropped the ball this off season was; 1) by giving up a draft pick to ensure Vegas takes MAF, there is no way in the world Vegas would have done anything else. 2) trading there 1st pick for Reaves, with all do respect to those that disagree, you did make valid points, just not enough to change my mind, Hague or Kostin would fill much more needed roles than Reaves. In my mind Raeves only makes sense if the Pens were compteting in the WWE. 3) Publicly telling the Pens UFAs to go out and work the best deal they could but give the Pens a chance to match. If he says that privately in a room with just those players, it is professional and shows that he values them, to publicly say that, it can be construed as a slap in the face; it can be viewed as walking papers. Had JR kept all of this private I am sure the Pens could have kept Kunitz and for less than he signed for. Furthermore, for what Kunitz signed for, I am pretty sure he would contribute more than Hunwick will contribute.

    Last 2 Points, Did you see that the Pens signed G Wilson?

    Also, since you broached the subject, given the rumors, who would you trade for if you were JR; Duchene, Galenchuk, or Staal?

    • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
      July 3, 2017 at 8:58 am | Permalink

      Hey Other Rick,

      I agree that the Pens are hardly as good a team today as they were a few days ago, but I hardly think we could expect them to be.

      Bonino, in his own way, is a special player. You just don’t find too many defensively oriented, shot-blocking demons who can also score 15-20 goals. Guys like that don’t grow on trees…he’ll be hard to replace.

      Kunitz, too. I wish we could’ve kept him, as much for his leadership as anything, but also for his grit and drive. I’m okay with losing Daley…he just didn’t seem as effective to me last season and I think Hunwick will be an upgrade, especially in his own end.

      More than any other player, Hainsey fit his Hockey News scouting report to a T. It said he goes through games and stretches where the pieces of his game just don’t seem to mesh. And then he’ll have games when it all comes together and he’s outstanding.

      I, for one, liked having a bigger body back there on D, and I thought he and Dumoulin made a nice pairing. But again, I fully understand why Rutherford didn’t sign him. He’s only got so many $$$ to spend.

      I applaud JR for not getting caught up in the spending frenzy. It’s the Black Friday of free agency, and I can imagine the sense of urgency one would feel when you see the prime free agents getting snapped up by other clubs. It takes discipline not to wade in and throw mad money around. But I think it’s the right move.

      Let the Rangers have Shattenkirk. Yes, he’ll put up big numbers. But he’s not gonna lead them to a Cup.

      JR’s savvy enough to know team building is a process, and you don’t necessarily have to have all the pieces in place right away. Although it looks like he might be heading to Minnesota, we still don’t know for sure what Matt Cullen’s going to do. He might be back.

      Along those lines, we don’t know what JR’s got cookin’, trade wise. The talk about Duchene, Galchenyuk (who can play left wing and center) and Staal might just be rumors. Then again …

      As much as we all want to three-peat, we knew changes were coming and that we couldn’t possibly keep everyone. To my eye, we’re still in a heck of a lot better shape than Washington, who lost Nate Schmidt in the expansion draft, Karl Alzner, Shattenkirk and Justin Williams to free agency, and Marcus Johansson via trade. Of our division rivals, only Columbus appears to have taken a significant step forward.

      JR has earned my trust. I think he’ll do his very best, even if the moves don’t happen right away, to put us in a good position.


      PS—Between the three guys we’re rumored to be looking at…that’s a tough call. Staal’s under contract for five more years at $6 mil, which could be good or bad, depending on your thinking. While I’d love to get a guy with his size and pedigree, skating could be an issue.

      Matt Duchene also makes $6 mil (signed through ‘18-19), but he’s fast and I think would fit our style better. Galchenyuk is an RFA who made $2.8 mil last season and is probably due for a raise. Can play wing and center like the other guys, but his game’s not as complete.

      PSS–I did see that we signed Garrett Wilson…included that in my updated Penguins BB Post.


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