Team Overview: PITTSBURGH PENGUINS

Pittsburgh Penguins

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS: By the Numbers

2014-2015
Overall Record: 43-27-12-98
Standings: Metropolitan Division: 4, Eastern Conference: 8, League: 15
Playoff Result: Eliminated by NY Rangers in Eastern Conference Quarterfinal (Series: 4-1 NYR)

2015-2016
Overall Record: 13-8-2-28
Home Record: 8-4-1
Away Record: 5-4-1
Shootout Record: 1-1
Standings: Metropolitan Division: 3, Eastern Conference: 5, League: 10
Goals For: 51 (NHL rank: 26)
Goals Against: 53 (NHL rank: 27)
Power Play Percentage: 16.5 percent (NHL rank: 23)
Penalty Kill Percentage: 84 percent (NHL rank: 7)
Leading Scorer: Evgeni Malkin (11-11-22)
 

2015-2016 Overview:

The Pittsburgh Penguins had one of the best offseasons in the Eastern Conference. General manager Jeremy Ruthorford completed two trades that were both completely lopsided in Pittsburgh’s favor, and the Penguins looked ready and poised to have a great regular season and a strong playoff run. However, the season hasn’t quite gone according to plan. The Penguins are still climbing the division standings and have played better of late, but there are rumors about disagreements within the locker room and organization. However, not all of this has remained behind closed doors. For one thing, alternate captain Evgeni Malkin voiced his frustration in an interview after two consecutive Pittsburgh losses, saying “We don’t play right, we don’t work hard. I know it’s tough right now, but I know we’re mad at each other. We need to stop, look in the mirror…start working. We’re not working.” Malkin’s blunt assessment was certainly highly discussed in the media, but to his credit, he backed up his comments with a four-point performance against Minnesota in the team’s next game. Since his comments, Malkin has scored 10 points (seven goals, 3 assists) in six games. Despite those ten points, the Penguins have gone 3-3 during that stretch. Additionally, there is still tension in Steel City. In Pittsburgh’s shootout loss to the Oilers on Saturday night (during which Malkin scored both of the Penguins’ two goals), Penguins captain Sidney Crosby could be visibly seen having an argument with linemate Patric Hornqvist on the Pittsburgh bench. This is not characteristic of the Pittsburgh Penguins, who normally breeze through the regular season, all smiles.

Simply put, the Pittsburgh offense has not performed up to par. The offense has not been clicking and the power-play numbers have been down considerably. The Penguins currently rank 23rd in power-play percentage, compared to finishing the 2014-2015 season with the ninth best power-play. The team is 26th in league scoring, with 51 goals for so far this season. Also, Penguins captain Sidney Crosby didn’t have a point through five games this season; he only managed three points through the first nine games of the year. Crosby didn’t even have a shot on goal until game three of the season. Though his numbers have improved (he currently has 15 points on the year), something isn’t right when Crosby, a career point-per-game regular-season performer, has to fight for shots on goal. Though it is still very early in the season, the Penguins need to make adjustments and turn the season around. Internal feuds between Crosby and owner Mario Lemieux have only been speculated in rumors, but it’s clear that this is not the same relaxed, confident locker room that it used to be; some of the frustration is spilling out onto the ice. The Penguins have failed to reach the Conference Finals since winning the Stanley Cup in 2009 and have had many disappointing playoff exits. The team is built around two of the best players in the game, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin; if the two of them are not happy, there is definitely a problem. With the additions the team made in the offseason, there’s really no reason why the Penguins do not have one of the strongest offenses in the entire league. Pens fans should’t worry too much, though; not only has Marc-Andre Fleury been solid this year, but the team has given up the fourth lowest number of goals. The Penguins have more than enough talent and experience to turn things around eventually.

 
Last Game: November 28 vs. Edmonton (Final: 3-2 OT–Loss)
Next Game: December 1 vs. San Jose, 10:30pm EST
 

Line Combinations

Here are the line combinations the Pittsburgh Penguins used in the team’s most recent game:
 
Forwards
Dupuis-Crosby-Hornqvist
Perron-Malkin-Kessel
Kunitz-Bonino-Bennett
Plotnikov-Cullen-Fehr

Defensemen
Scuderi-Letang
Dumoulin-Lovejoy
Cole-Clendening

Goalies
Fleury
Zatkoff
 

Offseason Overview

Trades:

  • F Nick Spaling, F Kasperi Kapanen, D Scott Harrington, 2016 3rd-round pick and a conditional draft pick to Toronto for F Phil Kessel ($1.2 million salary retained), D Tim Erixon, F Tyler Biggs and a conditional draft pick
  • F Brandon Sutter and conditional 3rd-round pick to Vancouver for F Nick Bonino, D Adam Clendening and 2016 2nd-round pick

Re-Signed:

  • D Reid McNeill (2-year deal with AAV* of $575,000)
  • F Bobby Farnham (1-year deal with AAV* of $575,000)–later waived, claimed by New Jersey
  • F Beau Bennett (1-year contract at $800,000)
  • F Dominik Uher (1-year contract at $575,000)
  • D Niclas Andersen (1-year ELC with AAV* of $625,000)
  • F Dominik Simon (3-year ELC with AAV* of $692,500)
  • D Ian Cole (3-year deal with AAV* of $2.1 million)
  • F Tom Kuhnhackl (1-year contract at $575,000)
  • F Conor Sheary (2-year ELC with AAV* of $575,000)
  • F Daniel Sprong (3-year ELC with AAV* of $692,500)

Free Agents Signed:

  • F Eric Fehr (3-year deal with AAV* of $2 million)
  • F Matt Cullen (1-year contract at $800,000)
  • D David Warsofsky (1-year contract at $600,000)
  • F Sergei Plotnikov (1-year ELC at $925,000)
  • F Kevin Porter (1-year contract at $575,000)
  • F Kael Mouillierat (1-year contract at $575,000)
  • D Steve Olesky (1-year contract at $575,000)
  • D Will O’Neill (1-year contract at $575,000)
  • F Tom Sestito–PTO (later released)
  • D Sergei Gonchar–PTO (later released)

Draft Recap:

  • Round 2 (46) RW Daniel Sprong
  • Round 5 (137) C Dominik Simon
  • Round 6 (167) LW Frederik Tiffels
  • Round 7 (197) C Nikita Pavlychev

Notable Extensions:
None

Free Agents Lost:

  • G Thomas Greiss–NY Islanders
  • F Blake Comeau–Colorado
  • F Jayson Megna–NY Rangers
  • D Taylor Chorney–Washington
  • D Paul Martin–San Jose
  • F Steve Downie–Arizona
  • F Daniel Winnik–Toronto
  • D Christian Ehrhoff–Los Angeles
  • F Andrew Ebbett–Bern (Switzerland-Nat’l League A)
  • F Maxim Lapierre–Modo (Sweden)
  • F Adam Payerl–UFA
  • G Eric Hartzell–UFA
  • D Nick D’Agostino–UFA
  • F Craig Adams–UFA
  • F Nick Drazenovic–UFA
  • F Andrew Ebbett–UFA
  • F Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond–New Jersey

Buyouts:
None

Organizational Changes:

  • Named Mike Sullivan head coach of Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (AHL)
  • Named Jacques Martin special assistant to the head coach

 
*AAV=Average Annual Value (cap hit)
 

Significant Moves

Here is an overview of some of the most significant moves made by the Pittsburgh Penguins, and how the those moves will continue to affect the 2015-2016 season:

The Kessel Trade:

Pittsburgh Penguins

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Some might argue that acquiring a player with a cap hit of $7 million is irresponsible for a Penguins team that already has the majority of its cap space tied up in four players. In a way, that’s a fair point. However, when you have a chance to get one of the best goal-scorers in the entire league, it’s hard to pass on the opportunity. This is especially true when that player can be acquired without giving up much at all to get him. This is exactly what Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford did.

The Phil Kessel trade was one of the most surprising moves of the offseason, and certainly the biggest blockbuster move. Players of Kessel’s caliber rarely get moved. Whether or not you agree with Toronto’s decision to move Kessel, you can’t deny that there were issues in the Toronto media and organization that contributed to the move. Kessel was a classic case of being the scapegoat in a major market desperate to win. The Leafs are in a complete rebuild from top to bottom, but whatever the reason, Toronto was more interested in getting rid of Kessel than in receiving equal value in return. This was the perfect scenario for Pittsburgh; to Rutherford’s credit, he jumped right in and completed a steal of a deal. You could even call it highway robbery.

The Penguins have had several disappointing playoff exits in recent years, including back-to-back losses to the Rangers (one in which the Penguins blew a 3-1 series lead). Crosby and Malkin aren’t getting any younger, and it’s hard to believe the Penguins haven’t gotten close to the Cup since 2009. Over the past two years since taking over as GM, Rutherford has made a series of moves to put the Pens in a better position to win (though the David Perron trade was certainly questionable). The Kessel trade is a prime example of a GM going out and trying to add the missing piece to push the team over the edge. He did so without having to give up much, including not having to lose either of Pittsburgh’s top young defensemen, Olli Maatta and Derrick Pouliot. That, in and of itself, is commendable. But the fact that he gave up only forward prospect Kasperi Kapanen, defenseman Scott Harrington, forward Nick Spaling and a few draft picks to land Kessel, is impressive; Toronto also retained $1.2 million of Kessel’s contract. Even the draft picks involved were protected. The “conditions” on the conditional draft picks in this move have to do with Pittsburgh’s performance this season. Assuming Pittsburgh makes the playoffs this year, Toronto will receive Pittsburgh’s 2016 1st-round pick in exchange for the Leafs’ 2016 2nd-rounder (originally obtained in the Daniel Winnik trade). If the Penguins miss the playoffs this year, then Toronto would receive Pittsburgh’s 2017 1st-round pick in exchange for Toronto’s 2017 2nd-round pick. If Pittsburgh misses the playoffs for the next two seasons, then Toronto would receive the Penguins’ 2017 2nd-round pick and Toronto would keep its 2nd-rounder. It’s doubtful the Penguins will miss the playoffs, but it adds an extra layer of protection.

Even now that a quarter of the season has passed, it’s still too early to fully judge this move in terms of its effectiveness for the Penguins moving forward, especially in the postseason. The Penguins’ offense has been underwhelming, and Kessel and Crosby failed to develop much chemistry. Now that Kessel is on Malkin’s wing, things have been better. But no matter what, even if Kessel had 0 goals so far (he has seven, along with eight assists through 23 games), this move was an absolute steal for the Pens. Once the team, as a whole, settles down, Kessel will settle in and get going. A perennial 30+ goal scorer in Toronto will certainly be able to put up huge numbers on a talented Penguins team. He’ll also create more space for someone like Malkin, and teams will have a lot of trouble matching up against Pittsburgh. All in all, it’s a remarkable feat for Rutherford, especially since Crosby and Malkin wanted a big move to be made after losing the first-round series to the Rangers 4-1.
 
 

The Sutter Trade:

Pittsburgh Penguins

Brandon Sutter
Kathy Willens-AP Photo

The Brandon Sutter trade was perhaps even stronger than the Kessel move in terms of its benefits to the Penguins organization. Sutter was set to be a free agent and would require a pay raise that wouldn’t be feasible for the Penguins’ third-line center. Rutherford shipped him to Vancouver and acquired multiple players that added more depth at a better price. This was a truly great move by Pittsburgh, and yet another steal by Rutherford.

The Penguins traded third-line center Brandon Sutter and a conditional 3rd-round pick to the Canucks for center Nick Bonino, defensive prospect Adam Clendening and the 2nd-round pick the team acquired from Anaheim in the Kevin Bieksa trade. Putting Clendening and the draft pick aside, Bonino’s numbers and salary situation alone are better than Sutter’s.

Pittsburgh Penguins

Nick Bonino
Jeff Vinnick-Getty Images

In the past two seasons, Bonino has scored 49 and 39 points with the Anaheim Ducks and Canucks, respectively. He scored 22 goals in 2013-2014 with Anaheim and 15 last season with Vancouver. Bonino was primarily a second-line center and played on the 2nd power-play unit for the Canucks last season; he had six game-winning goals. Over the past two seasons with the Penguins, Sutter has scored 26 and 33 points, tying his career-high record with 21 goals in the 2014-2015 season. Sutter primarily played as a third-line center and got some time on the Penguins’ second power-play unit. Sutter reached the 40-point plateau once in his career (in the 2009-2010 season with the Carolina Hurricanes). He has 185 points in 495 career games; Bonino has 121 points in 264 career games. Bonino definitely has stronger numbers in his career and over the past few years. He and Sutter are very close in age (Bonino is 27, Sutter is 26). Sutter has a more expensive cap hit ($3.3 million) this season than Bonino ($1.9 million), and Sutter’s contract was headed into its final year at the time of the trade; the Canucks have since re-signed Sutter to a five-year extension with a cap hit of $4.375 million. With Clendening nearing an NHL debut, and a valuable draft pick as well as Bonino, the Pittsburgh Penguins certainly made out like bandits in this trade.
 

Signing Eric Fehr:

Pittsburgh Penguins

Clyde Caplan-clydeorama.com

Signing Eric Fehr to an extremely reasonable 3-year deal with a cap hit of $2 million was an underrated move for the Penguins. This move truly solidifies the team’s depth, making the roster stronger and deeper than it has been in years. Fehr is deceptively skilled and can move around in the lineup. After all, he did score this beauty a few years ago:
 


 

Fehr has had some injury issues in recent years, but he is a great depth insurance policy and is highly underrated; he has a lot of playoff experience and knows how to play with stars and bottom-six forwards alike, a trait often overlooked. Fehr has 91 goals and 89 assists in 467 career games. His stat line may not jump out at you, but he is a valuable asset for any NHL team to have, as he contributes in all areas of the game. Though this was the most under-the-radar move of the Penguins’ main offseason moves, this one could possibly pay the biggest dividends in the playoffs.
 
 

Final Thoughts

The Pittsburgh Penguins have struggled through the first quarter of the season. Goals have been hard to come by and frustration is mounting. However, things seem to be slowly turning around for the better, and it’s better to work through issues at the beginning of the year rather than at the end. Despite all of their offensive issues, the Penguins have managed to put together a record good enough for third place in the Metropolitan Division. Though Evgeni Malkin’s comments may have been controversial, perhaps they were needed for the team to rally around each other and come out stronger on the other side. It won’t be long before Sidney Crosby returns to his old form and starts tearing it up, and that will really open things up for the entire team. The Penguins have more than enough talent to become the dominant regular-season force they usually are; though winning in the playoffs is a different animal than winning in the regular season, the Pens shouldn’t have to worry about making it to the fight.

 
 
Featured image via penguins.nhl.com