Checking in on the Pittsburgh Penguins

July 30, 2014, by

Former Portland Winterhawks coach Mike Johnston will replace Dan Bylsma behind the Penguins’ bench

Last year: 51-24-7, first in the Metro Division. Eliminated by the Rangers in the second round.

Key additions: Patric Hornqvist, Christian Ehrhoff, Nick Spaling, Steve Downie, Blake Comeau, Thomas Greiss

Key subtractions: James Neal, Matt Niskanen, Jussi Jokinen, Brooks Orpik, Lee Stempniak, Brian Gibbons, Deryk Engelland, Joe Vitale, Tanner Glass (just kidding) Taylor Pyatt (just kidding)

Franchise direction: The Penguins roster has been retooled, but the major news of their offseason was the firing of coach Dan Bylsma and GM Ray Shero. In their place are Mike Johnston and Jim Rutherford, respectively, but while Pittsburgh has had higher expectations than Bylsma and Shero have been able to meet in recent years, it’s hard to view the changes behind the bench and in the front office as an upgrade. Pittsburgh did improve its depth up front and cleared dead weight that should allow some youngsters to make an impact. But why was playoff goat Marc-Andre Fleury retained while sweeping changes were made in every other facet of the organization?

Salary cap: Pittsburgh has over $6 million in cap space remaining to lock up RFAs Spaling and Brandon Sutter. The Penguins do have a couple key UFAs next summer including Ehrhoff and Paul Martin, but it shouldn’t be too difficult to re-sign them. Pittsburgh will also presumably be looking to replace pending Fleury after the season assuming he’s allowed to leave in free agency. The Penguins have a lot more flexibility after trading Neal’s contract and allowing so many free agents to leave. And since they have several cost-efficient prospects ready to assume full-time roles, Pittsburgh could again be a major player for big fish on the trade and free agent markets.

Prospect pipeline: The Penguins remain well-stocked with defensive prospects, and with Niskanen and Orpik out of the way, the path is beginning to open up for Derrick Pouliot and Brian Dumoulin to join Olli Maatta on a promising young blueline. D Scott Harrington could soon follow. 2014 first-round pick Kasperi Kapanen could push for a roster spot sooner than later, but Pittsburgh doesn’t have many other exciting players on the way up front. In goal, the Penguins possess two potential future starters in Tristan Jerry and Matt Murray.

Projection: Regardless of how Johnston and Rutherford fit in, as long as Crosby and Malkin are together, Pittsburgh will be the class of the division. Whether or not the Penguins are better built for playoff success remains to be seen.

Other Metro Division offseason recaps: FlyersDevils, Blue Jackets 


  1. Walt says:

    When the Pen’s brass has to go see Cindy, and then go to Russia to see Igor, and explain their choice of coach, just shows that they will have a zoo in the locker room next year!

    The new coach will have zero power at all,and the inmates will run the prison. Bottom line, with the moves made, the Pens will be a weaker team, and will not come in first again, and as built, won’t go very far in the play-offs!!!!! Too friggin bad, couldn’t hve happened to a better team, ha ha!!

  2. TxRanger says:

    This is a team that blew it.

    How do you trade James Neal and get mediocre players in return?

    • Kevin Baumer says:

      Would James Neal be who you think he is if he didn’t play with Malkin/Crosby? The drop-off to Hornqvist might not be much

      • Hatrick Swayze says:

        Neal put up pretty sick #s playing with Richards and Eriksson in Dallas before finding his way to Pit.

        The guy is my absolute least favorite player in the show, but dang, does he know how to score. Regardless, he forever will be a tool.

      • Chris A says:

        Yes, Neal is a beast, always has been. When he was traded to Pitt, along with Niskanaen for nothing more than Alex Goligoski it was a huge head scratcher around the league.

        It could be that James Neal is such a tremendous PITA that his former teams are willing to dump him for pennies on the dollar.