Optimal forward lines for Pittsburgh, in theory
Here is the next question I’ll be answering this week
The forward group is not a bad group. It is hard to be a bad group with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. The team doesn’t have the Tanner Glass, Craig Adams, and Zach Sill plugs from yesteryear. Not all the players are on good contracts, but they do all seem to be legit NHL players.
The one thing you can be certain of is that Jake Guentzel will play with Sidney Crosby. It is a proven commodity and there is no reason to break it up. Past that? There are a lot of options. The Penguins have a number of players who are capable of playing wing or center so the number of combinations Mike Sullivan could use is plentiful. Players like Alex Galchenyuk, Nick Bjugstad, Jared McCann, and Dominik Kahun are flexible in their deployment.
For now I believe the centers will be Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Nick Bjugstad, and Teddy Blueger (currently unsigned RFA). With that in mind here is what I would go with as a starting point heading into the season.
Jared McCann showed an ability to fit in on a line with Crosby and Guentzel. At least enough so to switch Guentzel from his normal left side to playing his off wing. I don’t know if McCann can be a consistent presence in a top six role and I plan on looking into that further. For now this seems like an alright jumping off point.
The second line is where things get interesting. This is a line the Penguins wanted more consistency from. I feel strongly that defense deployment tanked the consistency, but clearly the organization did not agree. They shipped off Phil Kessel and his 2.29 points per 60 at even-strength. This year I think you could see two new Penguins on either side of Malkin.
The reason I have the two new guys with Malkin is because they are offensive oriented and I want Malkin to be around offensive oriented players. Also, the third line at the end of last season had some great underlying numbers and I want to see a larger sample of them together
This line combination had an xGF% of 66.38 and a GF% of 71.43. Tough to break that up. This also keeps Patric Hornqvist in a functional even-strength role away from Crosby and Malkin, neither of which seem enamored with playing 72.
If Jared McCann doesn’t earn a full-time spot with the first line you might see a rotation in the left wing spot. Dominik Simon’s underlying numbers are ridiculously good regardless of linemate. He is the type of player you can use as a placeholder on the Crosby line. McCann would be able to transition to the third line if need be. The fact of the matter is the Penguins will need some of these depth players to gain some traction as a top six player. That’s the reality of not having Phil Kessel and overpaying for depth in other areas on the roster.
The fourth line will have some capable players on it
The problem with having Brandon Tanev isn’t that he won’t be a useful depth player, it is the laughable cost the team paid to acquire it. Tanev will be 28 in December and has under 200 games to his credit. He is closer to being a full-time fourth line player than a third line player. He can probably jump up in a pinch and look the part for a short time, but it seems a bit much for 3.5M and a NTC. Yep, he has a 10 team NTC.
You will notice Bryan Rust is not on here. I have removed him from the team because at the present moment I believe he is the likeliest candidate to move on via trade to clear cap space. The reports of the Penguins attempting to move Jack Johnson are certainly welcome, but it is one of those I’ll believe it when I see it things. Brandon Tanev’s signing puts Rust on notice. Rust at 3.5M is not great value, but I think it is still better than Tanev. Rutherford have been struggling to get good value on a number of his contracts in the past few years. Jake Guentzel, Brian Dumoulin, and Matt Murray are on the good end of deals he signed. You can lump Rust and Tanev with Patric Hornqvist, Justin Schultz (forgot his value is deployment related), and Jack Johnson among the less than desirable values Rutherford signed himself.
So the depth is OK on forward, but it comes at a premium. This blog also solely focused on the forwards which leaves out the biggest issue, the defense. For all these forwards to hit their potential they need to get the puck with control. Right now there’s really only one pairing who will do that on a consistent basis.
Thanks for reading!