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Mailbag: GM candidates, center replacements, jersey retirements and more

May 20, 2022, 12:13 PM ET [81 Comments]
Ryan Wilson
Pittsburgh Penguins Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT
There is going to be plenty to talk about this offseason regarding the Pittsburgh Penguins. As of right now there is not much to report on. We are only in round two of the playoffs so the draft, trades, and free agency are weeks into the future. Seems like a good time to answer reader questions so that’s what I’m doing today.

Now. If the Fenway Sports Group has no confidence in Hextall’s plan he submits/submitted then there is no point in dragging things out. The draft is on July 7th and while firing the GM before the draft isn’t ideal neither is keeping someone on the way out planning your long term future. I also think letting this specific offseason drag out with a lame duck would be a mistake. FSG is going to want their own people. I can’t imagine when they dropped 900M they were married to Ron Hextall. The sooner the better if they are making a change at the GM position.

Some of the names popping up surrounding GM openings lately include people like Kevin Weekes, Chris MacFarland (Asst GM Colorado), Scott Mellanby, and Mathieu Darche (Director of hockey operations TB). There are certainly others, like a long shot like Eric Tulsky.

My answer is going to be somewhat of a cop out. I think this GM search is unique compared to previous Penguins searches. Fenway Sports Group might be new to hockey, but they aren’t new to running huge franchises in sports. They have a vision for how they want a sports franchise to run. They want things detail oriented from top to bottom. Whoever is the eventual hire will not be acting on their own ala Jim Rutherford. There are probably going to be teams of people coming to conclusions even if there is a figure head near the top. Whoever comes incredibly prepared and is able to map out their thoughts, philosophies, and plans of action with great detail is going to get this job. If you can come in and impress FSG they are probably a decent enough candidate. Who that will be? I don’t know. I look at the Red Sox and Liverpool and how they construct and operate those teams and we will be getting something similar regardless of the person at the top. The person who earns the position will have done so by doing more than having their ideas in their head.

I think the new ownership group is going to do their due diligence and take a fine tooth comb through the entire organization. They are going to have to figure out what path they want to take. If they are not interested in a rebuild they are going to have to also figure out the realistic options to replace certain players who are free agents at the moment. After they calculate the risk/reward of these paths they'll make their choices. I've yet to see a realistic path you can rely on outside of just retaining their best players.

The two free agent centers who stand out from the pack are Nazem Kadri and Vincent Trochek. Kadri will be 32 when the season starts and Trochek will be 29. Malkin has shown he is above the normal decline of the aging curve. He just came off major knee surgery and put up a point per game and was on pace for a 40 goal season in 82 games. Other players almost never fare as well with the aging curve. People underestimate just how old some of these UFA options are. Three or four more years of Malkin at ~7M remains a much better value than what you’re going to find on the open market.

Top six centers are tough to find. If these are the two that stand out for Pittsburgh then they are the two that stand out to the rest of the league. There’s going to be a bidding war. Sometimes there might not be anything you can do to convince a player to come ot the team regardless of what you offer. Not bringing Malkin back does open the team up to whiffing and taking a huge step back.

Some other names out there are Claude Giroux (34) who plays more wing these days. Ryan Strome (28) who will be looking to bump up from his 4.5M AAV. Paul Stastny (36) is technically another center option.

Kadri is the best of the bunch for me. I’ve always thought he was a good player. He is also coming off of an insane career high not in line with any of his other NHL seasons. He is one of the oldest available centers. I have more concerns about a market rate Kadri deal than a Malkin one.

You could always make a trade for a center, but what do the Penguins have to entice someone to trade them a solid 2nd line center, let alone a #1 center who slots as a #2 center.

I just don’t see how Malkin isn’t the easiest path forward.

There are winger options out there to replace Rust as well (Forsberg, Gaudreau, Burakovsky, Kessel, Copp, Giroux, etc…). The winger situation seems futile if the team doesn’t have a quality second line center and Jeff Carter is run back as the 3C.

It is fair to look at Marcus Pettersson’s cap hit and wonder if you could do better there. I don’t know how you can get to Pettersson before looking at Brian Dumoulin. The easiest choice for me is to trade Dumoulin. He’s injured, again. He has all the intangibles that some GM’s find very attractive. I bet he has more trade value than Pettersson despite his current state as a player. If Dumoulin isn’t moved it would be solely for what he has done in the past and not what he is capable of in the present. If we’re really going to entertain the idea of Malkin and Letang leaving I don’t know why Dumoulin would be spared. Dumoulin did a really nice job for a number of years. He would be one of my leading candidates to get rid of, regardless of position. They Penguins don’t need that 4M cap hit. It could be used so much more effectively elsewhere.

The bottom pairing should be functional with Chad Ruhwedel and Mark Friedman making close to the league minimum.

They certainly can. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It has to be a net positive and it has been. There will be some moments that will make people audibly gasp at how outrageous the play is, both good and bad. Those will be the plays remembered. The majority of the time things will churn along just fine and their ability to skate and pass will help the forwards out.

I’m not going to pretend a Matheson-Letang top pairing is my ideal top pairing. It is not. It can be functional with a Pettersson-Marino pairing behind it. This is under the assumption Pettersson-Marino maintain their playoff level caliber of play. Marino had a costly turnover in Game 7 and Pettersson was a victim of the helmet rule. Both players were costly. It doesn’t erase the high-quality results they had. The question is can they keep it up against teams who do a better job of pushing play than the Rangers. Marino’s late push was encouraging. Hoping it isn’t a mirage.

They should. Coaching was a strength this season. By all accounts Mike Sullivan has impressed the new ownership group. If true, not sure why they would force Sullivan’s hand and make him rework his staff. Todd Rierdan is widely reported to be a great defensive coach with a lot of positive feedback from his players. This is an asset for the team. Leave it be.

He is a better player than Jeff Carter at 5v5 at this stage. I think if you took Blueger out of a defense dominant role he could do OK as a 3C, but perhaps not quite a championship team caliber 3C. In a perfect world he continues to be a super solid 4C on a team aspiring to do great things. I had issues for a long time about the Penguins bottom six center depth. Teddy Blueger was never part of those concerns. He’s been a very good 4C. He might have to be promoted to 3C depending on how this offseason plays out. I think it might stretch him too far. I think 4C on a very good team is a great place for him to be.

Zucker will be playing on an expiring contract. I think the term makes it possible to move him without being taxed by another team. I do think there are other contracts/cap hits (Dumoulin, Kapanen, McGinn) that need to be moved first to create space. Even if Zucker does not give you 5.5M in value he can give you good minutes. He isn’t a bad player. I would focus on the bad players first, but I am also open to moving on from Zucker as well. At the moment there are way too many moving parts to sort out to have a strong feeling one way or the other at the moment. They might need Zucker. They might be in a position to make a change. His situation is on the back burner for me right now. They need to keep the really good players and shed the bad players (duh).

The organization definitely needs more goaltending depth. This year was a perfect storm of injuries which sunk the team. That said, they should definitely be looking for an upgrade on Casey DeSmith. I unironically think one of the best cost effective veterans could end up being Marc-Andre Fleury. This hinges on the Minnesota Wild who have shown an interest in keeping him. I think Fleury will take the money from other teams, but if Crosby, Malkin, and Letang were still around I could see him going back “home” on the cheap. I’m going to have to dig through the goaltender landscape in the coming days/weeks to come up with some other paths for the team.

I understand the Penguins have been pretty strict on jersey retirements to this point. I think the landscape is going to change. Jaromir Jagr is going to make his way up there as the next player. I think this era of Penguins deserve to have their presence felt at the top of the arena as well. Kris Letang should be up there, for sure. He should be a lock. He’s the franchises best defenseman when you combine ability and longevity. Letang deserves both a jersey retirement and the Hall of Fame. Yes, he deserves the Hall of Fame. He also wears a weird number which makes it easier to do so.

I say yes to Fleury as well. Jersey retirements can be more about the impact a players has on a franchise both on and off the ice. Fleury was loved by the fanbase and a career leader in a lot of categories. I don’t have a problem if they put his number up there. I do not think Fleury deserves the actual Hall of Fame. There are so many goalies with similar save percentages out there who didn’t have the luxury of the goal support Fleury did.

So yeah, put both Letang and Fleury up in the rafters, why not?

Thanks for reading!
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