Woohoo, the Pittsburgh Penguins have won the Stanley Cup! They looked like they were dead in the water, but then they turned it around and went all the way to the Cup! Nothing can change my positive feelings towards this team…
*looks at Pittsburgh’s cap situation*
Okay, jokes aside, the Penguins are coming into the offseason with a Cup victory, and a messy cap situation. But, as I mentioned with the Los Angeles Kings and the Boston Bruins, you pay a hefty price to win a championship, and it can cause quite a mess in the salary cap. But, how will the team try and keep the band together without putting them in a terrible situation?
It was clear after the 2015 offseason that Pittsburgh was going all in this season. After all, they traded their first and their top prospect for Phil Kessel, as well as acquired Nick Bonino, Eric Fehr, and Matt Cullen to really shore up their forward depth, something they’ve been lacking for years. But, there was still concerns on their inexperienced blue line, and the questionable goaltending of Marc-Andre Fleury.
The season didn’t start the way they had expected either. All of their players were struggling to score, and they couldn’t seem to muster up many wins. On December 12, the team decided change was in order, and fired Mike Johnston for Mike Sullivan, with a 15-10-3 record at the time.
Then, the rest was history. They shipped out David Perron and Adam Clendening for Carl Hagelin to complete the infamous HBK line, and they went on one of the hottest runs in the modern NHL era, which led them all the way to the Cup.
The team finished the regular season with the second best CF% in the league, a solid 52.72%. That number doesn’t do them any justice though, as it’s still weighed down by Johnston’s time with the team. Much like the Dallas Stars, they relied more on their offensive output then their defensive output. They had a 59.06 CF60, fourth in the league behind Los Angeles, Dallas, and Toronto, while they’re CA60 was a bit worse, allowing 52.96 CA60, which falls to 11th in the league.
I could go on forever about Pittsburgh’s forward group. It was almost flawless this season after Sullivan took over. The only players on the team that had a CF% lower than 50% with at least 300 minutes were Matt Cullen (49.48%), Kevin Porter (48.69%), Eric Fehr (48.67%), and Tom Kuhnhackl (47.12%). So, basically their fourth line. Offensively, everyone was excellent as well. None of the more experienced forwards in that group had a P160 lower than 1 except for Bennett, Rust, Fehr, and Porter, although Rust certainly made up for it in the playoffs.
The defensive group was certainly a bit shakier. While the only defenseman on the team that had a CF% lower than 50% was Rob Scuderi’s 46.55%, they’re was certainly some holes. Ian Cole and Ben Lovejoy had the lowest of the defense group, with a 50.14% and 51.34%, but they were the third pairing, and saw very little challenge, so that was more of their deployment, and not their skill. Kris Letang, Trevor Daley, Olli Maata, and Brian Dumoulin were an excellent top 4, and while no one except for Letang is really all that good on their own, they way they were all used makes them an effective D-core. Justin Schultz was effective when he was used, and he was given a much better role as a depth defense man, instead of being “the guy” in Edmonton. None of their defense is really outstanding offensively, except for Letang, but they are very good at making that first pass out of the zone to get the puck to their forwards.
Goaltending wise, their were little flaws. Marc-Andre Fleury was great throughout the season, and probably would have been the starter if not for his injury. Matt Murray took over when Fleury was out, and he didn’t let go, standing on his head when the team needed him. Even Jeff Zatkoff wasn’t terrible this season, as he really helped out at the beginning of the team’s playoff run.
There really should be no surprises that this team is nearly flawless. This team won the Cup, and made every team they played look like they had no idea what they were doing.
Just looking at their cap space, you can see why they want to try and get rid of Fleury. Not just because of the potential expansion draft, but because they might have to just to stay under the cap floor.
On the bright side, they have 15 forwards, six defensemen, and two goalies locked up, so it’s not like they are too worried about losing their cup winning team. With the exception of Cullen, Schultz, Zatkoff, and Lovejoy. Also, once the season starts, Dupuis will go on LTIR, so his $3.75 million cap hit should put them under the cap floor. Basically, the team should very well poised to pursue another Cup.
Trade Sidney Crosby!
Seriously though, the team has very little concern this offseason. They’ll be replacing Lovejoy and Schultz with Pouliot and Daley, and have some solid young guys to replace Cullen. Maybe try and offload some salary with Kunitz or Fleury, but other than that, basically just try to keep the band together for one more kick at the can before making any really drastic changes.
While Pittsburgh should be a bit worried about their growing cap problem, it’s an issue that can very easily be put aside for one more year if they want to go for it again next season.
And they certainly could. They’ll have basically the same team, so it shouldn’t be too hard. It’s not like Chicago or LA, where they have to get rid of half the team to keep the core together, they can hang on to just about everyone. So look out, because Pittsburgh might have the best shot at repeating for the first time since 1998.