The Pittsburgh Penguins bid to win three Stanley Cups in a row ended in the second round as the Washington Capitals beat them in six games. It was the first time the Capitals had reached the third round in 20 years. This was also the Penguins first series loss in three years when they lost to the New York Rangers in five games in 2015.
There has been some speculation about whether the Penguins could move a core player this off-season. Defenceman Kris Letang didn’t look like himself this season after coming off major neck surgery. Let’s take a look at why this Penguins off-season should be quiet. The team should not have any major changes since they’re in prime position to contend again next season.
Pittsburgh Penguins Offseason Should be Fairly Quiet
Team is set up
If the Penguins really wanted to, they could ice the same exact lineup from these playoffs going into next season. It obviously won’t happen but cap wise, they’re set up to do it. Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford said in his season-ending press conference that he will make changes, though they may not be major changes. The core is in place for next year and many years down the road which is what a contending team needs. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are signed long-term, Phil Kessel is coming off his best season in Pittsburgh, Letang will look to rebound after struggling, as will Matt Murray who faced a lot of adversity this season. Derick Brassard will also be back for a full season after struggling in the playoffs.
The tweaks that could be made are searching for a backup goaltender for Murray as Tristan Jarry only had a .908 save percentage and Casey DeSmith looked a bit shaky at times when he was in net. They may also need a depth defenseman as Matt Hunwick was a disaster this season. Chad Ruhwedel fit in nicely when he came in and had a very good playoff but they’ll likely want to get someone to compete with him. Pittsburgh could also dangle a couple of players to open up some cap such as Conor Sheary or maybe even Carl Hagelin as he has one year left on his deal at $4 million. Whatever the case, there doesn’t need to be any major blockbuster trade involving Pittsburgh this summer.
Bank on Kris Letang returning to form
It was an up-and-down season for Letang as he returned from neck surgery. He led all Penguins defenseman with 51 points which is considered a down year for his standards. In two of his last three years prior to this season, he had 54 and 67 points respectively. This season he was out of position constantly, which led to the Penguins giving up goals that otherwise should’ve been prevented. In the Capitals series, he was largely responsible for the tying goal in game five of the third period and the game-breaking goal late in the period.
Letang was on Dumoulin’s side for some reason which led to that goal. He also could’ve tied Jakub Vrana up a bit better with the game-winner late in the period:
With a full off-season to train though, Pittsburgh needs to bank on Letang having a bounce-back season. He’s just two seasons removed from having the best season of his career. He scored the Stanley Cup-winning goal with this amazing shift:
There’s just no need to trade him when he will have a full off-season to train and get better. A team should almost always count on a star player rebounding after a rough year and the Penguins need to do that here. If they were to trade him, who would they replace him with? They would need a new number one defenseman and those don’t come cheap.
More youth movement
Pittsburgh may also play some younger players next year as it seems like Daniel Sprong will be on the team full-time next season according to Rutherford. He said it at his season-ending press conference and he’ll likely be one of the top three lines next year at right wing. Pittsburgh has been a bit conservative with Sprong throughout his development. They’ve wanted him to work on his two-way game a bit more and Rutherford thinks he’s come a long way in that regard.
Zach Aston-Reese should also be a full-time player on the team next year. He was called up over halfway into the season and ended up staying on the team until the playoffs where he was in the lineup. He had four goals and six points in 16 games during the regular season. He’ll figure to be a bottom six player next season but can also play in the top six if needed as he has some offensive skill. He’s strong in front of the net and was playing well with Riley Sheahan during their time together.
The Penguins will be in a great position to potentially win their third cup in four years next season if they don’t overreact after their second-round loss to the Capitals. Sometimes, all a general manager needs to do is change a couple small things.
Main Photo: PITTSBURGH, PA – DECEMBER 12: Pittsburgh Penguins Defenceman Kris Letang (58) skates during the second period in the NHL game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Arizona Coyotes on December 12, 2016, at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, PA. The Penguins shutout the Coyotes 7-0. (Photo by Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)