Lee C.J. Sobotka The Hockey Writers
State of the Penguins – Part 2: Defense
Now that the season is behind us and we’ve had some time to let the dust settle, I’d like to offer my take as to where the Pittsburgh Penguins currently are and where they may be going. This is part 2 of a 3-part series.
Over at HockeyBuzz.com, they have the Pens current salary cap situation. This will be useful to reference throughout the off-season.
Kris Letang (7 yrs, 7.25mil per)
11-43-54, 69 Games
He has become a Norris Trophy candidate, the linchpin of the team’s power play, and is irreplaceable on the roster. That is why his injury history is so troubling. When Letang plays hockey, you don’t need advanced stats to see the impact he has on the Pens ability to produce offense and stifle an opponent. His game is absolutely complete. The only real concern about him is simple his ability to stay healthy.
He played in 69 games this past season, until Shane Doan took action. His recovery this off-season will be followed closely.
My Verdict: Top 2 Paring
Rob Scuderi (2 yrs, 3.375mil per)
1-9-10, 82 Games
I am not a fan of Rob Scuderi. I was not a fan of him when he was with the Pens the first time around and I’m not a fan of his contract this time around. That said, he was a monster on the penalty kill. I firmly believe there are better, younger, cheaper options available and it’s time to move forward.
My Verdict: Buyout
Derick Pouliot (2 yrs, 863,333 per)
2-5-7, 34 Games
Similar to his draft year brother, Olli Maatta, he is not far behind Maatta in terms of development and gained fantastic NHL experience this past season. If the Pens believe he’s “ready for primetime,” he could be a staple on the blueline for the next decade.
My Verdict: Top 6
Ben Lovejoy (1 yr, 1.1mil)
1-2-3, 20 Games
Refer to my feelings above about Rob Scuderi, except remove my appreciation of his penalty kill prowess. Lovejoy, while a supposedly great locker room guy and an all round nice guy with the media, his game makes me *yawn* …what were we talking about again? Oh, right.
Setting aside that trading Despres for him was a mistake, Lovejoy has a year left at a friendly price; so I believe the Pens will give him a fresh shot come this season – a contract year for him.
My Verdict: Top 6
Olli Maatta (1 yr, 894,167)
1-8-9, 20 Games
The boy who would be king. Maatta has showed flashes of brilliance in his young career, but is also one of the injury question marks on the team. Can he stay healthy? With a year left before becoming a restricted free agent, I fully believe a healthy Maatta will push Letang for top billing on the defense.
My Verdict: Top 4
Ian Cole (RFA)
1-7-8, 20 Games
In limited action on the Pens, Cole played well into the post-season. I can’t see a scenario where the Pens don’t qualify him, and he’s young enough to potentially remain here for quite some time.
My Verdict: Top 6
Brian Dumoulin (RFA)
1-0-1, 8 Games
Dumoulin saw limited action as an injury replacement at the end of the regular season and into the playoffs. He performed well and should have a shot at roster spot, if not as a starter, but as immediate depth.
My Verdict: 7th D-man
Taylor Chorney (UFA)
0-0-0, 7 Games
Chorney, paired with Dumoulin, also played well in his short stint with the Pens. After playing together in Wilkes-Barre, this pairing provided chemestry to a defense missing usual starters. Depending on the what the Pens do with Martin / Ehrhoff, he may simply be the player left without a chair when the music stops.
My Verdict: Let Walk / 7th D-man
Paul Martin (UFA)
3-17-20, 74 Games
Christian Ehrhoff (UFA)
3-11-14, 39 Games
I paired these two together as it’s generally thought one OR the other will return – not both – and conceivably both could be gone. While they are both quality players, I believe the Pens would be better off spending the money elsewhere. I’m not going to speculate as to who the team should get as a replacement, nor would I be shocked if one of them is re-signed. Still, I think with the organizational depth at the position, letting one or both walk may be the right call cap wise.
My Verdict: Let Walk
So, in the end we have defensive pairings that look like this:
Letang / Maatta
Pouliot / Cole
Dumoulin / Lovejoy
Chorney / Harrington
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