Free Agency Day 1: Pens Edition

The Penguins decided to go depth defensemen heavy in day one of free agency, as they were expected to do all along. The major surprise that no one expected was bringing 2016 ‘GM of the Year’ Jim Rutherford back for three more seasons at the decision making helm of the Penguins. The Penguins also expectedly brought back Jacques Martin who worked magical wonders on the Penguins’ defense core. Below, I will analyze the resignings, subtractions, and additions for the Pens on day one.

Resigned

  • GM Jim Rutherford: 3-years
  • Assistant Jacques Martin: 2-years
  • LW Tom Sestito: 1-year, $575,000
  • D Steven Oleksy: 1-year, $575,000
  • D David Warsofsky: 1-year, $575,000

Three league minimum returns and a GM of the Year coming back for another three seasons? You can’t ask for a lot more from a team up against the salary cap.

Rutherford’s contributions have done nothing but solidify his aspirations to continue being the Pens’ GM heading into the future. It does sort of cloud whether or not Billy Guerin or Jason Botterill will ever get their chance to become the Pens’ head personnel decision maker or if they will seek an opportunity with another team.

Sestito’s contract extension is one that I’m not going to argue with. We saw his impact last season if the team felt they needed that gritty, enforcing presence to keep players off of guys like Crosby and Malkin. As DK on Pittsburgh Sports’ Josh Yohe tweeted earlier, Sestito “knows his role” and “87&71 love him”.

On the defensive front, the Penguins resigned Steven Oleksy, who I’m going to go ahead and project as the Pens seventh-defenseman going into this season. He was called up and sent down throughout the season and never actually saw a game. He’s a big, physical defenseman and the Penguins knew his services could very well be needed defensively.

Warsofsky resigning probably means he will be a very depth kind of guy, probably 9th or 10th on the depth chart. He played a little throughout last season until he was concussed when referee Tim Peel had tripped and fell sliding across the ice and accidentally undercut Warsofsky who missed most of the entirety of the season after that. The undersized defenseman isn’t a huge threat to do a lot offensively but has good defensive instinct and can skate well. He should spend most of next season in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

Additions

  • D Stuart Percy: 1-year, $575,000
  • D Cameron Gaunce: 1-year, $575,000
  • D Chad Ruhwedel: 1-year, $575,000

I’m really happy about these signings by Rutherford, especially Percy.

Percy has only played twelve NHL games and has three points. He’s your average sized defenseman at 6’0″, 193 lbs. He is the type of offensive guy who has great defensive instinct. Scouts say he has great hockey instinct and sees the game very well. He is very confident with the puck and moves it as good as anyone. He’s still a bit slow with his feet. But if he can get them underneath of him, he can generate the turn around that Seth Rorabaugh eludes to in the above tweet.

Cameron Gaunce is someone I’ve never even heard of. With twenty games of NHL experience for the Dallas Stars and Colorado Avalanche, Gaunce has one career point in the league. He has played 310 games in his AHL career. The former second rounder is an average sized defenseman who had a career high of 37 points this past season with the Portland Pirates. He hasn’t been a minus-rated player since the 2012-13 season, but he does take a lot of penalties. Just two seasons ago, he had a career high in PIMS at 113. You can bet he will be an interesting option throughout the AHL, but I doubt he will crack the Pens roster at any point this season.

Ruhwedel is someone the Penguins may see if more than one injury occurs on the blue line. With only 32 games under his NHL belt, Ruhwedel has always been a product of a terrible defensive core in Buffalo and in their AHL system in Rochester. He’s pretty much been a minus player his entire career but played on horrible teams. He’s a disciplined player as 26 PIMS is the most he’s ever had in one season. I think Ruhwedel, like Percy, is a candidate to become someone the Penguins can look to maybe reshape as he’s only 26 years old.

Subtractions

  • G Jeff Zatkoff: 2-years, $1.8 million with Los Angeles Kings
  • D Ben Lovejoy: 3-years, $8.3 million with New Jersey Devils
  • RW Beau Bennett: 1-year, $725,000 with New Jersey Devils

Zatkoff will be missed as a locker room presence in Pittsburgh, but not at the expense of keeping Marc-Andre Fleury and Matt Murray around. Zatkoff had a little bit of a less successful season than he did a few seasons ago where he posted a 12-6-1 record. His stats were a little worse this season but he still provided the Pens a game one victory against the New York Rangers in round one that helped clinch it in five games. Zatkoff will return to he franchise that once drafted him and helped him on his feet to become an NHL backup goaltender. It looks as though he and Jonathon Quick will form an all-American combo in Los Angeles.

Reverend Lovejoy is a nice addition for the New Jersey Devils. Of course, Ray Shero enjoys taking Penguins players when they come available. He claimed Bobby Farnham earlier this season, as well. Lovejoy was under scrutiny quite often throughout the regular season as it began more and more to look like he wasn’t a fit for the Pens offense. He turned it on in the playoffs, when it matters most, and was rewarded for doing so. He became unattainable for the Penguins after the solid playoff run. He’ll hope to be part of the Devils’ turnaround into a potential playoff contender starting this season.

Yet another Penguin Shero took, this time through trade, is Beau Bennett. When the Penguins traded Bennett to the Devils for their third round selection, they selected defenseman Connor Hall with the realization that Bennett’s services on the team were limited. Shero went ahead and jumped to reacquire a player he drafted during his tenure as Penguins’ GM. Bennett finally began coming into his own and playing top line minutes until he broke his shoulder on a hit from Washinton Capitals forward TJ Oshie. Bennett will be an immediate help for New Jersey as Connor Hall may eventually impact the Penguins’ defensive corps.

Undecided

  • D Justin Schultz
  • C Matt Cullen

Schultz being available after day one is really baffling to me.

Many teams are coveting right-handed, puck moving defenseman and that’s exactly what Justin Schultz brings to your team.

One minus is that he played for the Edmonton Oilers and usually players from Edmonton, especially on the defensive end, are usually frowned upon because of how awful the Oilers are at developing their defenseman. But once he got playing time in Pittsburgh, he proved he was more than a capable option. Depending on what Schultz is commanding on the market, that could be a reason he’s not signed to a team. Or maybe he wants to resign with the Penguins and they promised him they would clear cap space to be able to resign him.

With Derrick Pouliot waiting in the wings, I don’t expect Schultz to be back in the lineup next season. But I’m very surprised that on July 2, Schultz is still available.

The Penguins’ limited amount of cap space may allow them to resign Matt Cullen for the right term. A similar 1-year, $800,000 term would be nice but not absolutely necessary.

With Oskar Sundqvist awaiting a potential full-time gig in the NHL and possible reports of Cullen reuniting with the Minnesota Wild, maybe it’s time the Penguins move on from “Team Dad”.

I’m as big of a fan as the next guy, but Cullen provided 16 regular season goals and played over 100 total games as a 39-year old (soon to be 40 in November) and likely won’t be able to repeat that sustained level of success into this season.

After a busy day one, the Penguins team seems pretty set going forward.

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