Offseason Player Grades: Kris Letang

Regular Season Statistics

GP: 41, G: 5, A: 29, P: 34, +/-: 2

Playoff Statistics

None, Missed ya Tanger!

Player Grade (B)

If Kris Letang would have played a whole season and maybe racked up some more points, we probably could move him up to an ‘A’. Honestly a lot of people see him as an offensive defenseman, but in the 41 games played he only had 5 goals.

Review

Letang is the number one guy you think of when it comes to the Penguins defense. He is the backbone of those guys, and when he had his surgery nothing changed in the defensive core expect obviously the D-Line pairings. His numbers for the 41 games played aren’t terrible at all. Could they improve? Yes I truly believe they will with time to come and him returning from injury. 

Preview

Next season, I see Letang coming back to the role he has from season to season. He’s the leader of the Pens defense and their top guy. Watch for Letang to find more points next year, hopefully no injuries occur on his part. Keep an eye on the the defenseman point chart because we probably will see Letang up there most of the year. 

Conclusion

Letang is obviously one of the most beloved Penguins, as we saw the love shown to him by most fans at the victory parade. This neck surgery was just a little set back for him this season but next season wait until (hopefully around this time) next year to see that player grade rise to an ‘A’ because of the bright future and season to come from Kris Letang. 

Offseason Player Grades: Ian Cole

Regular Season Stats

GP:81, G:5, A:21, PTS:26, +/-:26, PIM:72

Playoff Stats

GP:25, G:0, A:9, PTS:9, +/-:2, PIM:22

Player Grade (A+)

Ian Cole may be the most underrated Penguins on the team this past year. Cole flew under the radar for most of the year with his exceptional defensive play and tremendous PK skills. But after these playoffs he is finally getting the recognition he deserves. Cole played like a top four defenseman all year while only being payed $900,000.

Review

Like I said before, Cole had a stellar year for the role he was assigned to, and arguably his best moment of the year came in that role.  His best moment was being a part of that long 5 on 3 PK and later the 5 on 4 PK at the tail end of game six of the SCF.

Preview

I think Cole will have another year similar to his last. He will still be a solid part of our penalty kill as well as possibly becoming a full-time top four defenseman depending on the Penguin’s offseason moves.

Pens Sign Brian Dumoulin to Six Year Extension

The Pittsburgh Penguins have signed standout defensemen Brian Dumoulin to a brand new 6 year contract. The deal comes just a few weeks before the arbitration meeting that would have taken place; meaning that the Penguins avoid arbitration and have locked up Dumo long term.

What the Deal Is

The 6 year deal carries an average cap hit of 4.1 million dollars and is reportedly a flat level deal. This means that the cap hit remains $4.1 million for each year of the deal, never going up or down. This contract also makes Dumo the 3rd highest paid Penguins defensemen on roster, falling behind superstar Kris Letang and other new signee Justin Schultz.

What the Deal Means

With any new contract comes extended meaning beyond just simply signing the player. The $24.6 million deal leaves the Penguins with 6.28 million dollars left in cap space for the upcoming season according to CapFriendly. This means that the Penguins only have that much room to work with to acquire a third line center and sign the other RFA, Conor Sheary.

There has been little to no action on the Sheary front, however, Post Gazette writer, Jason Mackey, reported that Sheary and Dumoulin’s agent, Lewis Gross, is planning on getting a deal done before Sheary’s arbitration date. No rumors or even rumblings have been discussed as to what the 25 year old Left Winger’s contract could look like. However, when taking a look at his stats, one could make an argument for a somewhat lucrative deal, but I don’t see him getting much more than $3 million. Sheary’s 63 points in 103 NHL games is certainly nothing to turn a nose to. However, this is only over two NHL seasons, which usually is not enough for GMs to give long term deals. I expect a bridge contract to be offered for Sheary, somewhere in the area of 2-3 years with an AAV of $3 million would be absolutely perfect. On top of this, given his lackluster playoffs last year, the cap hit could fall even farther below value.

The Penguins should then still have enough room to sign/acquire a decent enough third line center that would fall anywhere between the $2-4 million range depending on what got sent back *cough cough Tyler Bozak.*

The deal also shows just how important defense is in today’s NHL. The Penguins now currently have 7 NHL defensemen signed for a total of 25.9 million dollars, with $20.93 million locked up in what can be the assumed Top 4 (Letang, Schultz, Dumoulin, Maatta.)

Is Brian Dumoulin really worth 4.1 million dollars a year? Probably not, however, is a Left Handed Defensemen worth that in today’s NHL? You bet. When looking at other deals around the league, the Dumoulin deal is actually more of a steal.

Offseason Player Grades: Carl Hagelin

2016-17 Regular Season

61 GP, 6 G, 16 A, 22 PTS, +10, 16 PIM

2016-17 Playoffs

15 GP, 2 G, 0 A, 2 PTS, -2, 19 PIM

Player Grade (C-)

This is the worst season Carl Hagelin has ever had, statistically. On top of having his worst ever recorded season, Hagelin made the poor decision to block a shot on March 8 in a game where the Pens were up 6-3. The shot caused him to break his fibula. He then decided to play on his broken leg the next game two days later. He didn’t return until the Washington series and didn’t really show up like we all expected. He was faster than most players on any team, but slower than Carl Hagelin should be. He didn’t really do anything to hurt the team, but he didn’t do much to help it either. If he were able to finish out the regular season, uninjured, his impact on the team would have been much greater. I blame the improper care of the injury for the lack of his production this postseason, which he has also claimed himself, and his inability to step his game up to where it should have been.

Season Review/Preview

Overall, Hagelin didn’t do anything exceptional this season except be fast and have nice hair. He sadly just wasn’t on top of it. One of his highlighting moments, though, was scoring the empty-netter in the Stanley Cup clinching game. For next season, I expect him to have more points per game, as he had .36 points per game for the 2016-17 season. I also expect him to work on getting his speed back up to par. All this is if GMJR decides to keep Hagelin into the 2017-18 season.

KesselMania

How far will people go to find a narrative?

In the past few weeks, several Pittsburgh Sports Media figures have been doing their best Toronto impression and have attempted to make a case for as to why Phil Kessel should be traded.

Back to back Stanley Cups along with proven statistics that show his exceeding worth to the Penguins apparently aren’t enough to show to the hockey world that Kessel belongs in Pittsburgh.

There have essentially been two main stories that have crawled through the woodwork this offseason that “prove” that a Kessel trade should be considered, that his statistics are slowing down and his value isn’t worth the $6.8 million he acquires per year and that the leaving of former assistant coach Rick Tocchet will affect Kessel’s relationship to the Penguins. Let’s take a few minutes to debunk both those myths.

Last year, Phil Kessel notched 23 goals in 82 games which was topped by 58 players that scored 24 or more with the Penguins’ own Sidney Crosby scoring 44.

Out of those 58 players, the average cap hit is $4,207,052.22. While that may seem like an overpayment to some, please keep in mind that that number is including player on entry level contracts and bridge year contracts that certainly are outliers. So when that is considered, the $6.8 that Kessel costs the Penguins is certainly a fair value.

On top of this, one of the things that I have seen and loved from Kessel is his outstanding playmaking ability.

While his “quarterbacking” of the powerplay in Kris Letang’s absence absolutely drove me up a wall, his raw ability to see the ice is unparalleled. This led to Kessel having a whopping 47 assists, a number that was bested by only 10 NHL’ers last season.

The average cap hit of those ten players is $5,560,833.03.

Again, while this does fall under Kessel’s cap hit, there are two entry level contracts in that top ten, just for fun, if we take out the two contracts, the average cap hit increases up to $6,719,791.62, which is obviously about Kessel’s paygrade.

Finally, looking at overall points, Kessel had only 17 players score more than the 70 points he notched.

The average cap hit of those 17 players, while again still including the outlier contracts is $5,694,951. Take all three of the average caps hits that include the entry level deals and find that average leaves us with a cap hit of $5,154,278, just $1,645,722 under Kessels’ current cap hit against the Penguins.

Now one might wonder as to where he makes up that extra money. That would in the playoffs.

Without a shadow of a doubt, he makes up for all of it in the playoffs. In 71 playoff games, Kessel has an outstanding 66 points with a tremendous 31 goals and 35 assists in what is often considered the hardest hockey to play all year. The 66 points in 71 games leaves Kessel with a .929 ppg in the playoffs putting him eighth amongst all active players.

For those wondering, the average cap hit of those seven players above him is $8,103,571.43….which is almost 2 million dollars more than what Kessel costs the Penguins per year. If you think Kessel’s overpaid or his value to the Penguins is decreasing, get out of my face.

The second mind-numbly dumb point that the Pittsburgh Sports media is trying to make is that because of Tocchet’s departure from assistant bench boss, Kessel is now all of a sudden going to be uncoachable.

This thought that Kessel is uncoachable is honestly laughable at this point. The reason he’s torn through so many coaches throughout his career is that he played on the Maple Leafs for all but two years of it. And Leafs fans will agree, it was like a carousel of coaches there for a majority of his tenure and it had absolutely nothing to do with him, he was bar none their best player.

And he’s done nothing but produce since he’s been shipped to Pittsburgh.

Sure the goal totals are lower than expected but when you’re coming down the wing with the stallion that is Evgeni Malkin down the center, you’re not scoring all the goals on that line.

And as I mentioned earlier, his assists numbers and playmaking ability is among the top tier of the league. So even if Mike Sullivan has a “problem” with Kessel, guess what, too bad, get over it, the guy can flat out play.

And I do think Sullivan sees how Kessel is in the locker room and something tells me a guy like Sully really sees the value in that. There is no evidence to suggest that there is or ever was a rift between Sully and Kessel so I have absolutely no idea why it’s being made as if there is one.

Kessel is and will continue to be a premier player in this league. He’s worth his cap hit and will continue to be as the salary cap should increase as the years go on. I’m for one glad that I can proudly say, Phil Kessel is a Pittsburgh Penguin.

Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Roster Preview: Left Wing

For the purpose of this series of articles, I am presuming that both Zach Aston-Reese and Daniel Sprong begin the season in the minors, and that all players on one-way contracts who played for WBS last year (Chad Ruhwedel, Derrick Pouliot and Josh Archibald) are with the NHL Penguins full time. Due to the size of the roster WBS has acquired this year, I’m going to break it down by position for each article.

LEFT WING

Zach Aston-Reese, AHL Experience : Rookie

Zach-Aston-Reese


We have previously covered the potential that Aston-Reese has, with his relentless, gritty game providing immediate production for WBS in the 10 games he played on an ATO. Aston-Reese will be relied upon by WBS to play in a scoring role to begin the year, likely providing a net-front presence on the first PP and playing top-6 ice time. Don’t be surprised to see his AHL production disrupted by a call-up to the NHL, whether that’s as a result of injury or a result of his play warranting a permanent promotion. Expect Aston-Reese to contribute a rate of 20-25 goals and 50-60 points if he were to remain in the AHL the entire year.

Dominik Simon, AHL Experience : 2 Years


Simon


Dominik Simon, a 2015 draft pick of the Penguins, has spent the past 2 seasons playing for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. He started his career off to a hot start, before tailing off towards the end of the 2015-2016 season, with another inconsistent year following in 2016-2017. While his overall production of both years was good, Simon’s consistency is what needs to develop, with 3 separate instances in the 2016-2017 seasons where he went 4 or more games without registering a point. Simon has a high level of skill, and plays a solid 200 foot game, so expect to see him skating in the top-6 and seeing some PK time, where the Penguins will hope to see him develop into a more consistent offensive threat. Expect to see a slightly improved third year from Simon with a similar projection to Aston-Reese’s 20-25 goals and 60 points.

Tom Sestito, AHL Experience: 8 Years

Sestito


Face punching extraordinaire Tom Sestito returns for his third year in the Penguins organisation. While the role of an enforcer may be all but extinct in the NHL (unless you ask Jim Rutherford), in the AHL, games have a higher likelihood of getting a little out of control. Many teams retain a primary face puncher in their organisation, and the Penguins have one of the better nuclear options to keep stored in your minors. Sestito possess a surprising amount of skill and produces at a reasonable rate when given the opportunity to do so, with a career AHL scoring rate of 0.43 points per game. This unexpected production, plus his ability to skate a regular shift in the AHL makes him a valuable asset for an AHL team that somewhat lacks in size (Elite Prospects has the WBS current roster at the 24th tallest). Sestito may get as high as 15 goals this year if he remains in the AHL the entire year, and don’t be shocked if you catch him out as a net front presence on the powerplay.

Thomas DiPauli, AHL Experience : 1 year

DiPauli


A disappointing year for Thomas DiPauli, who was derailed by multiple injuries and only managed to appear in 12 games, scoring 2 assists. Touted as a speedy, defensive minded forward coming out of college, the former Washington Capitals forward was signed to an ELC by the Penguins when his draft rights expired. It is difficult to put a number projection on what to expect of DiPauli given his lack of experience in pro hockey and coming off injuries. A year of 10-15 goals, 30-40 points and staying healthy will be a move in the right direction for DiPauli. He’ll be used in a bottom-6 role to make use of his speed and defensive ability, and may see some time at centre depending on what happens to WBS’ centre depth throughout the year.

Frederik Tiffels, AHL Experience: Rookie

Switzerland V Germany - Relegation - 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship


A 6th round overager drafted in 2015, Frederik Tiffels just signed an ELC after finishing his junior year at Western Michigan University. Never quite producing offensively or developing the way the Penguins hoped, the Penguins likely moved to turn Tiffels turn pro as a result of this and the belief they can reset his development course as he was stuck in a bottom 6 role in college. Tiffels will likely start the year in Wheeling due to the amount of forwards in WBS this year, but will inevitably make some appearances. Look for him to play top-6 minutes in Wheeling but slot into a more defensive role for WBS when he is playing in the AHL.

Adam Johnson, AHL Experience: Rookie

Adam Johnson


A NCAA free agent signed by the Penguins after impressing at the recent development camp, Adam Johnson has a history of good production in the USHL and in college through his two years at Minnesota-Duluth. A creative, offensive minded player, Johnson has a tough crack to make it onto the opening WBS roster due to the number of forwards, so much like Tiffels above, expect to see him playing down in Wheeling for much of the year, adjusting the pro game. As such, I won’t make any projections on his points for the year.


Ranking The Biggest Player Losses Due to Free Agency

Some of the most remarkable accomplishments that GM Jim Rutherford completed when transitioning the Pittsburgh Penguins team to this 2017 season was keeping pretty much all of the roster in tact and together. The only player that the Penguins lost was Beau Bennet and Ben Lovejoy, and with all due respect to Mr. Bennet, I don’t think any Pens fan cares or even missed him. Lovejoy played well as a defenseman for the Pens, but was quickly replaced. Now he’s struggling just to remain on the New Jersey Devils roster, rough switch.

Now the transition after back to back Stanley Cups going into ’18, becomes a more difficult path as players have received lucritive free agency contracts. It’s widely known in sports that players who win a championship normally grab large offers in the following off season of free agency. They deserve to be compensated for such a grand accomplishment, but it’s also remarkable about how the Pens were able to keep most of their guys while winning numerous cup championships in that time.

I’m thankful for each of these athlete’s effort as a Pittsburgh Penguin, seeing them go hurts but that’s the difficult nature that this business does. Even so, the Pens main to core group is still in on the roster. For now, here’s the players who left that are the toughest losses to the team.

  1. Nick Bonino:  Signed with Nashville Predators

Anchoring the 3rd line center role, Bonino would be a 2nd liner on most other teams if it weren’t for the Pens phenomenal talent. “Bonesy” brought grit, smarts, and reliability to the team. He provided top offense when needed and was always assuring to stop a top line with his defense, which is why he was the top penalty killer. While his play was more affective on the 2016 Cup team, there’s no better example of his heart and sacrifice last year than in this year’s 2017 Cup final (and win) when Bonino broke his fibula blocking a shot and than continued to finish the rest of the game. His departure leaves the biggest question on the Penguins for who will replace him, it won’t be easy.

2.   Marc-Andre Fleury: Drafted by Vegas Golden Knights

This probably would have been lower on the list if it wasn’t for the nostalgia wrapped around it. There’s no question Fleury is loved by all Pens fans, people were heartbroken when he was gone and his contributions through the years go on and on. Obviously Matt Murray is the starting goalie so that role is filled, but as a locker room presence and great teammate, it affects the psyche of the team. Flower even sat next to Sidney Crosby on all flights! 3 Stanley Cups including a great playoff run this year until Murray took over in the Eastern Conference Finals. What a career in Pittsburgh for him. He’s the only player on this list that spent his whole time as a Penguin, there’s great reason for that.

3. Matt Cullen: Retired……?

The original “dad” of the Penguins roster brought a winning yet calming pedigree to the Penguins. He stabilized a 4th line to make them just as dangerous as all the others. Cullen had a knack for capitalizing offensively at the most crucial times. He would constantly produce between 10-20 goals a season for the Pens, a phenomenal of scoring for a 4th line player. Carter Rowney will likely take his spot at center unless he gets the 3rd line, you can’t quantify veteran knowledge Cullen brought to the roster though.

4. Trevor Daley: Signed with Detroit Red Wings

Daley’s 2nd Stanley Cup victory was a little sweeter because he actually got to play in the finals this time. The previous win had him nursing a broken ankle. Daley was an offensive defenseman through and through that fit the Penguins system. Because Justin Schultz improved in succession from each year, he was clearly the 1 to sign back. Also we should get Kris Letang healthy again, making a the 1-2 defensive punch lethal. The Pens have alot of depth going on behind the blue line, so Daley was nice but certainly replaceable.

5. Chris Kunitz: Signed by Tampa Bay Lightning 

The 2nd longest tenured Penguin on this list, Kunitz experienced a wonderful time in a Penguins sweater. During his earlier time he was high level point scorer for the team, winging on the top line along with Sidney Crosby at center, Kunitz at 1 point was very prolific. His later years saw his role diminished to a protector role, taking the brunt of front net scrap ups just like Patric Hornqvist. Kunitz was able to change his game and help the team. His scoring fell off, yet he had his last great Penguins moments in game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals, scoring 2 goals including the winning goal in double OT. Unless he was coming back for smaller money, his body guard role was replaced by Hornqvist and Ryan Reaves. His scoring has long been taken by the stable of young guys like Conor Sheary, Jake Gutnzel and Bryan Rust all on lesser contracts. The Pens also have promising Daniel Sprong amongst others waiting in the wings to go. Kunitz time was up though it was a time worth remembering. In the twilight of his career, he has 4 (3 with the Pens) Cups and can prepare for retirement playing in Tampa. He will take on a veteran role there similar to the 1 that made him assistant captain here.

6. Ron Hainsey: Signed by Toronto Maple Leafs

Traded for at the deadline for insurance on defense, Hainsey progressed as the playoffs went on. I liked him in Pittsburgh, though there was no chance the Penguins would dream of giving Hainsey the money that Toronto did. As stated before about the Letang return along with some guys in the farm system, Hainsey was expendable. If the Pens need more help later in the season they can just trade for another Hainsey type player at the deadline for a similar end result.

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