Penguins Championship Window Wide Open

The Pittsburgh Penguins are Stanley Cup Champions. Thanks to General Manager Jim Rutherford, that is a title that they will be serious contenders for during the next few seasons.

The championship in 2009 was supposed to the beginning of a dynasty that rivaled that of Wayne Gretzky’s Edmonton Oilers. After a string of disappointing playoff performances, it was clear that things were not going as planned. Then Rutherford took over, and the rest is history. In fact, the Penguins might be in a better position to run off a few more Cup runs than they were seven years ago.

Stars and Veteran Forwards

Let’s start with the big names. Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, Marc-Andre Fleury and Kris Letang all still have a few years of prime hockey left in them, and are locked up to long-term contracts. Patric Hornqvist still has two years left on his current deal, Carl Hagelin has three, and Nick Bonino has one year. Chris Kunitz is still under contract, but it may be time to move him for salary cap space. Eric Fehr finishes off the veteran forwards with two years left.

The Cost-Controlled

An important part of this roster is the number of players that are controlled on entry-level contracts, or their second deals, and are young enough to be protected as restricted free agents when their contracts expire. Conor Sheary, Bryan Rust, Tom Kuhnhackl, Scott Wilson, Oskar Sundqvist, Beau Bennett, Daniel Sprong, Brian Dumoulin, Justin Schultz, Derrick Pouliot, Matt Murray, and Tristan Jarry are all controlled players. Most of these players have had, or will have an important role to play in the Penguins’ future success. Get the most out of these players while they are still cost-effective.

The Defense, Goalies, and UFAs

I have already mentioned a few Penguins’ blueliners, so let’s talk about who is left. Pittsburgh recently extended Olli Maatta through 2021-22. Trevor Daley has one year left, with Ian Cole having two years.

Then there is the most drama-filled position of the offseason. Matt Murray is clearly the starting netminder in Pittsburgh, so where does that leave Fleury? Either as a quality part of a goalie tandem, or a chip to build young assets in a trade return. I wouldn’t rule out Jeff Zatkoff as a possible backup if Fleury is moved. Don’t forget Jarry waiting for his turn.

Only three players on the entire Penguins’ roster have expired contracts. Matt Cullen, Ben Lovejoy, and Zatkoff. All three had their part to play in 2015-16, but it would not be earth shattering if they left.

The Long and Short of it

I will save my opinion on potential roster moves for another article. I just want to show you that despite what Rutherford does this offseason, the Penguins are in a great position moving forward, even beyond 2016-17.

The core star players are locked up with long-term contracts. The “kids” from Wilkes-Barre have graduated, with more to follow, bringing their team-friendly deals with them. The top-four defenders, depending on what they do with Pouliot, are in place for a while, and the goaltending depth is superb.

This group isn’t just staying together, it’s getting better. Yes, there are some players that need to be locked up, or replaced. Yes, the farm system will need to be replenished. But we know that GMJR is up to the task. Or for that matter, it may be Jason Botterill that is up to the task. Who knows?

What we know for sure is that Mike Sullivan, Crosby, Malkin, Letang and company are not done yet.

Until next time.