Exciting times to be a Penguins fan, Penguins' fans!
In a move that had been rumored for at least a week or so, General Manager Jim Rutherford pulled the trigger. He found his top-six winger who was his "number one priority."
Introducing the newest Pittsburgh Penguin, Phil Kessel.
Kessel, who I wrote about in an earlier post, is an addition much needed for a Penguins team whose offense seemed to disappear for the last month of the 2014-15 regular season. Depending on chemistry with Evgeni Malkin or Sidney Crosby, it's safe to say Kessel will hit 30 goals easy, potentially and even probably more as long as the team stays relatively healthy.
He is knocked on his defensive efforts or lack there of and his minus-34 from last year does not help his cause. However, one has to assume, like I do, that playing under head coach Mike Johnston and playing on a team that was in the top five defensively last season that those numbers will turn around. I expect Kessel to be a plus player this season and even more determined with something to prove against his former suitors.
To acquire Kessel was quite the price tag for the Penguins. Heading to Toronto included 2014 first round draft pick winger Kasperi Kapanen, defenseman Scott Harrington, center/winger Nick Spaling, a 2016 lottery protected first round pick and a 2016 third round pick. Toronto also sent winger Tyler Biggs, defenseman Tim Erixon, and the 2016 second round pick that the Penguins had traded at this past year's NHL Trade Deadline to acquire winger, and newly reintroduced to Toronto, Daniel Winnik. Lastly, the Leafs will retain $1.2 million for the remainder of the contract. Kessel's cap hit in Pittsburgh then will be $6.8 million instead of $8 per year; certainly a plus.
When you boil it down to the bones here (I think I'm combining too many sayings), Kessel is the elite scoring winger the Penguins were looking for and Toronto was looking to rebuild/shed the contract. Mission accomplished for both teams. Plus, especially for the Penguins, defensemen Derrick Pouliot and Olli Maatta remain in a Penguins jersey. That's absolutely huge.
Plotnikov Officially a Penguin
It was rumored about a week or so ago that KHL winger Sergei Plotnikov planned on signing with the Penguins come July 1. Today is July 1 and Sergei Plotnikov is a Pittsburgh Penguin. For once a rumor was completed without any hiccup.
The deal is a one-year entry-level deal worth $925 thousand dollars. A low risk signing with potential huge rewards, especially if he plays alongside fellow countryman, as he is expected to, Evgeni Malkin. Is Plotnikov a top-six winger? Time will tell, but it is an experiment worth attempting. Overall, I like the signing because of the diversity in nationalities on the team that it brings and the mystery of what could be with Plotnikov.
Depth, depth, and more depth
One would be crazy to think Rutherford was going to go all out and for broke on day one of free agency. There are still plenty of good players out on the market now that he may circle back to, but the Penguins chose to add some depth forwards and defensemen. Signings include Kevin Porter, Kael Mouillerat, David Warsofsky, and Steve Oleksy. They also signed Conor Sheary to a two-year, entry-level contract. Sheary, who was a huge bright spot for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton will continue to develop in the AHL and hopefully has an opportunity to bring his speed and tenacity to the big line-up within that time frame.
The signings help replenish some of the depth spots lost in free agency from both Pittsburgh and Wilkes/Barre-Scranton. Barring any horrible injury crisis that Pittsburgh has been a part of for the last several years, I expect most of those signings to stay in the AHL. Porter is the only name I really see making occasional appearances on the fourth-line.
Where Do They Go From Here?
While I think the Penguins addressed a much desired need, there is always room for improvement. When you think back to the end of last season, the Penguins were without Kris Letang, Maatta, and Pascal Dupuis. Come the start of the year, that all will be different.
As I write this, Alexander Semin is still on the board and someone I would love to see have a chance in a Penguins uniform for a short-term, low money contract (one-year/$1-$1.5 million). While it's been reported that the Penguins have no interest in him and personally neither do I, but what if they could snag Martin St. Louis for a similar deal as Semin? It's tempting to think about. Why not bring in Sergei Gonchar for one last year to mentor young defenseman and quarterback the second unit power-play? The Penguins have a little cap space to utilize, why not take a one year gamble?
Rutherford is on record saying that the main focus now is acquiring a fourth-line center. Zach Sill is a fourth-line center and I may be the only person as a Penguins fan who would love to see him back, but he is certainly an option. Maybe even Tyler Kennedy, Mike Santorelli, or do the Penguins give Oskar Sundqvist an opportunity? That seems to be what most Penguins' fans want.
This write-up is a summary of the massive deal simply because you've probably already read every article written about it. There's nothing more I can add to the specifics of the Kessel trade other than my thoughts. Same deal applies with the other signings and where they go from here.
It's called Christmas for a reason in the hockey season. I have my list. I may get one, two, all or none of the names, but it can't hurt to have them out there.
The Penguins won today, and there is no doubt about that. They got their target, signed depth, and still have a little more room to improve. What happens on Thursday (Day 2), who knows, but I expect it to be quiet. Today was a big splash. Tomorrow may be a ripple. Either way, I think we can all agree, Pens fans:
Is it October yet?