With the initial rush of the NHL’s initial Free Agency madness now behind us, let’s start this week by catching up with the moves made by the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The club made two moves right away as the noon hour hit as they signed defenseman Matt Hunwick to a three-year deal. He will earn 2.25 million per year for the life of the contract. An assistant captain in Toronto for the past two years, the Michigan born Hunwick finished last year with 1 goal and 18 assists. He was a big part of the Leafs penalty kill which improved each of the past two seasons, and Hunwick also appeared in all six of Toronto’s playoff games as they bowed out to the Washington Capitals in round one.
The 32 year-old was drafted in 2004 by the Boston Bruins in the seventh round and played for 4 other NHL clubs prior to his signing in Pittsburgh.
He should fill well in a bottom pairing and is a nice upgrade over the departed Ron Hainsey and Mark Streit. Hunwick is smart with the puck and is very limited in turning the puck over.
Also, and as expected, the Pens went into the back up goaltender pool and picked up a one-year stop insurance policy in Antti Neimi. Neimi, who is 33 years of age will serve as the back up to Matt Murray and bridge the gap while Tristan Jarry turns into the man in WB/S to get him ready for life with the big club the following year.
Neimi, who split time for most of the last two season with Dallas, will earn $700,000 and should be in line for 30-ish starts this upcoming season. His stats for last year were not the best, however at the minimal salary commanded, if he turns into a bust it will be of no issue for the Penguins to cut bait early and speed up the process on Jarry.
Neimi won a Cup with Chicago in 2010 as their go to goalie and also lead the San Jose Sharks to an appearance in the Western Conference Finals. The Finnish keeper has a career goals against average of 2.49 and a save percentage of .913 in 423 regular season appearances.
The Stanley Cup Champs suffered their fair share of losses on July 1st. As expected, a number of players found greener pastures, mostly due to pricing themselves out of Pittsburgh.
Nick Bonino landed in Nashville on a 4-year deal that will pay him just over 4-million per year. Bonino was one of the more sought after free agents in a very weak pool this summer. In various interviews with Canadian media last weekend, Bonino indicated that Nashville will indeed use him as a second line center at times. This was never in the plans in Pittsburgh and is a role that Bonino has struggled with when called upon. Given the salary and the fact that ‘Bones’ had 1 good month last year, it was an easy decision to let him walk.
Trevor Daley signed in Detroit for three years. The first year of his deal there will see him earn 4 million dollars. this also wasn’t in the ball park for the Penguins who watched Daley struggle with injuries over the last two seasons despite his solid play otherwise.
Daley finished 2016/17 with 5 goals and 14 assists and will always be remembered for the game he heroically filled in for Kris Letang’s minutes when Tanger was suspended in the Caps series for one game, two-years ago.
Another defenseman in Ron Hainsey was lost to the Maple Leafs on a two-year contract worth three million per year. Hainsey came over to the Pens in a trade with Carolina and helped the patchwork defensive corps hold it together enough to win the Cup this past Spring. Hainsey had never appeared in the playoffs prior to coming to Pittsburgh and many, many jokes were told about Hainsey’s playoff success in relation to a certain LW sniper in Washington D.C……..
The term and cost were never going to be touched by Pittsburgh who never seriously engaged in talks with Hainsey.
Finally, four-time Cup champ and grizzled veteran Chris Kunitz signed a one-year, two-million dollar deal with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Kunitz, who won three of his four Cups in Pittsburgh was one of the heart and soul members of the team. While his scoring touch and overall offensive game had diminished the past two seasons, his physical presence and leadership were never out of sight.
His last major contribution was Game Seven of the ECF against Ottawa when he notched 2 goals including the memorable game winner in double over time.
— Adam Figurski #⃣2⃣8⃣ (@Figurski_28) July 1, 2017
Spending a lot of his career in Pittsburgh to the side of Sidney Crosby, Kunitz’s absence will create a void slightly less to the club than the one left by Marc Andre Fleury, but one that is very real.
A Remaining Hole
A lot is now being made with the 3C position and who exactly will take that spot. With Matt Cullen and his possible retirement still in the air, it could be both bottom-6 centers that need attention. The Penguins were primed and appeared ready to strike a trade around draft day and again on July 1st, but Jim Rutherford has yet to finalize anything. With plenty of time before the season starts, the matter is not urgent, but will need addressed.
Three names that appear to be ones to watch are Jussi Jokinen, Matt Duchene, and old pal Jordan Staal. These names have all been linked to Pittsburgh over the last 7-10 days, with the Staal rumors coming into the picture this week now that Carolina has a surplus down the middle.
Reports this morning that Jokinen is close to signing out West may further the need for a trade more than a free-agent signing to fill said hole.
Schultz Signs to Stay
Restricted free agent d-man Justin Schultz signed a three-year contract that will pay him an annual value of 5.5 million dollars. The reclamation success story out of Edmonton has resurrected his career in Pittsburgh. Improving as a defender due to his work with Sergei Gonchar and the sheer offensive instincts he already possessed, Schultz has become one of the more valuable pieces to the defensive group.
His ability to get the puck through traffic on the power play has and should continue to keep him on the first unit for the foreseeable future.
Schultz is 26 years of age, and is coming off 12 goals and 39 assists this past regular season, before following it up with 4 goals and 9 assists in the playoffs while battling rib injuries.
Another College Free Agent
Adam Johnson from Minnesota-Duluth became the lasts in a growing Pittsburgh trend of top college free agent signings as the do-it-all forward inked a two-year entry-level contract.
Scouts had raved that the 22 year-old would be one of the more sought after college kids next season, but Pittsburgh jumped on it early and with success. He finishes his college career with 24 goals and 31 assists in 81 games played while leading the Bulldogs to the NCAA Championship game this past season where they lost to Denver.
News and Notes
Conor Sheary and Brian Dumoulin both filed for salary arbitration, meaning any chance of a long-term deal this Summer for one or both are on hold as one year deals through the arbitration process are likely.
The Arizona Coyotes are in discussion with Rick Tocchet to become their next Head Coach, Tocchet currently is the Penguins main assistant coach to Mike Sullivan.
Stay tuned to the Sports Castle Twitter account for any breaking news. I will be back in two-weeks with more Pens news.
As always, thanks for reading!!