EVALUATING DAY 1 OF FREE AGENCY FOR THE PENGUINS
Jim Rutherford just four days ago at the NHL Draft following the James Neal trade and how the Penguins planned to attack free agency:
“You’re always concerned about that with your top players,” Rutherford said of the trade. “This gives us a better chance to do something on July 1 that might be suitable to Geno,” — Tribune Review
“I would say a top-nine forward and a couple of support guys in the top 12,” Rutherford said to Post-Gazette on Sunday in regards to his free agency wishlist.
So what changed?
Christian Ehrhoff getting bought out and willing to come here for one year is what changed the Penguins to alter their plans in the last 12 hours.
“The fact that we could get a guy like Ehrhoff made a big difference. It certainly changed my way of thinking,” Rutherford said at Tuesday’s Press Conference. “We weren’t going in looking for any defensemen. We feel our young guys can do the job that a lot of these guys who got signed can do.”
What remains to be seen if the Penguins changed plans were for the best.
Ehrhoff will likely go down as one of the NHL’s best bargains this season. He’s a very good No. 3 type defenseman who can play all situations, log 22+ minutes, could be a great fit on the power play. Ehrhoff putting up 50 points is a strong possibility with this team but he is 32 in a few days and the Penguins are not getting the defenseman Ehrhoff was in his 20’s.
The addition of goaltender Thomas Greiss upgrades the overall depth of the goaltending position and there’s some scouts who strongly feel Greiss has the potential to be an NHL starter.
The return of Marcel Goc solidified the 4th line center spot, while Blake Comeau is a solid bottom-6 player for the price, $700,000.
As Jim Rutherford said, “it was a very good day,” when it came to adding good players at less than market prices, but the Penguins have not addressed specific needs, areas that have failed them for the last several seasons.
— The Penguins still have a winger problem. The Penguins have the same four centers they ended this past season with. The issues last year were not the centers. The top-6 is not good enough around Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, the 4th line wingers remain an issue with Craig Adams currently slotted in one spot and Jason Megna (RFA) in the other winger spot for now. With little cap space and unless the Penguins are willing to move Paul Martin, these issues are unlikely to be resolved anytime soon.
“I’m not sure we have to get a top-six forward at this time,” Rutherford said Tuesday. “We don’t necessarily have to have our team all set for the playoffs in September.”
From this past season’s roster, at wing the Penguins have lost James Neal, Jussi Jokinen, Lee Stempniak, Tanner Glass, likely Brian Gibbons and have added Patric Hornqvist, Nick Spaling, Blake Comeau.
NOT HARD TO PLAY AGAINST
— One key knock that has followed the Penguins for years is they are not hard to play against. They don’t have a “heavy” group of forwards that wear you down over a seven game series.
The Penguins are smaller and less physical with the way the roster is constructed right now. Hornqvist is an excellent net-front presence, adds in a big way over Neal in that area, but he’s smaller and not a constant physical presence by any means. Spaling is a well rounded player but not much of a grit, physical player, had just 41 hits last season.
In Comeau the Penguins get a more offensive upside player than Tanner Glass despite the offensive numbers not looking like it for Comeau (15 goals in last 177 games), and a better possession player, but the Penguins lose a bit of toughness with Glass gone, though, Comeau is no slouch in the physical department.
Say what you want about Brooks Orpik but the Penguins are a much less physical presence on the backend without him. Ehrhoff is a Paul Martin type, 49 hits in 79 games, that’s not his game.
The Penguins added good players today and at the draft with the trade for Hornqvist. Changes had to be made this off-season but the Penguins on-going problem of being too soft upfront and now on the backend, looks like it won’t be going away anytime soon.