Where do the Pens go from here?

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Where do the Pens go from here?

Postby Bowser on Sat Jun 08, 2013 10:04 pm

After an immense disappointment for the Penguins losing to the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference Finals in a 4-game sweep, Penguins General Manager Ray Shero will have little time to calmly reflect on what happened as the offseason begins with the NHL Draft and Free Agency in just a few weeks.

Shero will have to make a decision on Bylsma's job as the team can't wait long for a new coach if the decision is to fire him as the best candidates will be looking to get a job well in-advanced of the NHL draft.

There should be little debate about this decision as the team has struggled defensively too many times in the playoffs, constant lack of composure by their most important players and a lack of discpline getting into penalty trouble, which were the same topics of conversation last offseason.

But like the saying, any village idiot can tell me the problem, I want someone who can tell me the solution.

For the Penguins, they need to find a way to get a veteran coach like Dave Tippett supported by assistants that he wants to help him get the most out of the team and not hand picked assistants by Shero.

Tippett's structured system would be a significant difference in the way Bylsma coached hockey as his way of defensive hockey was often telling the players to "get to our game" by playing in the other team's zone, which would be a winning philosophy if the team knew how to back-check into the defensive zone, worked together along the boards and didn't rely on a stretch pass so long, Tino Sunseri couldn't even complete a pass that far.

As for the roster, expect significant turnover for a franchise that crashed and burned in four consecutive playoffs.

The Penguins have 13 unrestricted free agents - Pascal Dupuis, Craig Adams, Iginla, Morrow, Cooke, Warren Peters, Philippe Dupuis, Trevor Smith, Chad Kolarik, Murray, Eaton, Dylan Reese, and Brad Thiessen and 10 restricted free agents - Tyler Kennedy, Dustin Jeffrey, Paul Thompson, Brian Gibbons, Zach Sill, Riley Holzapfel, Keven Veilleux, Robert Bortuzzo, Alex Grant and Eric Hartzell.

Because the next head coach will need to bring more discipline, more structure defensively and a new style of hockey, that should change the way the roster is put together after years of building down the middle from the goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, defensemen Brooks Orpik and Kris Letang and centers Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby.

While it would be unthinkable to trade Crosby and Malkin, I can't say the same of Fleury and Letang.

If the Penguins plan to trade Fleury, they might be willing to go into next season with Vokoun as the starter and Hartzell as the backup. The young college free agent could be developed to become the starter if they don't acquire a long-term option at the draft, free agency or in a trade.

Depending on a hypothetical deal with Colorado, they have Semyon Varlamov to add as part of any trade offer for Fleury and don't discount the importance of Fleury in what Patrick Roy will want to do as the new head coach in Colorado. I expect a lot of rumors to start emanating out of Colorado regarding this trade possibility.

In free agency, the best bang for your buck could be Boston's backup goaltender Anton Khudobin, a 27-year old backup that made just $875,000 last season or San Jose's backup Thomas Greiss, also 27-years old making $587,500.

As for Letang, he's going to command a huge salary as a number one defenseman and the Penguins can't afford such demands with Malkin about to be an unrestricted free agent after next season and holes to fill the roster due to an unproductive draft and player development system under Shero.

It should be buyer beware with Letang as he's struggled defensively in the playoffs and due to his lack of size, appears to wear down, mentally and physically.

He was easily knocked around in front of the net in these playoffs and his offensive game hasn't fully developed as he continues to struggle to get his shot through on the power play, over handling the puck and rushing his passes into the feet of his teammates.

Letang is a big tease and that will likely put him in the $7 million range as a free agent, a deal the Pens cannot afford or should be make in a new system that should require their defensemen to think defense first.

A team like the New York Islanders could be quite interested in Letang in order to address holes on their blue line and have some depth at forward to offer the Penguins.

A forward like Josh Bailey could mix in well with the Penguins as good two-way forward on the top two lines.

Meanwhile, Shero has to make additional adjustments with the blue line as teams far too often were able to easily enter the Penguins zone because guys like Letang, Niskanen, Murray, Engelland, and Eaton struggled to win battles in the corner or in front of the net, so they cheated back in the zone and still lost those battles.

The team has a good start with Paul Martin, Brooks Orpik, and Simon Despres but must find bigger, stronger and more agile defensemen than what they've employed the last two years. Looking at free agency, it might be wise to bring back Rob Scuderi and use one or two of their younger players like Robert Bortuzzo, Brian Dumoulin, Philip Samuelsson, Derrick Pouliot, Olli Maatta, and Scott Harrington to round out the blue line.

At forward, it was another disappointing playoff performance by Crosby and Malkin but there were others just as unproductive and ineffective.

Penguins got little offensive push from their third and fourth lines, far too often being hemmed in their own end against better players, even during the regular season Bylsma had to be selective in his shifts for the fourth line.

For much of the playoffs, Brandon Sutter was missing in action on the offensive side of the ice and struggled to win faceoffs. The team would be in a better position using Sutter and Jussi Jokinen together on the third line and finding a right winger that has good speed, defensively responsible, and not weak link in the corners.

Many people are going to say the team should bring back Matt Cooke but the team can't continue to employ a forward who has made positive changes in his game but continues to get the raw end of the deal for some borderline hits and that cost the team in the playoffs. The team can no longer take the risk of a player that can be replaced on the third line and penalty-kill by a younger, less controversial winger.

I'd be in favor of bringing back Pascal Dupuis but question whether the Penguins can sign him to a cap friendly deal and after a few playoff flame outs for the Penguins, it is time to create some instability for Crosby and force him as well as others to start playing differently.

Keeping Dupuis and having him in a top two-line role changes little for this franchise. It will be tough to lose such a positive player and outstanding penalty-killer but if Dupuis wants to be paid like a top six forward, they can't afford it.

Shero will undoubtedly start the season with Joe Vitale at center and Tanner Glass at left wing on the fourth line and in search of a right wing that much like the third line has to get bigger, faster, and more skilled.

The days of watching Craig Adams throw his heart and soul into every shift should be over. He worked hard but far too often, he was a stationary pylon on the penalty-kill, below average on faceoffs, and just didn't have the skills to move the puck down the ice without an ordinary dump and chase.

Not surprising, if the team is unable to acquire NHL ready talent in trades for Fleury and Letang, they'll have to go the free agent route because there's no prospects in the organization ready to win a job on the top two lines besides Beau Bennett.

I would prefer to see Bennett as a left-winger on a line with Malkin and James Neal due to him being a right-handed shot, excellent passer and unafraid to play in the high traffic areas.

That leaves one spot to fill on the first line to play alongside Crosby and Chris Kunitz, which I'd make a move to get Bruins right-winger Nathan Horton. He's a big power forward that can skate, has a laser shot, and young enough to play with Crosby for the next few years.

The days of putting ham and eggers, no offense to Dupuis and Kunitz, on a line with Crosby need to be over.

It will be a difficult retooling for Shero but if he's to build another championship team, he can't fall into the same trap the Penguins organization fell into under Craig Patrick twenty years ago.

---------------

The Penguins currently have a salary cap hit of $56.4 million, leaving $7.8 million in cap space for next season.

Forwards
1st: Kunitz - Crosby - RW
2nd: Bennett - Malkin - Neal
3rd: Jokinen - Sutter - RW
4th: Glass - Vitale - RW
Extra: MacIntyre
Salary cap hit: 33.466

RFA: Kennedy, Jeffrey, Thompson, Gibbons, Sill, Holzapfel, Veilleux
UFA: Dupuis, Adams, Iginla, Morrow, Cooke, Peters, Dupuis, Smith, Kolarik
Signed Prospects: Megna, Payerl, Kuehnhackl, Uher, Zlobin
Unsigned Prospects: Blueger, Sundqvist, Marcantuoni, Archibald, Wilson, Rust

Defensemen
DP1: Orpik - Martin
DP2: Despres - Letang
DP3: Niskanen - Engelland
Salary Cap hit: 15.956

RFA: Bortuzzo, Grant
UFA: Murray, Eaton, Reese
Signed Prospects: Pouliot, Maatta, Ruopp, Samuelsson, Harrington, Dumoulin, D'Agostino, McNeil
Unsgined Prospects: Seymour, Velischek

Goaltender
NHL: Fleury, Vokoun
AHL: Zatkoff
RFA: Hartzell
UFA: Thiessen
Salary Cap hit: 7.00

Top Free Agents

Center: Patrik Elias, Mike Ribeiro, Nik Antropov, Derek Roy, Dainius Zubrus, Stephen Weiss, Tyler Bozak
Right-wing: Nathan Horton, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Damien Brunner, David Clarkson, Jarome Iginla, Jaromir Jagr
Left-wing: Brenden Morrow, Ryane Clowe, Clark MacArthur, Dustin Penner, Valtteri Filppula, Viktor Stahlberg
Defense: Ron Hainsey, Mark Streit, Rob Scuderi, Jordan Leopold, Douglas Murray, Ryan O'Bryne
Goalie: Niklas Backstrom, Tim Thomas, Mike Smith, Anton Khudobin, Thomas Greisss, Al Montoya

Top Coaching Candidates
Experienced: Dave Tippett, Rick Tocchet, Alain Vigneault, Lindy Ruff, Paul Maurice, Guy Boucher, Mike Sullivan, Glen Gulutzan
1st timers: Ulf Samuelsson, Dallas Eakins, Dean Evason, Mark French
Bowser
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