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July 1 Free Agency: Pittsburgh Penguins

The Pittsburgh Penguins won the Stanley Cup for the second time in two years. As the free agency loomed, it was wondered what pieces of the Penguins puzzle would remain. So far, four players are gone with one looking at retirement. How has this truly affected the Penguins?

Ron Hainsey. Ron was a valuable piece to the Penguins for the simple reason that the team was short on defensemen. It appeared as if he found a fountain of youth as the Penguins went deeper, but he was at times an anchor for the team. We just don’t see it as much as the limping defense struggled to perform. At 35, he was slow and needed time to adjust to his pairings. For a team in need of players, Hainsey did well and contributed to the team’s victory. With that said, he is an unimportant piece to the Penguins system. He is too old for the way the team plays, though if you are in a pinch, you would take him. The Penguins will not miss him.

Speaking of old, defensive players, there was Mark Streit who should call it quits. He would get three games in the playoffs but would never play a game in the Stanley Cup. Simply stated, he is too old. His value has diminished with age, and this past season shows it.

Christ Kunitz. Chris has been a valuable member of the Penguins for almost ten years. Fortunately for the Penguins, these were his best years. He benefited from being Crosby’s linemate, however, he didn’t really light it up other than his 35 goal season. I was advocating for the Penguins to be rid of him for the past several years as his value was not on the first line. His statistics show the past three years that he is beyond his prime and indeed beyond playing full-time in this league. Why Tampa signed him is beyond me. I get it, he was effective in some of the 20 playoff games he played in this year, but was it worth it when a better player could have taken his place. He really didn’t fit this team unless it was on the fourth line. There are younger, faster players to take his place plus Ryan Reaves looks to me as a tougher version of Kunitz which was a very expensive trade. Off topic, is the true Rutherford coming back?

Trevor Daley. This was a man I was see happy to arrive the year the Pens won their first cup. First, the Pens got rid of the snail in Rob Scuderi. This second time around showed how Scuderi was even slower that Streit. Another reason was the potential offensive capability of Daley even at 32. Defensively, he wasn’t the best, but he did compliment the Letang injury issues. We had offense when Letang is out. Sadly for the guy, he was knocked out of the playoffs in 2016 and spent nearly a third of the season injured. His 2016-17 season and playoffs was not as good as expected. He appeared slow at times and hesitant on decisions. The playoff output was disappointing. Overall, he underachieved in my eyes. This has left me wondering if he has peaked and is now ready for the decline. It could be that injuries have curtailed his talent this past season. Whatever the reason, the Penguins have Letang and Justin Shultz for the firepower from the defense. Somehow, I still think Olli Maata has the ability to provide offense and better defense. Losing Daley does nothing to hurt the Penguins.

Matt Cullen. Here was a guy that I dreaded when Rutherford signed him. I thought, “old guy with nothing to give but willing to take.” Okay, I was wrong. His proved valuable as a fourth liner with faceoffs and the occasional scoring. He was the energy of the fourth line and the most important piece of the fourth line. This past playoffs his age began to show as he appeared slow at times and worn out. At age 40, you would expect some of this. Faceoffs were his forte and this will be greatly missed. I see him as one of the better faceoff players on the team. I don’t know if you can maintain a spot for him if he should play one more season once he decides to do so in August. The Pens will miss his faceoffs, but that can be overcome.

Nick Bonino. This is the biggest prize as he is only 29. Penguins fans will likely remember him for three things: HBK line, blocking shots, and the Hockey Night Punjabi call. If his faceoffs are to be missed, then Matt Cullen will be greatly missed. His faceoffs are not great as he has been mostly under 50%. You can expect 15 goals from him during the season and mediocre faceoffs. In the playoffs, he is great on blocking shots and isn’t bad on the penalty kill. When you are in need of a third line center, I guess you could miss him, but how much? It would have been nice to retain him simply for the chemistry, but Nashville has greatly overpaid him. I really do not think the Penguins will miss this guy other than the Punjabi calls. You can likely replace Bonino with any young centerman and get similar results. If the Penguins can trade for Matt Duchene without breaking the bank, again (think Reaves), then people will ask, “Bonino who?” Nick Bonino isn’t a great third line center but of the players they lost, he hurts the most. The upside is the pain is more psychological than anything else.

Re-signing Justin Shultz was the biggest move in helping the Penguins to continue. Also important to the Penguins are Conor Sheary and Brian Dumoulin as they are young with growing potential. What they have lost are mostly aging players if not beyond their playing days then very close to them. The Penguins have unloaded slower, aging players, and this helps the team. What remains is the core team and that is what really won the past two Stanley Cups.

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