The Pittsburgh Penguins have a lot of crucial decisions to make this offseason, specifically with their putrid forward depth. Many have began suggesting that Chris Kunitz should be bought out of his contract, but realistically that will not happen. Kunitz is too deeply rooted in the locker room and is great friends with owner Mario Lemieux.
As it stands right now the Penguins have eight forwards under contract for next season and six free agents.
Those free agents are:
- Steve Downie
- Craig Adams
- Blake Comeau
- Maxim Lapierre
- Daniel Winnik
- Beau Bennett (RFA)
Of those names Comeau, Bennett and Winnik need to return.
Bennett is a restricted free agent and can be re-signed for a modest rate. Additionally Bennett needs a legitimate chance with the Penguins at the NHL level. He’s a promising player that has dealt with a lot of injuries and has been forced to play a role he isn’t built for. Rutherford may believe he made a mistake in developing Bennett, but really the damage (if any) was done by his predecessor Ray Shero.
Winnik needs to remain with the Penguins, but not for the reason you might think.
He shouldn’t be kept to play in the top-six. Instead he needs to be a bottom-six role player and traded at the deadline. Why should the Penguins keep a player just to trade him at the deadline? Simply to justify the enormous price they paid to acquire him. At the most recent deadline the Pens sent their current fourth-round pick and a future second-round pick to bring him to Pittsburgh. It’s a poor use of assets if you let a player that you just acquired leave as a free agent.
It’s no secret Winnik’s trade value will be less next season given that he will be a year older and potentially on a bigger contract. However, Pittsburgh would be wise to get some sort of return on a veteran they paid so much to acquire.
The last free agent the Penguins need to keep is Blake Comeau. He was signed to solidify the Pens bottom-six and he did that at the start of the season. As the season progressed, players became ineffective or injured and Comeau found himself playing on the second line alongside Evgeni Malkin.
As it turned out, Comeau is the best $700k the Penguins have ever spent. He was a great fit in the top-six until a wrist injury slowed his production. Despite scoring less, Comeau maintained his physical play and was one of the Penguins top hitters.
Given the season the 29-year-old forward had, he deserves a slight raise and Pittsburgh would be wise to give it to him. Comeau has proven he can play top-six minutes when needed and appears to have rejuvenated his career.
Maybe next season he can actually play the role that he was initially brought in to do.
A lot of other people seem to be in favor of the youth movement in Pittsburgh. That’s fine, just not all at once. Speculation has been rampant, including everything from buying out Scuderi (which most likely will happen) to trade Malkin, Letang and Sutter—all so the Penguins could give prospects like Kasperi Kapanen, Osker Sundqvist and Scott Wilson a chance.
They should be given a chance to earn a roster spot, but it should not be given to them. The bottom line is Pittsburgh cannot expect to legitimately contend for the Stanley Cup next season if they build their roster assuming a handful of forward prospects will make the jump next.
The Penguins have a lot of acceptable players, but they cannot rely on uncertain young players to produce at a certain level.
Comeau is an affordable free agent that provides grit, scoring and leadership to an otherwise distraught team and this is why he needs to remain on the roster next season.