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Thursday, July 3, 2014

Pens Initiative Grades The Pens Free Agency (So Far)

As the Pens are in the midst of day 3 of Free Agency, we at Pens Initiative think it's time to take a look back and assess what has happened so far.

We know this off-season has brought about a new GM in Jim Rutherford and a new coach in Mike Johnston.  They also went through the draft and acquired some offensive talent there.  They traded away a fan favorite in James Neal for Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling while the team was rebuilt with the "gritter" edge that Mario wanted.

Here, we are just looking at the Free Agency period and all that has happened since July 1st.

Lee C.J. Sobotka@LCJS

Christian Ehrhoff was a fantastic signing. Granted, he was just bought out by Buffalo, but to sign him short term at a very friendly price (1 year, $4 million), it looks like a steal.  Blake Comeau, also on a 1 year term, will fit in nicely in the bottom six.  Getting Steve Downie was icing on the cake for me, as he is a player, much like Matt Cooke, that can bring a bit of edge to the Pens game.  His term of 1 year for $1 million is very cap friendly.  With acquiring backup Thomas Greiss for 1 year, $1 million and resigning Marcel Goc at a discount, I'm pleased at the acquisitions.

With how much money was thrown at the players the Pens decided to let walk, I'm just as pleased with the additions by subtraction. Niskanen was a decent though expensive signing for the Caps while everyone else's contract (Orpik, Engelland, Vitale, Jokinen, etc) were signed for over the top money.  Have patience, Pens fans.  These are cap friendly moves for good players and the future was not sold to acquire them.

Grade: B
Best Acquisition: Steve Downie
Future Focus: Trade / Buy Out Scuderi


Liz @ChicksDigHockey

What a crazy free agency. We may have known for a few days that favorites were leaving but had no clue who would end up in Black and Vegas Gold. Christian Ehrhoff was a delightful surprise signing.  To say he was coveted is an understatement. I will surely miss Brooksie handing out free candy but Ehrhoff is a fluid skater who can really move the puck. The signing of Steve Downie was another surprise. He will certainly fill the role of gritty bottom six guy. Over all, with the comings and goings so far, I give the Pens a solid B.

Grade: B
Best Acquisition: Christian Ehrhoff
Future Focus: Scoring Winger


Paul @Evil_Shero

The Downie signing is something that can go drastically bad if not handled correctly. Its widely assumed that former (and now current) coach Rick Tocchet lobbied in Downie's favor. For a fan base or media to chastise someone on their passed behaviors is ironically silly. Keep in mind "we (had) Matt Cooke" who no matter what he did after the Savard incident was branded with the mark of the beast.

Downie CAN play hockey he had 22g and 208PIM under Tocchet's watch and he's made it clear that he can unlock that person again. Downie also had a productive second coming in Philadelphia floating just under a point per game before sidelined with a nasty concussion.

I feel the upsides outweigh the potential downsides. The length of contract is a huge bonus as not being drown in poor choices for years to come. It could be a glorious risk or a dangerous way of trying to handle dynamite.

Grade: B-
Best Acquisition: Steve Downie
Future Focus: Top 6 Winger


Traeger - @DXTraeger

Lost in the shuffle of the of Christian Ehrhoff signing was the underrated acquisition of goaltender Thomas Greiss, previously of the Phoenix Arizona Coyotes.

Greiss enjoyed the anonymity one would expect from playing ice hockey in the middle of a desert, and he posted a very quiet 2013-2014 campaign consisting of 10 wins, a 2.58 GAA and a striking .920 save percentage.

Originally drafted by the goaltending savants that are the San Jose Sharks, Greiss has Olympic experience and a body of work that suggests he is capable of producing on a consistent basis at the NHL level.

With Fleury commanding $5 million a year and entering the last year of his contract, the Penguins and GM Jim Rutherford may be very tempted to go in another goaltending direction well before the 2015 trading deadline.

If Rutherford did decide to package Fleury, #29 would command a hefty return given the scarcity of quality backstopping in the NHL.  Such a move would free up salary cap room to shore up the team's eternal area of need- a scoring winger for Crosby or Malkin- and would open the door for Greiss to sign a long-term deal with the club and become Pittsburgh's featured netminder.

Grade: B
Best Acquisition:  Thomas Greiss
Future Focus:  Top 6 Depth


Brian Blystone - @ToonsBrian

New Pens GM Jim Rutherford finds himself in that precarious situation that nobody ever wants to find themselves: filling the role of someone who was previously loved while being saddled with all the problems that caused the departure of that same someone. Since his hiring just a few short weeks ago, people have been lining up to criticize nearly every decision he’s made. Frankly, the more he does, the harder it is to find fault with the moves.

Really, what does anybody know to judge this team to begin with? It’s an all new team, save the core of personnel that remain. Any judgments we make as to the quality of the moves made this free agency period can only be made using the previous regime’s mold as a baseline.

That said, I love what the Pens seem to be doing this off-season.

Call me a homer. Call me naïve. Call me anything you like, but the Penguins’ new front office have clearly put a premium on players that address clear team concerns from the past four or five years.

Thomas Greiss is a massively underrated goaltender that could be a starting goaltender in this league very soon. He is an undisputable upgrade to Jeff Zatkoff, not to take anything from Z.

Christian Ehrhoff could be one of the best signings of the off-season for any team for a few reasons. His buyout had less to do with performance and a lot to do with a restructuring Buffalo franchise. The signing was a proactive move by Rutherford and Co. because they saw – just like everybody else – that there would be some major shakeups at the blue line this year, with Orpik and Niskanen both parting ways,. But they realized that, while a youth movement sounds great, they would need some insurance defensively. Ehrhoff more than provides that safety net.

Steve Downie was an excellent second day pickup, particularly for the price they paid. Downie and his $1 million contract provide the Penguins that “grit” the team has lacked for several years. He’s what you might get if Matt Cooke, Deryk Engelland and Georges Laraque had a baby.

The minor signings for me were really Blake Comeau and and Marcel Goc. Both are fine signings, especially for the money. They add excellent bottom six depth with Goc taking a big discount to remain a Penguin. Goc, in my eyes, has been underrated since his arrival, as he’s not the type of player that fans typically expect a center to be. And Comeau has the ability to change a game at unexpected moments.

My grade for this Free Agency period for the Penguins, however, will be mostly based on the value. They signed five roster-ready players that will improve the team in areas that desperately needed improvement. And they only spent $7.9 million to do it.

Grade: B+
Best Acquisition: Christian Ehrhoff
Future Focus: Signing Brian Gibbons


Sean Griffin - @griffTHW

Jim Rutherford turned heads when he snagged Christian Ehrhoff almost as soon as free agency began.  The blue liner could actually serve as an upgrade over the departed Matt Niskanen while strengthening the power play.  Additionally, Ehrhoff’s arrival provides the Penguins with some flexibility with regards to how the club handles Paul Martin in the final year of his contract.

Up front, the acquisitions of Blake Comeau and Steve Downie combined with the return of Marcel Goc will serve to bolster the bottom-six.  The Penguins witnessed first-hand what Comeau brings to the table in the first round of the playoffs when the winger consistently punished Pittsburgh blue liners for nearly two weeks.  His 196 last year would have ranked third on the Penguins and will help replace the physicality lost with the departures of Brooks Orpik and Tanner Glass.  Downie, meanwhile, provides the Penguins with an agitator who will stir the pot, making the Penguins more difficult to play against.  His past experience playing alongside Steven Stamkos and Marty St. Louis exemplifies the fact that he possesses the skill and versatility to slide up and down the lineup, if necessary.  For his part, Goc will bring a prowess in the faceoff circle (53.4% last season), another option as a shutdown center and an ability to chip in the occasional offense.

Finally, Rutherford surprised many with the acquisition of Thomas Greiss.  His arrival will crowd the Pittsburgh crease but he could potentially handle a workload of about 30 games, relieving some of the pressure on Marc-Andre Fleury.

The only negative comes from the fact the Penguins failed to land another legitimate top-six forward to help mitigate the losses of both Jussi Jokinen and James Neal.  Rutherford, however, has positioned himself to potentially address that concern thanks to the moves he pulled the trigger on over the last couple of days.

Grade: A-
Best Acquisition: Christian Ehrhoff
Future Focus: Top-six winger


Excited Bob Errey - @ExcitedBobErrey

Jim Rutherford locked up arguably the most talented UFA defenseman in Christian Ehrhoff early with a very friendly contract then followed that up with several good value signings. Thomas Greiss is an underrated goalie who could very well steal starts away from Fleury by the end of the regular season, while Blake Comeau, Marcel Goc, and Steve Downie provide a cost-effective upgrade to what was an awful bottom 6 last year. Most importantly, the one year deals given out during free agency gives the team great flexibility going forward and positions the team to be in great cap shape for the 2015 offseason, when the full effects of the NHL's television deal with Rogers Communications should be felt. The only thing keeping the grade below an "A" is the failure to add an additional top 6 forward in the early going, though Rutherford has both time and several different ways of accomplishing that.

Favorite Acquisition: Christian Ehrhoff. Not only did Rutherford land one of the most talented players on the market, he did so at a great price that worked for a team was cap issues. Ehrhoff is the type of mobile, skilled defenseman who should be a great fit for new coach Mike Johnston, and he'll make a talented power play even more dangerous.

More importantly, the Ehrhoff signing presents options going forward. With Paul Martin reportedly unhappy with the direction of the franchise, Rutherford could potentially trade Martin and further bolster the forward depth, perhaps even managing to acquire a fit for the top 6. He could also decide to wait and see how things play out on the ice before making any moves, as a top 4 of Letang/Martin and Maatta/Ehroff could reasonably be included in the discussion of league's best top two pairings and would provide great strength on the blue line for a run at the Stanley Cup.

Future Focus: At this point in free agency the Penguins need to find a solution for the top 6 and re-sign their restricted free agents. The top 6 could be addressed internally, though the risk of relying on an unproven and injury prone Beau Bennett and a rehabbing Pascal Dupuis for two spots on the top lines would suggest another addition would be necessary. Though most of the top UFA options have already signed, there do remain players with varying degrees of potential and risk (Daniel Alfredsson, Lee Stempniak, and Dany Heatley among others) who could be worth a look if the money makes sense.

As for the RFAs, Rutherford would be wise to continue his pattern of handing out 1 year deals for the most part, though Simon Despres could be the exception who deserves a 2-3 year bridge contract if the team believes he'll blossom under the new coaching staff. The flexibility of bringing back the rest for one year at their qualifying price would trump locking them up long term, and I'd question even going that far with Brandon Sutter. Sutter will make a minimum of $2.7 million per year based on his qualifying offer, and with Marcel Goc being able to provide similar production for a much cheaper price ($1.2 million) it might make sense to shop Sutter around or even walk away from his qualifying offer and make him an UFA if it comes to it and save the cap space for use elsewhere.

Grade: B+
Best Acquisition: Christian Ehrhoff
Future Focus: Top-six winger


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  1. I am still trying to get my head around Downie wearing a Penguins uniform. Everyone on this post seems to like that the Pens got him. I just keep picturing him in a Flyers sweater. Otherwise, I like some of our new players. Gotta wait and see how this works out. Still a loyal Penguins fan. The logo on the front of the sweater rather than the name on the back.

    1. Thanks for reading, Susan.
      I can definitely see what you're saying. It will be awkward to see him as a Pen moving forward. I also felt the same way about Jarome Iginla, albeit in a completely different way. Unfortunately, long-gone are the days of players staying with the same team for their entire careers. Imagine what it will be like in a few months when our guys look across center ice and see Orpik staring back at them.


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