If you were expecting any big moves today from the defending Stanley Cup champions, you were probably immensely disappointed. The Penguins added depth defenseman Matt Hunwick and backup goaltender Antti Niemi. Neither of these players are going to make or break the Penguins next season and that should be noted.
However, the best moves that are made on July 1st are often the ones that aren’t made. The Penguins didn’t overpay for any of their unrestricted free agents and that’s the first step to retooling a championship caliber team.
Nick Bonino got four years at $4.1M per in Nashville. The Penguins were wise not to pay that price. Bonino’s game is trending down quickly. He was always given easier matchups with Crosby and Malkin in the lineup and he got a lot of his points thanks to Phil Kessel. Bonino would’ve been a nice 3C to keep around, but not at such a steep price. Nashville will likely be very disappointed if they count on him to be their 2C next season. Bones was an integral part of the 2016 Cup run and the legendary HBK line. His personality will be missed, but his on ice play is replaceable.
Trevor Daley and Ron Hainsey also signed elsewhere. Daley signed for three years with Detroit at an AAV of $3.178M. Hainsey signed a two year deal with Toronto that will pay him $3M per year. The Penguins also made the right decision in letting both of them walk. Trevor Daley will always have a special place in my heart because of the Rob Scuderi trade, but there was no reason to shell out to keep him in the fold. Ron Hainsey, well, I don’t have a whole lot to say. Best of luck in Toronto, Ron. I will always remember you for side-stepping James Neal like an absolute boss.
The last departure and the one that hurts me the most, Chris Kunitz. Kunitz has never been flashy. He’s also taken a lot of heat from Penguins fans over the last few seasons. I respect Chris Kunitz as much as anyone to ever wear a Penguins uniform. I really think the Penguins could’ve paid him the one year, $2M contract that the Lightning gave him. He was the ultimate leader on and off the ice and his chemistry with Sidney Crosby will never be forgotten.
kunitz sends the pens to the cup final in double ot pic.twitter.com/lENU1HGfqn
— ego (@EvgeniMaIkinEgo) May 26, 2017
This goal from Sid to send the Penguins to the Final means a lot more now. Best of luck in Tampa, Chris. Pittsburgh will miss you, a lot.
On the other hand, the Penguins did make two signings today of their own.
The Penguins picked up Matt Hunwick on a three year deal at $2.25M per year. Hunwick is a solid third pairing defenseman who can skate well and take care of himself in his own end. He was cheaper than both Daley and Hainsey and can give the Penguins just about the same quality of play, if not a little bit better.
You’re probably not going to want to run and buy your Matt Hunwick jersey, but he will be a capable third pairing defenseman. The only thing I don’t love about the signing is that it’s another guy in front of Derrick Pouliot. Pouliot has far more potential and offensive upside than Hunwick and the Penguins need to give him a chance to prove himself.
One last curious thing about the signing, is that the Penguins already have Maatta, Dumoulin, and Cole as their left-side defenseman. The Penguins are reportedly going to make a trade for a 3C, and this could be an indication that one of the Penguins left defenseman will be a part of the deal.
The second deal the Penguins made today was for backup goaltender Antti Niemi. The Penguins hit this signing out of the park. A one year deal for $700K. It’s a can’t miss signing by Jim Rutherford. If Niemi is a good backup like he projects to be, then it’s a great value signing. If Niemi stinks, you’re only paying him $50K more than league minimum and you can call up Tristan Jarry at any moment. So, the Penguins once again have two Stanley Cup champion goaltenders.
Personally, I think Niemi will have a tremendous season in Pittsburgh. He’s as good of a backup goaltender as you can get and at an absolute bargain. There’s been a lot of backlash from some Penguins fans. I don’t know why. Antti Niemi’s career save percentage is .913%. Marc-Andre Fleury’s? .912%. Next year, Matt Murray and Niemi combined will count $4.45M against the cap. Marc-Andre Fleury alone will cost the Golden Knights $5M. This is a great bargain signing by Jim Rutherford.
There are still some talented free agents out there, but it seems like the Penguins are intent on letting their young players take the reigns. I’ve got no problem with that. When you win a Stanley Cup in the salary cap era, let alone in back to back years, you can’t afford to keep the team together. You’ve got to find ways to replace those guys production at a cheaper rate and keep moving forward. I think the Penguins did a good job of that today. The young forwards will inject a lot of enthusiasm into the lineup and they’ll be hungry to get their first taste of a Stanley Cup. There should be a trade for a third center coming sooner or later, so stay on the prowl for that. There really is no offseason in hockey.