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Where do the Pittsburgh Penguins go from Here?

by Glenn Kaplan
by Glenn Kaplan

The dream of the Pittsburgh Penguins going for a three-peat came to a bitter end when Evgeny Kuznetsov scored the overtime winner for the Washington Capitals in Game 6 to dethrone the back-to-back champions. It felt weird it actually happened, but it is the first time in the Alex Ovechkin era that the Washington Capitals are in the Eastern Conference Finals. Pittsburgh has ended Washington's season the previous two years before this one. The question now is where do the Pittsburgh Penguins go from here?

They will have key players like Sidney Crosby, Patric Hornqvist, Phil Kessel, Evgeni Malkin, Jake Guentzel, Justin Schultz, Brian Dumoulin, and Matt Murray back next season. Pittsburgh could trade some players in the offseason like Derrick Brassard, Carl Hagelin, and/or Kris Letang.

Is this the best time for the Pittsburgh Penguins to trade defenseman Kris Letang? He is 31 years old and Letang may never return to the old self he once was. He pinches a lot defensively and takes mores risks than any defenseman on the team. Letang has another three years left on his contract and is owed $7.25 million each season.

Which team is willing to take on his contract? The Edmonton Oilers, the Arizona Coyotes, and the Toronto Maple Leafs come to mind. The Oilers need another defenseman and they could be trading away the number 10 pick in the 2018 NHL Draft and this would be a good deal for both sides. Pittsburgh does not have a first-round pick and it is a defenseman deep draft.

The Arizona Coyotes have Rick Tocchet as their head coach and he was an assisant for the Pittsburgh Penguins for a few seasons. Tocchet knows Letang well. Would Arizona be willing to trade the number five overall pick for him though? That would be a big time bonus for the Penguins.

If the Penguins don't find the right deal for Letang, don't do it for the sake of making a trade. In those deals, I am sure other teams would give up more.

The Toronto Maple Leafs make sense for Letang because Toronto is a team ready to win now. They still need some help on defense and they could also get a good defenseman and third or fourth liner in return. That would be very reasonable for both sides.

The Pittsburgh Penguins won a Stanley Cup without Letang in 2017. If they moved on from him, the defensive pairings could be for the 2018-2019 season, Brian Dumoulin-Justin Schultz, Olli Maatta-Jamie Oleksiak, and Chad Ruhwedel- (veteran free agent). I think Jim Rutherford will look to try and trade Matt Hunwick. He isn't worth $2.25 million a year for the next two seasons.

Carl Hagelin is owed $4 million next season and Derrick Brassard is owed $5 million next season. They are both unrestricted free agents after next season. Will Pittsburgh be willing to move them to dump salary? It wouldn't be a terrible idea because Brassard under performed when he was traded from the Ottawa Senators to Pittsburgh and Hagelin is a good skater and penalty killer, but is he worth $4 million for next year when they could try and get something for him instead of losing him for nothing?

I am sure general manager Jim Rutherford will be listening to offers this offseason for those players. Speaking of Rutherford, he is going into the final year of his contract as the Penguins general manager. If he doesn't come back for what ever reason, either Bill Guerin or Jason Karmanos would become the new general manager because they are both assistant general managers in the organization.

Players like Riley Sheahan, Tom Kuhnhackl, Dominik Simon, Jamie Oleksiak and Bryan Rust will be restricted free agents this offseason. I think they will re-sign Sheahan, Kuhnhackl, Oleksiak, and Rust and they will let Simon walk.

Josh Jooris and Carter Rowney will be unrestricted free agents and I think Pittsburgh will let them both walk.

The Pittsburgh Penguins need to see what they have with 21-year old Daniel Sprong. Do they feel he can contribute to the team next year or is he going to be a defensive liability for them and decide to trade him? Sprong played in eight games this season with the Pittsburgh Penguins and he scored a goal and recorded two assists. His plus/minus was 2.

Sprong played in 65 games with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (AHL), he scored 32 goals and recorded 33 assists. His plus/minus was 4. If Pittsburgh is going to trade their best prospect, they better get a good return for him.

Other prospects like centerman Teddy Blueger, winger Jordy Bellerive, centerman J.S. Dea, defenseman Lukas Bengtsson, and defenseman Andrey Pedan could compete for a roster spot for the 2018-2019 season depending what happens this upcoming offseason.

Who will Matt Murray's backup be in 2018-2019? Will they stick with Casey DeSmith or will they decide to re-sign restricted free agent Tristan Jarry? Jarry was second-round pick in 2013 and I would find it hard to believe they would let him go and if they do, it is because for two reasons: 1.) This Matt Murray's team 2.) Jarry isn't the prospect the Penguins thought he was.

The Pittsburgh Penguins have made the playoffs for 12 straight seasons. In that time span, they have won the eastern conference four times, the Stanley Cup three times, they advanced past the first round eight times, and they advanced past the second round five times. It is very difficult to that in today's NHL, especially in the salary cap era. Pittsburgh was the first team to repeat in the salary cap era. Even though the Pittsburgh Penguins feel emptiness right now, head coach Mike Sullivan will make the changes he needs to in order for this team to win three titles in four seasons.

This article was originally published on @gk18