Thoughts on Thursday: The Penguins Dynasty, NMC’s, and RFA’s

1. With their victory in Game 6 on Sunday night, the Pittsburgh Penguins clinched their  franchise’s 5th Stanley Cup, as well as their third in nine seasons. With that, the time has finally come to discuss whether the Penguins or worthy of the elusive “dynasty” moniker that could keep any sports discussion going for hours on end. Although the salary cap was introduced to make it more difficult for teams to assemble and maintain winners, Pittsburgh has become the second team since the lockout to win three Stanley Cups around the same nucleus of players. While Chicago’s feat of three championships in six seasons is arguably more impressive, it’s become impossible to deny the greatness of today’s Penguins. Chicago wasn’t able to defend their title in any of their three seasons as defending champions, but Pittsburgh did exactly that.

Unlike most championship teams, the Penguins are primed to retain a majority of the roster and look to become the first team to win three consecutive Stanley Cups since the New York Islanders of the 1980’s. Once the expansion draft occurs and the Vegas Golden Knights select Marc-Andre Fleury as expected, Jim Rutherford will have nearly $19 Million in cap space to work with, plus however much the league raises the salary cap to for next season. Conor Sheary, Brian Dumoulin, and Justin Schultz are restricted free agents and deserve to get paid, but none of the team’s pending unrestricted players are in line for massive raises.

Nick Bonino should earn a pay bump from his current salary of $1.9 Million, while the rest of Pittsburgh’s free agent class has likely played their last game in black and gold. Chris Kunitz, Matt Cullen, Ron Hainsey, Trevor Daley, and Mark Streit all did their jobs over the course of the Penguins title run, but Rutherford has no reason to bring any of them back aside from Kunitz, who could retire at age 37 coming off two Stanley Cups to end his career. With a bevy of young players like Derick Pouliot, Lukas Bengtsson, and Daniel Sprong ready to break into the NHL, Pittsburgh shouldn’t have any problems icing another Stanley Cup contender when they raise another championship banner in October.

2. While Marc-Andre Fleury has agreed to waive his No-Movement Clause for the expansion draft, he seems to be the only player to have agreed to doing so. A handful of teams, most notably the Anaheim Ducks, Columbus Blue Jackets, and Ottawa Senators, had huge decisions on how to navigate their respective situations. Anaheim had four defenseman worthy of protection, and that’s before taking into account the fact that Kevin Bieksa’s NMC requires him to be protected. Rumors are circulating that Bob Murray and George McPhee have a deal in place to prevent the Ducks from losing a major piece.

That sounds good for both sides in principle, but hinges on what the Ducks are giving up and what sort of assurance they’re getting. If Murray is steering McPhee to take a specific player than it could be good for Anaheim. However, if the Ducks are just giving assets to not take somebody, like Sami Vatanen, and then they turn around and lose Josh Manson to the Golden Knights, that would be disastrous. Meanwhile, Columbus and Ottawa have taken different approaches to solve their issues:

George McPhee has said that he would be willing to take on toxic contracts in exchange for assets, and taking on David Clarkson’s contract would be the epitome of that mindset. Clarkson has played the last professional hockey game of his career, so his deal is essentially dead money to the Blue Jackets at this point. They can’t afford to pay a player to not play, so dumping him to Vegas seems to be their only option. Even still, the deal makes little sense for Columbus unless they have something else in the works. Ilya Kovalchuk has been rumored to see the Blue Jackets as a possible landing spot, so that would serve as a valid reason for Jarmo Kekalainen’s desperation in removing Clarkson.

As for the Senators’ conundrum, their issues are a lot less severe than the majority of the hockey world is making them out to be. Losing Marc Methot to Vegas would be a net positive for Ottawa, as his $4.9 Million cap hit is an albatross relative to his play. And if not for the fact that Cody Ceci was extremely overrated by the old boy’s club that comprises most front office staffs around the NHL, losing him for nothing would not be as terrible as some are making it out to be.

Pierre Dorion’s best bet would be to trade Ceci for some sort of asset, expose Methot, and use his third protection slot on Frederik Claesson, but that’s not going to happen. Instead, the Senators general manager will go out of his way to jump through hoops to take an Eastern Conference finalist that took the eventual champions to double overtime of a Game 7 and make them worse off heading into next season.

3. With less than three days until teams are required to submit their protection lists to the league, not every team is even compliant with expansion draft’s exposure requirements. Fortunately, the Rangers became the 26th team to become compliant yesterday afternoon by resigning Matt Puempel to a one year, $725,000 contract. Out of the team’s four restricted free agent forwards, agreeing to a contract with Puempel makes the most sense in terms of locking down a second forward to expose to Vegas.

Bringing back Brandon Pirri would be a mistake barring a major pay cut, and Jesper Fast and Oscar Lindberg had leverage to force Jeff Gorton to overpay for either of them. Now with Puempel officially back in the fold, the Rangers are back in control of negotiations with their two Swedish RFA’s.

Speaking of restricted free agents, there’s plenty of quality talent available to tempt with an offer sheet this summer. Nashville’s Ryan Johansen, Edmonton’s  Leon Draisaitl, and Boston’s David Pastrnak highlight 2017’s crop of players coming off their low-paying deals who are looking to cash in for the first time in their NHL careers.. As usual, we can expect general managers to be aggressive in their pursuit of acquiring talent by any means necce.........oh who am I kidding.

Offer sheets are a lot like goalies. They’re voodoo in hockey, but the difference is that the mysteries surrounding goalies are easier to comprehend, whereas there is no good reason why offer sheets are so rare. Ryan O’Reilly was the last player to sign an offer sheet, doing so in February of 2013, while Dustin Penner was last player to switch teams as the result of an offer sheet way back in the summer of 2007. The prevailing thought is that if a GM signs a player to an offer sheet, other GM’s will “get him back” by dangling an offer sheet in front of one of his own players when the time comes. While that logic makes no sense after taking a nanosecond to stop and think about it, it’s just another mechanism of the old boy’s club to avoid stepping on each other’s toes.

It’s frustrating to see people whose job is to build winning hockey teams actively avoid a helpful way of building a winning hockey team, but that’s the reality of the league today. Everything is risk averse, from the players most coaches prefer, to the ways of acquiring talent. Maybe it’ll change one day, but the fact that it hasn’t already changed is a disservice to all parties involved.