Prospect Ramblings: What might Cup champions look like in October?

Mark Allan

2017-06-17

Talented yet underachieving blueliner Derrick Pouliot could be one of the new faces as Pittsburgh shoots for a third straight Stanley Cup? Will he seize the opportunity?

 

When Pittsburgh entered the NHL in 1967, I laughed. Calling yourselves Penguins doesn’t exactly conjure a virile image to stiffen the resolve of your fans and intimidate opponents.

The image of waddling Penguins is as comical as Anaheim naming its team the Ducks, mighty or otherwise. So, I laughed when Pittsburgh joined the NHL.

Well, who’s laughing now?

After Stanley Cup championships in 1991, 1992, 2009, 2016 and 2017, the Steeltowners are the NHL’s current model franchise, the Chicago Blackhawks notwithstanding. Salary-cap dynasty talk, about as rare as consistent goalie-interference calls, is in the air.

For their second straight Cup (the first NHL team to do it since the 1997-98 Detroit Red Wings and the first under a salary cap), the Pens overcame a daunting run of injuries, some to key players such as blueline stud Kris Letang, as Pittsburgh’s back end was hit especially hard.

Jim Rutherford, who has made many savvy decisions since coming from Carolina, expertly patched the blueline and sure made the right call by keeping Matt Murray and Marc-Andre Fleury all season. Would Pittsburgh have repeated without those two as they replaced each other when injuries struck? I don’t think so.

I salute the back-to-back champs, whom I have come to appreciate while covering their prospects for Dobber the past two seasons.

Coaches Mike Sullivan, Rick Tocchet and Jacques Martin have adroitly integrated a slew of homegrown prospects, notably Murray, Jake Guentzel, Conor Sheary and Brian Dumoulin.

Dobber has graduated Murray, Sheary, Dumoulin, Bryan Rust and Scott Wilson from prospects to full-time NHLers. Guentzel remains a prospect only because of his relatively small regular-season sample size (40 games).

This week, I’m examining what opportunities might arise for Pittsburgh’s remaining prospects as defined by Dobber Prospects to try to help the team waddle toward a threepeat.

Any forecast is clouded by the impending arrival of the Vegas Golden Knights, who can (from Sunday through Tuesday) sign any unprotected UFAs who otherwise would have to wait until July 1 to sign with a new team.  

And there’s the expansion draft, specifically whom Pittsburgh might leave unprotected (we should know by Sunday) and which Penguin Vegas will select (all new Knights will be revealed Wednesday).

However, since two-time Stanley Cup champion Marc-Andre Fleury was not traded by today’s deadline, it seems safe to assume that Knights’ GM George McPhee will nab him as the initial face of the new desert franchise. That’s because the netminder known as Flower is an awesome team player who waived the no-movement clause of his contract, allowing the Penguins to expose him in the expansion draft, protect the rest of their roster and move on with Murray as their starter.

Let’s review which Penguins are certain or at least likely to stay, and who is probably moving on, bearing in mind that while Pittsburgh GM Jim Rutherford would save $5.75 million in cap space if Fleury departs, he has been nudging the cap ceiling – starting with a core that includes Evgeni Malkin ($9.5M), Sidney Crosby ($8.7M), Phil Kessel ($6.8M) and Kris Letang ($7.25M).

Assuming Fleury is a goner, that would leave Rutherford with 15 roster contracts, a total cap of $54,300,833 and cap space of $18,699,167 (assuming the ceiling remains at $71 million).

Whew, better to let your babies grow up to be cowboys than GMs.

More than $18.5 million in cap space sounds like a lot – until you consider the free agents, particularly on the blueline, who were part of Lord Stanley’s champion