Brian Dumoulin

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With Sheary signed Penguins can focus on finding center

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The Pittsburgh Penguins signed Conor Sheary on Sunday afternoon, successfully avoiding salary arbitration with their two biggest restricted free agents (him and Brian Dumoulin) while also giving themselves more than $3 million in cushion under the salary cap.

Overall it has been a mostly quiet offseason for the Penguins, adding only Ryan Reaves, Matt Hunwick and Antti Niemi to the roster while allowing Nick Bonino, Chris Kunitz and Ron Hainsey to leave via free agency, while also losing goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury in the expansion draft to the Vegas Golden Knights.

Even with those losses the Penguins don’t have many holes on a roster that just completed its second consecutive championship season.

The one hole they do have is finding some center depth down the middle of their lineup following the loss of Bonino and the uncertain future of veteran Matt Cullen. They still have two of the best centers in the league in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin at the top of the lineup, but the depth behind them has taken quite a hit this summer. Bonino and Cullen represented their third-and fourth-line centers the past two seasons (and were mostly excellent in those roles), and with Oscar Sundqvist traded to St. Louis as part of the Reaves deal they still need to do something to address those spots.

With the free agency options almost non-existent (minus Cullen, of course) General manager Jim Rutherford is almost certainly going to have to explore the trade market when it comes to rounding out his roster. He has taken a patient approach to it and doesn’t seem to be in a rush to force a trade. It’s important to keep in mind that he didn’t actually acquire Bonino two years ago until around this point in the summer.

Carter Rowney played well for the Penguins in the postseason when called upon and can play center, but he is probably not what they are looking for on their third line.

Moving Jake Guentzel over to center could also be an option if needed, but it is probably not the ideal move given how successful he was on the wing, especially when playing next to Crosby and Sheary.

Penguins sign Conor Sheary for three years, $9 million

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The Pittsburgh Penguins were able to avoid salary arbitration with restricted free agent forward Conor Sheary on Sunday by agreeing to terms on a three-year contract that will pay him a total of $9 million, the team announced.

Sheary is the last of the Penguins’ restricted free agents while his signing comes a week after the team locked up its other key RFA, defenseman Brian Dumoulin.

He is coming off of a breakout season with the Penguins that saw him score 23 goals and add 30 assists in 61 games.

He spent much of the season playing alongside Sidney Crosby (after doing the same in the playoffs a year ago) and seemed to form an instant chemistry with him and later in the season rookie forward Jake Guentzel.

Sheary did most of his production during even-strength play where he was one of the most productive players in the league on a per-minute basis.

Signed as an undrafted free agent and overcoming the “undersized” label that has followed him around he has developed into a core player for a two-time Stanley Cup champion.

If he can come close to duplicating his performance from this past season that $3 million salary cap hit is going to be a great value for the Penguins.

With him and Dumoulin now signed the Penguins still have a little more than $3.2 million in salary cap space remaining. Their next order of business will continue to be searching for a third-line center to replace Nick Bonino after he signed with the Nashville Predators as a free agent.

No surgery for Dumoulin, who broke hand during Penguins’ Cup run

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If you’re feeling jealous of Brian Dumoulin for signing a robust (if fair) contract extension with the Pittsburgh Penguins, take heart: at least he earned it. He even checked the “Hockey players are insanely tough” box during the Penguins’ latest Stanley Cup run.

MORE: Dumoulin signs for six years, with a $4.1 million cap hit.

The 25-year-old revealed that a David Savard slapper broke (or “damaged?) his right hand in Game 5 of that first-round matchup. After that, his hand would heal up, only “I’d do a cross-check then it would break again,” as he told Jason Mackey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Dumoulin seemed to deal with that as the postseason went along, but the good news – at least as he claims – is that it’s all healed and he won’t require surgery.

“It was tough to play with it, but obviously everybody had injuries,” Dumoulin said, via Mackey. “It’s all healed up now. They were deciding on surgery or not at the end of the season, but doctors saw a little bit of healing. We gave it about three weeks, and I kind of have been testing it out the last week. I’ve skated, and there have been no problems. I’m happy about it.”

With any “no surgery needed” story, there are us hand-wringers who wonder if that will merely increase the odds of future re-breaks.

That, not to mention years of taxing schooling, is why doctors are doctors, though, so this seems like a mostly positive bit of information regarding another Penguins player who fought through injuries during the playoffs.

Considering how many Penguins players were sidelined, especially on defense, it makes Dumoulin’s toughness that much easier to appreciate. For all we know, losing him might have been the last straw for that thinned out group.

Instead, the Penguins are repeat champions, and Dumoulin enjoys long-term security.

If his play on the ice didn’t already convince you that he earned that extension, perhaps this detail did.

Sheary’s agent — who’s also Dumoulin’s agent — hoping to avoid arbitration

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Conor Sheary‘s agent is hopeful that an arbitration hearing won’t be needed with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

And that same agent has reason to be optimistic, since he’s also the agent for Brian Dumoulin, who settled at the last minute today.

“Each (case) is so different,” Andrew Gross told the Post-Gazette this morning. “Ultimately, though, team and player would like to avoid going in that room. It’s not a pleasant experience.”

Sheary’s hearing isn’t scheduled until Aug. 4. The 25-year-old forward is coming off a 53-point regular season. In his young NHL career, he’s already won two Stanley Cups.

That said, the Penguins can’t afford to break the bank on an extension. After all, a big reason for their success has been having players like Sheary on affordable deals — a necessity with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, and Kris Letang taking up so much cap space.

Sheary wasn’t all that productive in the 2017 playoffs either, scoring just two goals with five assists in 22 games, while finishing a team-worst minus-5 for the postseason.

“We’re prepared to go to arbitration,” Pens GM Jim Rutherford said last week.

Of course, Rutherford was also speaking about Dumoulin, and the two sides were able to reach an agreement on him.

You can probably expect a similar outcome with Sheary.

Just don’t bet the house on it.

Preds avoid arbitration with Austin Watson

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Another narrowly avoided arbitration to pass along.

The Nashville Predators have signed forward Austin Watson to a three-year, $3.3 million contract that will pay him $1 million next season, $1.1 million in 2018-19 and $1.2 million in 2019-20.

Watson’s hearing was scheduled for today.

From the press release:

Watson, 25 (1/13/92), set career highs in goals (5), assists (7), points (12), penalty minutes (99) and games played (77) during the 2016-17 season as he established himself as an integral member of the Nashville roster. The 6-foot-4, 204-pound winger then added four goals and nine points in 22 postseason contests as the Predators advanced to the 2017 Stanley Cup Final. Watson also appeared in 57 games for the Predators during the 2015-16 season, recording three goals and 10 points.

The Pittsburgh Penguins also avoided an arbitration hearing today by signing defenseman Brian Dumoulin to a six-year contract.