A new feature here, a columnized look at how the Penguins will approach free agency:
Finding a top-six winger or two will headline what the Penguins do in free agency, through a trade or both.
A much less heralded move, however, will be getting younger, especially on defense.
The Penguins were the third-oldest team in the NHL in 2014-15. Average player age: 28.225. Ranking: 28th. Translation: not good.
The Tampa Bay Lightning have an average player age of 26.382, and they’re still playing hockey.
How do the Penguins get younger?
Well, I’m told that buyouts aren’t seriously being considered at this point, so scratch that off the list.
Trades are much more likely, specifically deals that help the Penguins shed salary for picks or players you’ve never heard of. You know, cheap ones that come low-risk.
Essentially, we’re talking salary dump.
Rob Scuderi is a candidate. A strong one, actually, provided the Penguins find a dance partner. Chris Kunitz, too, but to a lesser extent from what I understand.
Moving Scuderi will free up $3.375 in salary-cap space. It, along with the expected departures of Paul Martin and Christian Ehrhoff through free agency, will open the door for Brian Dumoulin and Scott Harrington to find regular NHL work.
Just think, the Penguins’ opening night defensemen in 2014-15 averaged 27.4 years.
If Harrington takes the same step Dumoulin in the playoffs and nudges Ben Lovejoy into the seventh spot, the average age for the 2015-16 iteration could become 23.6 years.
Even if Lovejoy holds his ground and forced Harrington or Dumoulin to the American Hockey League, the average age is still 25.2.
But it’s not just the defensemen who are in need of a youth movement; it’s the whole team.
September will mark the seventh start of a season since the Penguins last won the Stanley Cup, in 2008-09. That year, the Penguins were the 10th-youngest team in the NHL with an average age of 27.435 years.
Over the next six seasons, they ranked 25th, 15th, 24th, 26th, 28th and 28th. You know what they did in the playoffs: reached the Eastern Conference Finals once. And this past season, surprisingly, was the second-lowest of those six numbers.
It has to start on defense. Ehrhoff was 32 years old on opening night last year. Martin was 33, Scuderi 35. Ehrhoff won’t be back. I’m also taking Taylor Chorney out of this equation because I believe another team will be wise to snap him up, making an offer the Penguins can or won’t match.
The door isn’t closed on Martin, but the Penguins aren’t expecting a July 1 deal — if at all. It will likely have to come later, after Martin decides he doesn’t want to play for a mediocre team and takes what the Penguins can give him to stay here. It’s not likely.
What the Penguins are banking on is Derrick Pouliot, Dumoulin and Harrington being ready. Or at least as ready as they will ever be.
Nobody was thrilled with how Pouliot finished the year. To the point where coach Mike Johnston has been given the offseason task of figuring out Pouliot’s game, how to best motivate him and keep him playing responsible defensively while not sacrificing offense.
But the kids have to play.
If not now, when?
Be GRATEFUL to each other,