Penguins training camp guide Part 1: How can team replace key players they lost?
On Friday, for the first time since 2002, the Penguins will open training camp without the smiling face of goalie Marc-Andre Fleury on the ice.
In one of the more emotional departures in franchise history, Fleury was claimed by the Vegas Golden Knights in the NHL expansion draft in July.
“With (Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang), he was the face of the franchise,” winger Carl Hagelin said. “He's the guy who's been here the longest. He's the guy when I came to the team that was always really nice to me. He's a guy you respect and one of the better guys I've played with.”
Fleury isn't the only familiar face who moved on this summer. Here's a look at the key players the Penguins lost in the offseason and how they plan to replace them.
What he did: Putting aside the sentimentality, Fleury's regular-season impact last year wasn't that great. His .909 save percentage ranked 43rd among the 63 goalies who played at least 10 NHL games. The playoffs were a different story. His save percentage was .924, and he carried the Penguins to the conference finals with wins over Columbus and Washington.
How to replace him: If things go as planned, the Penguins won't miss Fleury. Matt Murray is emerging as one of the game's elite goalies. Antti Niemi, a Stanley Cup winner himself, was signed to be Murray's backup. Tristan Jarry is a 22-year-old top prospect. But if Murray gets hurt or Niemi doesn't bounce back from two poor seasons in Dallas, the Penguins could be left pining for No. 29.
What he did: Once a 35-goal scorer, Sidney Crosby's longtime left wing slowed down dramatically in recent years. He managed just nine goals in 71 regular-season games last year. His double-overtime winner in Game 7 of the conference finals against Ottawa, however, is one of the biggest goals in franchise history.
How to replace him: Kunitz's greatest value in recent seasons was as a dedicated forechecker, strong possession player and net-front presence on the second power-play unit. The team's young wingers, including Scott Wilson, Tom Kuhnhackl and Josh Archibald, would do themselves a favor by showing they can excel in those areas in camp.
NICK BONINO and MATT CULLEN
What they did: The biggest change that ushered in the current era of championship hockey in Pittsburgh was probably the switch from coach Mike Johnston to Mike Sullivan. The upgrade at the center position on the bottom two lines isn't far behind. Bonino and Cullen played important minutes, scored big goals and anchored the penalty kill.
How to replace them: The easiest answer would be for general manager Jim Rutherford to pull the trigger on the long-discussed trade for a third-line center. If he waits, second-year pro Carter Rowney and training camp tryout Jay McClement will get a chance in the preseason to show they can fill the roles.
TREVOR DALEY and RON HAINSEY
What they did: More than any other single transaction, the acquisition of Daley from Chicago in 2015 helped the Penguins defense corps transform into the quick, mobile unit it is today. After coming over from Carolina at the trade deadline last year, Hainsey helped eat up the minutes vacated by an injured Letang and did the defensive dirty work required to win a championship.
How to replace them: Forget trades or free-agent signings. The return of a healthy Letang would be the biggest addition the Penguins could make this season. The addition of free-agent Matt Hunwick from Toronto also will help.