ShareThis Page
Penguins

Penguins training camp guide Part 1: How can team replace key players they lost?

Jonathan Bombulie
| Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, 9:12 p.m.
Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury was taken by Vegas in the NHL expansion draft.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury was taken by Vegas in the NHL expansion draft.

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.

MARC-ANDRE FLEURY

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.

CHRIS KUNITZ

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.

Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jbombulie@tribweb.com or via Twitter at @BombulieTrib.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.

click me