Penguins’ Offseason Signings Not All Successful So Far in 2022-23
Pittsburgh Penguins’ general manager Ron Hextall had a busy offseason during the summer of 2022 as he had to sign various top-end players and depth pieces to keep the team a Stanley Cup contender. As soon as the Penguins season ended in May of 2022, Hextall immediately transitioned towards trying to figure out how to keep the team afloat for the last few years of the Sidney Crosby era. In total, the team had nine unrestricted free agents (UFA’s) and two restricted free agents (RFA’s) that needed new contracts for the 2022-23 NHL season. With big contracts expiring, the team had upwards of $30 million in cap space heading into the summer to make trades and sign players. These moves made by Hextall are all over the map in the sense that some were great while others made no sense. All in all, the Penguins signed 17 players this summer. Here is how these deals are shaping up 20% through the NHL season.
To start, Hextall absolutely nailed a few of these moves. Rickard Rakell is a player that was acquired from the Anaheim Ducks during the trade deadline in March of 2022. He built instant chemistry with Sidney Crosby and tallied 13 points in 19 games after he was traded. On July 11th, 2022, he was signed to a six-year, $30 million contract, which has been well worth it as one of the most consistent players on the team thus far. On pace for 36 goals, he continues to thrive and has shown his high IQ hockey ability in difficult situations.
Related: 2 Potential Trade Destinations for Penguins’ Kasperi Kapanen
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Pierre-Olivier Joseph (POJ) was acquired back in 2019 when the Penguins traded Phil Kessel to the Arizona Coyotes. As a young player, he has spent a majority of his time in the American Hockey League (AHL) since he was acquired, with 20 games in the NHL. After a solid year in the minors, Hextall decided to bring him back and give him a full-time spot on the roster. Signed to a two-year, $1.65M deal, POJ has been a staple on the third pair. Not only has he been impressive, but he leads the defenseman in major analytical categories such as Corsi-for percentage (171 shot attempts for and 134 against at 5v5) and goals-for percentage (eight goals for and three against at 5v5).
Danton Heinen put up 18 goals and 33 points in his first full season with the team and was headed to free agency. For a depth player that was mostly playing on the third line, he produced at a consistent pace throughout the season. Somehow, the Penguins were able to bring him back with a one-year, $1 million contract, which is proving to become a solid deal as Heinen is now on pace for 36 points.
Casey DeSmith, Josh Archibald, and Jan Rutta are three players that were signed to deals and have played well for the team, however, could that money have been spent somewhere else? As the only returnee out of the three, DeSmith had a pretty decent showing during the 2021-22 NHL season as he posted a .914 SV% and was able to start in 26 games, winning 11 of them. As a backup goaltender, he was signed to a two-year, $3.6 million contract during the summer. It is a fine deal, however, the Penguins are in cap troubles. Could they have found a cheaper option to play alongside Tristan Jarry?
Archibald signed for the league minimum, so there isn’t really much to say about that one. It seemed strange as the Penguins have several AHL players that are ready to take the next step and could play fourth-line minutes. Lastly, Rutta is another signing that has worked out pretty well for the team so far in the defensive zone, however, the contract is questionable. Signed to a three-year, $8.25M deal, is this really a good price-point for the team given that he is playing third-pair minutes? I’m not so sure.
The Big Three
All eyes were on Kris Letang, Evgeni Malkin, and Bryan Rust this offseason. How do their contracts look 20% into the 2022-23 NHL season?
Malkin has been an absolute pleasure to watch so far this year. Signed to a four-year, $24.4 million contract, he looks to be more vintage “Geno” than he was at any time during last season. After coming off a difficult injury, he worked extremely hard in the offseason to come back in the best shape possible. So far, he is leading the Penguins in points and has been a huge factor on the teams’ best two lines this season (Zucker-Malkin-Rust & Zucker-Malkin-Rakell). He seems to have simplified his game a bit and is getting rewarded as he has only been on the ice for six 5v5 goals against so far, which is among the team leaders—what a brilliant player.
Rust has already had some major inconsistencies in his game. He started the year with six points in six games playing with Malkin and Zucker, but ever since he was moved to the Penguins’ top line, he has produced one point in his last seven games. Signed to a six-year, $30.75 million contract, Rust needs to find his game again. As Penguins’ coach Mike Sullivan has stated, he will be moving Rust back to the second line in hopes to generate some energy out of his game.
Letang has easily been the worst of the “big three” signings, as he is just getting outworked in every single game that he has played in. He is the most concerning player that was signed because he got a six-year, $36.6 million contract this summer. Not only does he look out of place, but he is struggling to make that first pass out of the zone that the Penguins desperately need. He is also losing battles in front of the net and constantly leaving players wide open in front of the goaltenders. His Corsi-for percentage (45.7%), shot-for percentage (44.7%), and goals-for percentage (40%) are the worst on the blue line. This needs to be fixed immediately, as it can’t happen for the Penguins’ ice-time leader.
There are no excuses to justify this signing. First, Kasperi Kapanen was protected in the Seattle Kraken expansion draft over Jared McCann and Brandon Tanev, and now he has been a healthy scratch for three games. He was making $3.2M and ended up getting the exact same deal (two-year, $6.4M contract) for playing worse. Overall, Kapanen has 12 goals in his last 92 games and three in his last 52 games. This is easily the worst decision of the summer as the Penguins now have $3.2 million sitting on the bench watching the games when they could have used that money to upgrade key areas.
Verdict: Ron Hextall’s Performance
Overall, Hextall has had a lot of questionable decisions with these signings. A few are pointless, some are too long, and one is horrendous. While he did a good job of retaining the core pieces, he did not do enough in the depth department as signing Archibald as the only forward addition seems like a bad decision. The team lacks depth, and some of their top players are not playing up to standards, which is why they own a record of 6-7-3 through the first 20% of the year. Hextall could have done a better job spreading out the cap space to areas that were needed instead of bottom-pairing defensemen, backup goaltenders, and borderline NHL forwards.
Jake Decker has recently graduated with a Master’s in Sports Management from Florida Atlantic University. As an avid fan of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Analytics, he will be writing for the Pittsburgh Penguins and combining those Analytics into his pieces to give a unique perspective on lines, players, and trades. With a well known Twitter account within this Penguins community, he has worked hard to gain a strong following. Currently, Jake works with Sportradar and the Florida Panthers as a Data Journalist, in which he attends home games and tracks statistics that occur throughout the game such as goals, shots, penalties, puck location, and other interesting metrics.