As we get closer to Sunday fans cannot seem to contain their excitement, expectations and fears. It is that time of the year again. The draft has concluded and each team's fanbase awaits news from the front about who their team is pursuing. Free agency will be upon us. For some teams, there is new found money to spend. Exits from the playoffs put strain on GMs to rethink their best laid plans and consider moves that they may not have otherwise.
For Ray Shero and the Penguins, depth in the system at defense is higher than it was before the draft and even the level it was at was very high. For Shero defensive players have been used as trade chips in some recent successful deals. Most notably the Penguins traded defenseman Alex Goligoski for winger James Neal and defensman Matt Niskanen from Dallas. Neal scored 40 goals as Evgeni Malkin linemate and Niskanen developed into a nice defensive partner for a few different players. Shero knows the value of defense in the Penguins system, but does he know the value of it on the ice? In the playoffs the Flyers were able to exploit many defensive breakdowns and score in various ways. The Flyer's power play had alot of success and they had an equal amount of success in even strength situations. Overall the Penguins had a terrible series.
Shero and his front office partners made some moves at the draft in trading Jordan Staal, which was all but necessary considering his desires to move on to a bigger role. The trade brought Brandon Sutter and Brian Dumoulin to Pittsburgh and it allowed the Penguins to secure the 8th overall pick. They used the 8th pick to select defenseman Derrick Pouliot. They then took defenseman Olli Maatta with their 22nd pick. Maatta would appear to be the most NHL ready defenseman of the two. The Penguins drafted another defenseman Clark Seymour with the 143rd pick. However the Penguins also traded away defenseman Zybnek Michalek to Phoenix in exchange for a 3rd round pick, defenseman Harrison Ruopp and a goalie prospect, Marc Cheverie.
The Penguins system has much more defense than it did before draft day but they also have alot more money in the bank thanks to the moving of Staal and Michalek. There are some rumors that the Penguins are waiting to move defenseman Paul Martin if the right situation presents itself, which would remove another $5 million off of the books. Shero has alot of options. Joe Morrow and Simon Despres could very likely contribute on defense this season and depending on how he performs in camp, so could Olli Maata. The question to ask is, does Shero trust the young defensive talent the Penguins have or is he looking at that talent as chips on the trade table? The plan Shero has is not yet known, and it will very likely stay that way. A glimpse of it could be seen on July 1st. With more money to spend, and with competition on that front in the form of the Detroit Red Wings and the Minnesota Wild among others, the Penguins could make legitimate runs at many free agents. Two of the names that you will hear are forward Zach Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter. How will Shero approach the free agent market. It isn't a secret that the Penguins had virtually no problems scoring duiring the regular season and the playoffs. It is also no secret that the Penguins could not stop vulcanized rubber from finding their own twine. The Penguins will have changes to the defense, that much is known. The rest? We will soon find out.
No matter what Ray Shero would like to do on July 1st and beyond it, the Penguins have options, they have money, they have needs and they have competition. So, in Shero we trust. In our defense, we hope.