Many people have lambasted the Penguins for handing out too much money ($3.5 million per year) over too long of a term (six years) to sign free agent winger Brandon Tanev.
There's also concern that in signing the 27-year-old former Winnipeg Jet, the Penguins may need to clear salary cap space by trading a better version of the same kind of speedy, defense-focused winger (Bryan Rust) or by trading a guy who can toggle between center and wing and has some untapped offensive potential (Nick Bjugstad).
Let's play devil's advocate for a moment and try to understand what prompted Jim Rutherford to shell out $21 million for Tanev. Clearly, the Penguins' interest stems from Tanev's defensive play. When Tanev was on the ice last season, the Jets surrendered 23.1 scoring chances per 60 minutes of five-on-five play. That was the 20th-lowest rate of scoring chances surrendered among 251 forwards who had at least 800 minutes of even strength ice time in 2018-19, according to Natural Stat Trick.
Tanev was even better in terms of limiting high-danger scoring chances, ranking seventh among forwards meeting the same criteria (8.6 per 60 minutes at even strength). With 1.8 goals allowed per 60 minutes, he ranked 19th among all forwards. Tanev also averaged 2:12 per game on the penalty kill, while ranking 23rd in goals allowed per 60 minutes (5.6) and netting two goals for the Jets while playing a man or two down. And, for a guy who started just 42 percent of his faceoffs in the offensive zone (215th out of the same 251 forwards with 800+ minutes at even strength), he wasn't a complete zero in terms of generating chances and goals last year.
Tanev took more shots in 2018-19 (7.4 per 60 minutes of five-on-five-play, compared to about 6.7 the previous two years) and had a career-best 0.36 points per game. Tanev embodies the defensive conscience with which Rutherford and coach Mike Sullivan want the Penguins to play in 2019-20. The question is whether they needed that defensive conscience at such a player-friendly term.
• Jack Johnson, naturally: Those still holding out hope that Jack Johnson is more than a highly-compensated sixth defenseman with an inexplicable amount of job security -- including Rutherford-- point to the improvements in Johnson's game down the stretch last season after he moved to his natural left side of the ice. Did Johnson actually play better once he was shifted to his natural side? From the beginning of the 2018-19 campaign through January, the Penguins generated 46.4 percent of shots when Johnson was on the ice during five-on-five situations. Pittsburgh also had 49 percent of total scoring chances, and 39 percent of goals scored. From February through the end of the regular season, the Penguins had a 45.7 percent shot share in even-strength play when Johnson skated, while accounting for 47.1 percent of scoring chances and 52.8 percent of goals scored. The score tilted more in the Pens' favor after Johnson played mostly on his strong side, but the underlying process wasn't much better. Hey, it's something.
• Ultimate iron man: Even Phil Kessel has to give it up for the endurance shown by Marcus Pettersson during the 2018-19 season. Thanks to an in-season trade from Anaheim to Pittsburgh -- one initially reviled because the Penguins gave up Daniel Sprong, and eventually embraced as Petterson proved to be a quality two-way defenseman -- Petterson played a combined 84 regular-season games. Pettersson led all NHL skaters in games played in 2018-19. And, since the NHL moved to an 82-game regular season in 1995, only two players have suited up more often in one year. Bill Guerin played in 85 games back in 2000-01, as did Rem Murray in 2002-03. Like Pettersson, both of those guys swapped teams during the season (Guerin from the Oilers to the Bruins, and Murray from the Rangers to the Predators).
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