After having 14-year goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury taken away by the Las Vegas Golden Knights in this year’s expansion draft and watching defensemen Trevor Daley and Ron Hainsey leave via free agency to join the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs, respectively, the Penguins were in the market for adding pieces to replace the aging veterans.
They did just that on Saturday by adding veteran goalie Antti Niemi and defenseman Matt Hunwick.
With Matt Murray entering his first year as a full-time starter in the NHL, the Penguins made a smart financial move by bringing in the 33-year old Niemi on a 1-year, $700,000 contract. The organization already has 22-year old goalie Tristan Jarry, but Penguins goalie coach Mike Buckley recently told the Trib that the team will likely give him one more year to develop in the AHL before eventually bringing him up to serve as Murray’s backup.
Between 2009 and 2015 during his time with the Chicago Blackhawks and the San Jose Sharks, Niemi put together an impressive resume, having a .925 save percentage and a record of 189-99-39. While Niemi found success early on, his two-year tenure with the Dallas Stars was less stellar, putting together a sad 2016-2017 season, with a .892 save percentage and 3.30 GAA in 37 appearances, which led to the Stars buying out his contract. Niemi comes to the Penguins attempting to find some of the previous success he had with successful Blackhawks and Sharks rosters. If he is able to do that, the Penguins might have found a bargain as a veteran backup goalie that will be able to effective relieve Matt Murray for about 20-25 games this season. For less than $1 million, you can’t beat that.
With the departure of Daley and Hainsey, the Penguins needed some additional depth amongst their blueliners. With Hainsey leaving for the Maple Leafs, the Penguins essentially flopped defensemen when they went and signed former Toronto defenseman Matt Hunwick. The 32-year old agreed to a 3-year, $6.75 million deal. Hunwick will provide the Penguins with veteran depth with the third defensive pairing. After putting together the second-best offensive performance of his career in 2016-2017 (1 goal, 18 assists, plus-8), Hunwick was able to put his skills on display during Toronto’s playoff series against the Washington Capitals, where he showed off his quick skating, solid puck-moving abilities, and strong penalty-killing play. While fans would have loved to have kept Daley, Hunwick will fit in nicely with Kris Letang, Justin Schultz, Olli Maatta, Ian Cole, and Brian Dumoulin.
Now that the Penguins have addressed their goalie and defenseman needs, they can turn their attention to obtaining a center as free agency continues.