Matt Hunwick’s first season in Pittsburgh did not go according to plan. After signing a three-year, $6.75MM contract with the Penguins at the opening of free agency, the expectations were that Hunwick would be a capable everyday defenseman. Yet, by the trade deadline Hunwick had missed 18 games due to injury and a few more due to healthy scratches and had just five points on the year to show for the games he did play in. Less than a year in to a three-year pact, GM Jim Rutherford was searching for a way to move his contract. When he couldn’t, Hunwick ended up watching 26 of the Penguins final 29 regular season games and each game of the postseason from the press box. These disappointing results are not lost on Hunwick though; the veteran defenseman was honest in his self-criticism when speaking to the gathered media yesterday, reports The Athletic’s Seth Rorabaugh. Hunwick did attribute some of the blame for his poor play to injury and a Penguins system that was difficult to adjust to, but largely took responsibility for the campaign by admitting his lack of a mental edge. “I don’t think I played with enough confidence throughout the season…Maybe (confidence was) part of the reason (for struggling)”, Hunwick said, adding ““I’d hope to play a lot better (next season). I’d like to be more assertive and be more confident right out of the gate. Now knowing the system and the guys, I think that should happen.” Maybe that will happen for Hunwick, but that is assuming he remains in Pittsburgh to begin next season. Rutherford still faces the pressure of the salary cap crunch and an overpaid depth defenseman is an ideal target to move out, if possible. Hunwick has proven to be a capable player over his career and he very likely would improve in year two with the Penguins, but he may not be afforded the opportunity after a rough start this year.
- On the other end of the spectrum is Dallas Stars forward Tyler Pitlick. In grading out the roster after a frustrating end to the season – a late-season collapse that cost the team a playoff spot – Sportsday’s Joshua Friemel calls Pitlick a highlight of an otherwise disappointing season. In fact, Friemel states that Pitlick may have even been a better off-season addition than big-name acquisitions Ben Bishop, Marc Methot, or Martin Hanzal. The Stars spent right up to the cap in 2017-18, but paid Pitlick only $1MM and got 80 games and 27 points back in return. Friemel points out that his 14 goals were good enough for sixth on the team and they were also more than Jason Spezza and Antoine Roussel combined, who together made $9.5MM. Pitlick also contributed on the penalty kill and was one of the Stars’ more physical and effective two-way players. Better yet, Pitlick still has two years remaining on his deal at that same bargain rate. The underutilized Edmonton Oilers prospect may have been little more than a waiver when he signed in Dallas and may have flown under the radar this season, but going forward his value will no longer go unnoticed.
- Staying in Dallas, Stars owner Tom Gaglardi made the rare cross-organization reassignment today. The Kamloops Blazers, the WHL team that Gaglardi shares ownership in, today announced several front office changes, including the assignment of GM Stu MacGregor to the Stars organization, as Gaglardi also owns both Dallas and AHL Texas. The Athletic’s Sean Shapiro clarifies that MacGregor has been transferred to the Stars’ amateur scouting department, where his experience with junior hockey can be put toward a different purpose. With the Blazers finishing with the fifth-worst record in the league this season, changes were expected, but it’s a shrewd move by Gaglardi to replace his GM for one team without losing an asset by instead strengthening his other team.