Penguins Primer: Offseason Outlook 2023
A complete roadmap for a pivotal Penguins' offseason.
As the first full month of the offseason commences we have a look at the hockey events that will fill this long summer break before the team gets back into action in the 2023-24 season and seeks to avenge their playoff qualification failure.
There are over a dozen events that dot the summer layoff and still plenty of action left on ice for anyone feeling hockey withdrawals without the Pens. Here's what's left to look forward to:
May 2nd-3rd: Stanley Cup Playoffs Round Two.
The second, quarter-final round of the playoffs starts in the first week of May. Thus far the match-ups will feature the Oilers vs. Golden Knights and the Stars vs. Kraken in the Western Conference. The East will be decided between the newly curse-free Maple Leafs vs. Panthers and the Hurricanes vs. the Rangers or Devils, depending on the outcome of Monday, May 1st's Game Seven showdown. The next round will decide who punches their tickets to the conference championships. Those will get underway in mid-May with specific dates depending on how many series go to Game Sevens in this second round.
May 8th: NHL Draft Lottery.
The Pens have a chance to vault up into the top five in the draft in the lottery this year. That's a mighty appealing outcome after a disappointing season. Their 14th seed in lottery odds gives them a 1.5% chance of leaping ahead up to the fourth overall pick. The lottery rules prohibit any team from jumping more than 10 spots forward to ensure the worst-performing teams hold the best odds at improving so the Penguins won't have a shot at the expected #1 overall pick, forward phenom Connor Bedard. Still, the fourth pick would put them in the running for top-tier future star talents like Adam Fantilli, Matvei Michkov, Leo Carlsson, and Will Smith.
The draft lottery will finally name the winner of the big "Bedard Sweepstakes" too. The Anaheim Ducks have the highest odds of claiming the number one pick at 18.5%. This year's lottery will be on Monday, May 8th at 7 PM (ET). It airs on ESPN in the US, Sportsnet, and TVA Sports in Canada, and online streams can be found through ESPN+ and Fubo (US), and SN NOW (CAN).
May 12th-28th: IIHF World Championships begin.
The 2023 World Championships kick off in just about two weeks in Tampere, Finland, and Riga, Latvia. Several Pens have already been named to their respective national teams. Participants will include Nick Bonino (F), and Casey DeSmith (G) for the US and Alexander Nylander for Sweden. They'll be joined by Penguins alumni Olli Maatta (DET- D) and Kasperi Kapanen (STL- F) both playing for Finland. More Pens-related players could be added as nations get further into the selection process. Keep an eye on the rosters of Team USA, Canada, Sweden, Germany, and Czechia for other Penguins, current and former, in particular.
[Note: Jake Guentzel was scheduled to play for Team USA but a last-minute injury has forced him off of the roster.]
Late May to Late July: Pittsburgh's pro summer league- The G.O.A.T. League.
Pittsburgh’s very own pro and pro prospect 4 on 4 summer league got its start during the 2022 off-season. The group holds doubleheader games every Wednesday at the Pens' UPMC Lemieux Center practice facility. The teams sport local NHL players, alumni, and prospects. Look for the schedule and participants to be released on the league’s Instagram page @goat4v4 around the end of May. Past participants have included: J.T. Miller, Vince Trocheck, John Gibson, Logan Cooley, Zemgus Girgensons, Matt Bartkowski, Liam Walsh, Ty Loney, and 2023 top 100 ranked NHL draft prospect Brandon Svoboda.
May to Early June: New Penguins management hires made.
The new General Manager and whatever else hockey management structure the Penguins eventually settle on putting into place is likely to be set well ahead of the draft, so by early June since this year's draft takes place from June 28-29th. While the Penguins' current scouts could handle the draft preparations themselves for their new bosses, it's a critical process to shaping the teams' future plans which makes it likely the new skipper will want to put their own stamp on their first draft by using their own people. That likelihood is strong especially considering the current scouting department was mostly placed by the now-fired former GM Ron Hextall & his number two Chris Pryor and they have a highly controversial draft decision history in every organization they've run.
June 3rd: Stanley Cup Finals begin.
Who will be the final two teams contending to lift Lord Stanley's Cup this season? The league's leading scorers the Oilers vs. President's Trophy-winning Bruins? The newcomers the Kraken vs. perennial also-rans, the Rangers? We'll find out beginning on the first Saturday in June. The Finals will once again be carried on ESPN and ABC in the US.
June 26th: NHL Awards in Nashville.
The Penguins are likely to have a presence at this year's festivities with stroke survivor Kris Letang as the team's nominee for the Masterton Trophy. He's perhaps the strongest candidate for the award after suffering his second stroke last season and losing his father then returning to play in elite form. Letang is a good bet to be one of the final three nominees who appear at the show. Sidney Crosby also may pop up as he's a familiar presence assigned to these events to bring some star power for the league.
June 28th-29th: 2023 NHL Draft in Nashville.
The big Connor Bedard sweepstakes finally will occur the last weekend in June. The Penguins are usually well-positioned in this deep draft due to their disappointing near-playoffs miss. They are guaranteed a top-15 pick since they finished 14th in the standings and have a chance to move further up as mentioned in the draft lottery section.
July 1st: Free Agency.
The highlight of the summer offseason comes on July 1st when Canada Day and Free Agent Frenzy occur in one wonderous swirl of Canadian-fueled magic. The Pens have an impactful class of unrestricted free agents this season, nine players are to head to the market as of now. They include some major names that have been significant presences for many years in Jason Zucker, Brian Dumoulin, and Tristan Jarry, plus Dmitry Kulikov, Nick Bonino, Danton Heinen, Josh Archibald, Dustin Tokarski, and Drake Cagguila. On the restricted free agent side there are some crucial contributors like Drew O'Connor, Ryan Poehling, Ty Smith, and Alexander Nylander for the team to barter salaries with. And around the league many Pens alumni are set to hit the market including Jordan Staal, Patric Hornqvist, Teddy Blueger, and Evan Rodrigues.
First Week of July: 2023-24 NHL schedule release.
Next year's regular season schedule should be released shortly after the Draft on June 29th and Free Agency on July 1st, typically in the first week of July. Home opener opponents and dates are revealed first followed by the complete 82-game calendar the next day. We'll get to see what kind of itinerary the Pens will face in 2023-24 as they make their campaign to regain their usual place in next year's playoffs.
Mid to Late July: Pens Development Camp.
Prospect camp traditionally follows the week or two after the draft. The new management search might impact the dates or the event taking place at all this year though. As the year the team shifted to Ron Hextall as GM they did not hold the popular event. However, logic holds that most new bosses would want to use this as an occasion to get the lay of the land as to how the team runs operations and what exactly might be in the Penguins' barely stocked prospect cupboards. The highlights among those sparse ranks include defenseman Owen Pickering (Swift Current, WHL), who got his first taste of pro action with WBS this year. The Penguins' potential goalie of the future in Joel Blomqvist (Kärpät, Liiga). And there are several other young talents like Isaac Belliveau (D; Gatineau, QMJHL), Nolan Collins (D; Sudbury, OHL), Taylor Gauthier (G; WBS, AHL), Ryan McCleary (D; Portland, WHL), Lukas Svejkovsky (F; WBS, AHL), and Tristan Broz (F; Denver, NCAA) awaiting their chance to move up the depth chart.
July 12th-August 23rd: Da Beauty League.
The NHL’s most notable pro summer league features scores of prominent players and a large contingent of current and former Penguins who participate. The games are sponsored by major corporations and broadcast live online in addition to being played in front of a packed arena in Edina, MN. It's a very professional-like operation with all the bells and whistles you'd expect in hockey-mad Minnesota. Participants usually include Pens-related locals Jake Guentzel, Jason Zucker, Ryan Poehling, Tristan Broz, Mitch Reinke, Teddy Blueger, Alex Goligoski, and Nick Bjugstad. And other major area stars or players who train nearby like: Jake Oettinger, K'Andre Miller, Zach Parise, Brock Nelson, Derek Stepan, Matt Dumba, Brady Skjei, James Van Riemsdyk, Joonas Donskoi, Blake Lizotte, Ryan McDonagh, Derek Forbort, Erik Haula, Justin Holl, Anders Lee, Brock Boeser, Casey Mittlestadt, and Jake Gardiner. It's practically its own All-Star Game roster. It’s without a doubt the most elaborate pro hockey summer league ever and helps fill the time in those long, hot NHL hockey-deprived dog days of summer. Da Beauty League's 2023 schedule has already been released on their official site: https://dabeautyleague.com/league-schedule
Late July to Early August: RFA Arbitration Hearings.
The Penguins have a sizable lot of big-name restricted free agents this year. That includes Drew O'Connor, Ryan Poehling, Ty Smith, and Alexander Nylander. Some of these players may elect to go to salary arbitration which will take place in late July and early August, as is typical. O'Connor and Poehling in particular played critical roles on the Pens roster last season and are projected to be important pieces for the team in the coming year, so they might feel entitled to push for a higher contract award through the arbitration process. The specific dates for each player's salary hearing should be announced a few weeks before they're set to commence.
Early-Mid September: NHL Prospects Challenge.
Often interchangeably called the "Rookie Tournament" the Penguins have been long-time participants in the annual London and now Buffalo-based Prospects Challenge. Teams attending usually include regional rivals with strong prospect pools like the host team Sabres Senators, Canadiens, and Bruins in some combination. The utility of the tournament speaks for itself. It's where Stanley Cup Champions like Connor Sheary and Olli Maatta first made big splashes that brought them to the attention of the team's NHL staff. It has proven it can be a launchpad to winning an NHL contract or even making the leap to the Penguins' main roster. This year it will be particularly important as an evaluation tool with new management that is about to start running the show. More ice time, more competition against fellow top prospects, and more data on how your futures perform are crucial information for any team, but especially during transitional periods when inventory is being taken. The new Pens regime will want to see for themselves what their pipeline has in store.
BE AT THE HOTTEST HOCKEY EVENTS! If you want to cop a seat to the Stanley Cup Playoffs in any city this spring or take a weekend trip away to the 2023 NHL Draft in Nashville then hop over to Seat Geek for your tickets and use Pens Report's exclusive $20 off your first purchase discount by typing in code "PENSREPORT" on check out!