Pittsburgh Penguins: Defensive Moves Will Have Positive Impact

The Pittsburgh Penguins are going to look a bit different defensively this season.

After taking care of their own high-profile free agents, the Penguins turned their attention to defense. On the first day of free agency, Pittsburgh made its first splash by signing defenseman Jan Rutta to a three-year contract.

The two-time Stanley Cup champion will make $2.75 million per season throughout his deal with the Pens. Last season with the Tampa Bay Lightning, Rutta contributed 18 points in 76 regular season games. His plus-25 rating was the second-best mark on the team.

In the playoffs, the 31-year-old chipped in five points and a plus-five rating in 17 contests. He has played 49 playoff games in total in his career.

The Penguins have made several defensive changes this offseason.

Pittsburgh continued to reshape its blue line over the weekend by making a pair of trades. The first was with the New Jersey Devils, as the Pens traded John Marino and acquired Ty Smith and a draft pick.

Marino and Smith have both been known to contribute offensively. Marino had 25 points in 81 games last season, while Smith recorded 20 points in 66 games.

The key for the Penguins will be whether or not Smith, who carries a career minus-35 rating, can be as solid defensively as Marino (plus-23).

Pittsburgh’s second trade was with the Montreal Canadiens, who shipped Jeff Petry to the Pens in exchange for Mike Matheson with a couple of other pieces included in the deal.

Matheson is coming off of a career year that saw him set personal bests in goals (11), assists (20), and points (31), all while playing 74 games.

Petry, who put up 27 points of his own, will likely log more minutes than Matheson and potentially take some pressure off of the newly re-signed Kris Letang.

Overall, these three moves give the Penguins a different look defensively without overhauling the unit. In the grand scheme of things, Pittsburgh played solid defense last season, but after another early playoff exit, something needed to change.

To me, these moves feel lateral for the Pens, and I think that can be a good thing. The defense wasn’t bad, so they didn’t need to make a huge splash, but it couldn’t stay exactly the same.

The Penguins needed something different, and this new-look unit will give the team a new feel with the same effectiveness, making the first week of free agency a success in the Burgh.