Lacing Up: A Look At The Healthy Scratches
(Note: portions of this email conversation were completed prior to the news that the Penguins tendered Kennedy’s contract, retaining his rights as a restricted free agent. He cannot be signed by any team other than the Penguins without the Penguins receiving compensation)
Name: Dustin Jeffrey & Robert Bortuzzo
Status: Restricted free agents beginning July 5
Expiring Contracts: Jeffrey – 2 years, $575,000 cap hit | Bortuzzo – 1 year, $525,000 cap hit
The Scoop: Neither Dustin Jeffrey nor Robert Bortuzzo played considerable time with the Penguins during the 2013 shortened season, but both players have something to offer and should have jobs in the NHL, even if the Penguins choose to move on.
Matt Paul: Dustin Jeffrey showed significant promise a few years back before injuring his knee. It seems he never really bounced back, though some fault could be placed on the coaching staff’ for not giving him an opportunity to play through his struggles.
While he’s a valuable “jack of all trades” type of player, it’s difficult to imagine him wanting to return to Pittsburgh, where his career has been put to a halt. Still, if the Penguins want him back, he remains their property and doesn’t have much choice.
Bortuzzo, meanwhile, has been in the NHL for just one year and has shown a physical side that is lacking on the blueline. He may grow into nothing more than a sixth defenseman, but he has a future with the Penguins that could begin as early as next season.
Zach, do you think either player has a chance of switching teams this summer?
Zach Boslett: I think we may finally see Dustin Jeffrey move on to a new team. The poor kid has worked hard to come back from his knee injury only to play 8 minutes a night every few weeks. He is a talented player that can play the point on the power play, grind it out on the 4th line, and he even has some penalty killing experience. But he has been unable to play at a high enough level to stay in the lineup for this team and he may find himself a new home and a fresh start like his former teammates Nick Johnson and Eric Tangradi.
I have seen Dustin Jeffrey dominate the AHL for weeks at a time but when he steps on the NHL ice I see a different player, a more hesitant player that doesn’t trust in himself to make the plays he is capable of making – maybe because the coaching staff doesn’t trust him to do so either. A change of scenery will be good for him and will hopefully get his career back on track.
Bortuzzo on the other hand is what this Penguin team needs – a physical defenseman that can get in the opponents faces and heads. He’s a decent skater for a big man with good stick work and decent breakout skills. In my opinion, the Penguins defense been too easy to play against. Douglas Murray was brought in to change that at the deadline and he did to a degree (when he wasn’t chasing the puck in the corner or being skated around). Look at last year’s defense: Martin – Michalek, Letang – Orpik, Niskanen – Engelland/Lovejoy – that might be one of the softest defenses in the league. This year wasn’t much better. Orpik is the only heavy hitter worth having in the lineup. Adding Bortuzzo to this D can help the Penguins against an opponents forecheck.
Bortuzzo loves to get involved physically with opponents and really got under the skin of some opponents (most notably David Clarkson of the New Jersey Devils). The Penguins need some more snarl in their game and Bortuzzo could potentially be a valuable piece to the Penguins next season.
Joshua Neal: I feel bad for Dustin Jeffrey, because the guy got a lot of chances – up to and including a role as a first-line center and as a winger with Evgeni Malkin and James Neal. Granted, one came before his devastating knee injury, and the other lasted about 4 games in 2013, but you can’t say the guy didn’t get his chances. Maybe the best way to say it is that he didn’t get enough of a chance.
At any rate, he’s a center on a team full of centers. Any inkling he had at playing on this team anywhere in the near future was essentially nullified by the Penguins’ acquisition of Jussi Jokinen – another center on the roster in addition to the more traditional bottom-6 centers like Vitale and Adams. Ironically, the Penguins could choose to tender him – but I feel that would be torture to him. He will go elsewhere and probably make a nice career for himself. See: Letestu, Mark.
I’ve got to agree that Bortuzzo is exactly what this team needs. To me, he is a savior of sorts for the Penguins; he saves us from having to watch Deryk Engelland embarrass himself throughout the season simply because he knocked out Colton Orr once. He’s not as physically imposing as a guy like Murray, but he brings a different element to this team and could develop into a nice defenseman. He’ll play sheltered minutes with a third-pair partner, and if that partner ends up being Matt Niskanen, things don’t look so bad for BobbyOrrTuzzo.
Matt: I think both players are re-signed on the cheap and are given every opportunity to claim limited icetime jobs.
Zach: Jeffrey will ply his trade elsewhwere and Bortuzzo starts as the teams 6th defenseman next year and depending on his play and the play of Despres, Harrington, Dumoulin, Samuelsson and any free agents the Penguins bring in – he could see himself in the lineup come playoff time, in the press box, or on another team.
Josh: Jeffrey’s rights get shipped out for a pick. Bortuzzo gets tendered and plays about 12 minutes a night on the third pair, but probably gets absolutely owned (at least once) in fighting someone bigger than he is.