What are the Penguins Thinking With Zolnierczyk?
At the beginning of this offseason, the Penguins traded defenseman Alex Grant in exchange for Harry Zolnierczyk, a 25-year-old formerly of the Anaheim Ducks by way of the Philadelphia Flyers. Although Zolnierczyk was a Restricted Free-Agent, the Penguins re-signed him to a one-year, two-way deal worth $550,000, making Penguins fans scratch their head and wonder, “what in the world is Shero thinking?”
The reality is, I have no idea and I’m not sure many other people know why either, unless they felt they had accomplished all they could with the reclamation of Matt Cooke and needed a new project for the upcoming season. Harry Zolnierczyk totaled a whopping 7 points (3g, 4a) and 71 penalty minutes in 44 career games with the Philadelphia Flyers and a 4-game suspension for a cheap shot on Mike Lundin. Last season, Zolnierczyk spent most of his time in the AHL, playing 61 games, while only season 7 games with the big club.
Even if the Penguins plan to keep Zolnierczyk in the minors for most of the year, the move is a curious one, as they had to make a move to acquire him, showing more than just a passing interest. Regardless of motives, the move is a strange one from Shero and the Penguins, who have come under fire in past years for employing the likes of Jarkko Ruutu, Matt Cooke, and Arron Asham.
Is Zol in the Plans for Next Year?
With spots still up-for-grabs in the bottom-six in Pittsburgh, the Penguins have a few players competing for what looks like a mish-mash of two speed/checking lines. Between Beau Bennett, Jussi Jokinen, Chris Conner, Craig Adams, Joe Vitale, Tanner Glass, and Dustin Jeffrey, the bottom-six could field a few different looks and styles of play. Assuming one of Bennett or Jokinen starts the season in the top-six, alongside James Neal and Evgeni Malkin, that leaves the six players listed, plus Zolnierczyk. While Chris Conner has been a mainstay tweener, falling somewhere between the AHL and NHL, Dustin Jeffrey hasn’t had the consistency the Penguins have desired to keep him in the NHL lineup.
What that means, is that Harry Zolnierczyk has a legitimate shot at making the team’s lineup as a fourth-line grinder.
Unless the Penguins receive another bottom-six forward in exchange for whatever moves they have planned to come into compliance with the salary cap, it looks like Zolnierczyk will be starting the season in the NHL lineup, possibly alongside Craig Adams and Joe Vitale on the fourth-line, while Tanner Glass could take a spot on the third-line, similar to his time in Winnipeg.
This is a Bad Idea
Usually, as a writer and as a Pens fan, I try to give GM Shero some slack regarding the majority of moves made in the offseason until they have at least had a chance to show their talents at training camp. This is different. No, I’m not even talking about his arrest and sentencing in 2007/2008, I’m purely sticking to his on-ice skills, or lack thereof. In the mold of true Flyer, Harry Zolnierczyk would much rather look for the cheap shot, the easy hit, the bell-ringer than look for the goal.
Harry Zolnierczyk is everything negative that was found with Matt Cooke, pre-reformation and yet, with almost none of the offensive or defensive upside. Think Tyler Kennedy, but who likes to go out of his way to make hits, because he saw a successful role-model in that type of play in Zac Rinaldo from his days in Philadelphia.
Zolnierczyk being slotted into the lineup for the Penguins could end up working out in a low-risk, high reward type of situation for the team, but will most likely end up in either him seeing most of his time in Wilkes Barre-Scranton or in the press box as a result of suspensions. Either way, I see little value that Harry Zolnierczyk brings to the Penguins, but if Zolnierczyk makes the team and contributes in a meaningful way, while staying out of penalty trouble, I will be more than happy to eat my words.