Free-agency could be either one of the most exciting or one of the most boring times for the Pittsburgh Penguins this summer.
My money is on the latter.
With just over $15 million in cap space, you would think that the Penguins would be big players going into July, however given the fact that they only have two full lines under contract, the chances of them throwing big money to land a single player are pretty slim.
And with so many blue-chip prospects on defense, forwards will likely be the main concern for Pittsburgh this summer.
After re-signing RFA center Brandon Sutter, the Pens will most likely be looking at roughly $12 million in cap space to work with. Twelve million dollars is not a lot a lot of leg room if you’re trying to build up the entire bottom half of your roster through free agency.
Any “big” moves the Penguins make this summer (if they do at all) will most likely come in the form of trades, however there are still a few pearls in a relatively awful group of UFA forwards that I would love to see the Penguins sign.
The draft and minor-league prospects like Jayson Megna making the team could also affect the layout of this Penguins squad dramatically, however new GM Jim Rutherford will most likely need a few UFA’s to fill out the Penguins depth going into next season.
Names like Matt Moulson and Steve Ott have been thrown around a lot as potential targets for Pittsburgh to sign, and while both would drastically improve Pittsburgh’s depth at forward, the chances of them being able to afford these big-ticket names are slim to none.
Like I said, this year’s UFA crop is pretty weak, with 30-year old Tomas Vanek and his 68 points likely the top forward available. When that happens, guys like Ott, Jussi Jokinen, and Mike Cammalleri often get contracts way above what they’d command in a half-way decent group of UFA’s.
It’s scenarios like this that often leave teams burdened with bad contracts that are near-impossible to unload later on down the road, and with so many holes already, Pittsburgh can ill-afford to spend money just for the sake of spending it.
Having said that, there are some relatively cheap options at forward for the Penguins to pursue.
Pittsburgh’s lack of quality third and fourth-line talent was put on display yet again this season. Guys like Tanner Glass, Joe Vitale, Taylor Pyatt and Craig Adams all finished with negative +/- ratings on the season, with Adams and Pyatt finsihing -16 and -15, respectively.
Not to mention the fact that they combined for just 15 goals between the four of them.
Their possession metrics were even worse, with center Joe Vitale’s CF% of 44.7% the highest of the group.
Luckily, Glass, Vitale, and Pyatt are free-agents and will not be re-signed, and the aging Adams will most likely be bought-out of the last year of his contract. It will be up to the Penguins to find more suitable replacements for them, and should they chose to go the free-agency route to fill their absences, these are some viable options that wouldn’t break the bank.
None are huge names, but sometimes it’s the guys you’re not expecting to have huge impacts that come through the most, as the Penguins learned with Jussi Jokinen at last year’s trade deadline. Who knows if any of these guys will even be available come July 1st, but, for the sake of argument, let’s say they are.
Let’s not waste anymore time. Here we go..
Benoit Pouliot, New York Rangers (LW) - Pouliot was a revelation for the Blueshirts this year. Playing on the Rangers third line, Pouliot amassed 15 goals and 36 points in 80 games. What’s more, his CF% of 55.1% was third highest among full-time NHL-ers on the Rangers roster. At 27, his cap hit of $1.3 million is extremely friendly. If by some miracle the Rangers don’t re-sign him, Pouliot would be a welcome addition to the Penguins roster.
Mikhail Grabovski, Washington Capitals (C) - Pittsburgh is in need of wingers more than anything else, however the thought of Grabovski as a fourth-line center gets me giddy. One of the most under-rated players in the league according to the advanced-stats crowd, Grabovski is an excellent two-way forward who has both power-play and penalty-kill potential if put in the right system. Though he played just 58 games, the 30-year old Grabovski tallied 13 goals and finished with a shooting percentage of 16%.
Devin Setoguchi, Winnipeg Jets (RW) - After a promising start in San Jose, Setoguchi bounced around to Minnesota, finally landing in Winnipeg and struggling a bit as part of an extremely underwhelming Jets team. Nevertheless, the 27 year-old winger is a three-time twenty goal scorer plus one more season where he netted 19. Jim Rutherford had various amounts of success in Carolina reviving players carriers, and I’d love to see him make Setoguchi his next reclamation project.
Jack Skille, Columbus Blue Jackets (RW) – Skille played just 16 games for ‘Lumbus last season, netting four goals. However at just $650,000, Skille would be an extremely cheap fouurth-line option for Pittsburgh to explore. And while none of his numbers jump off the page at you, Skille is a big boy (6’1, 215 lbs) and would be a reasonable solution to the lack of “toughness” many Penguins fans have bemoaned for some time now. The Jackets are very interested in bringing him back, however if he manages to slip through the cracks, the Pens should snatch him up.
Blake Comeau, Columbus Blue Jackets (LW) - Another Blue Jacket with size and speed, Comeau is hyper-competetive and more than a little chippy, an area that the Penguins are sorely lacking in right now. Comeau finished the regular season with a CF% of 53%, impressive given the amount of time he spent on the third-line. However unlike with Skille, contract talks between the Jackets and Comeau have cooled off recent;y, leaving many to believe he will be let go come July 1st.
Mike Santorelli, Vancouver Canucks (C) – Santorelli is coming off of season-ending shoulder surgery, however he impressed many in the 49 games he was healthy for. 10 goals and 18 assists left Santorelli with a .57 goals-per game average, not bad for a guy who had been picked up off of waivers just a few months earlier. Most of that success came playing with the Sedin brothers, and while he slumped before his injury, he has a complementary skill set if put with the right talent. He’s a gamble, but for the right price, I don’t think anyone would doubt that he’s an improvement over Crag Adams.