Before free agency started on July 1st, Pittsburgh General Manager Jim Rutherford was interested in going after a top-line winger (Nikolai Kulemin) as his primary target.
Three day later, and the Penguins have made quite a few moves, filling holes at just about every position possible except the one most fans were expecting them to: a winger for second-line center Evgeni Malkin.
Here’s a quick break down of all of the Penguins UFA signings thus far:
Christian Erhoff (Defenseman): One year, $4 million
Blake Comeau (Forward): One year, $700,000
Thomas Greiss (Goaltender): One year, $1 million
Marcel Goc (Center, re-signed): One year, $1.2 million
Steve Downie (Forward): One year, $1 million
Noticing a trend here? A whole slew of UFA signings on one-year deals, and with the exception of Erhoff, each one has been around $1 million dollars or less. It’s incredibly smart, shrewd business and management from Rutherford, who helped bolster Pittsburgh’s depth despite being pretty strapped for cap space.
The one big shocker out of the bunch is Erhoff. Seeing as how the Penguins have about a dozen NHL-caliber defensman either on the roster or in the minors, many didn’t see the signing of a veteran defenseman for four million dollars as a move that the Pens needed to make.
But there’s more to this move that meets the eye. Consider this: Olli Maatta will be sidelined until November after off-season shoulder surgery, as will top-prospect Derrick Pouliot. Paul Martin is 34 years old with one year left, and Kris letang, as talented as he is, has struggled to stay healthy the past couple of seasons.
Brining in Erhoff gives stability to a blueline that has dealt with injuries before, and it also provides an excellent mentorship opportunity for Erhoff. A skilled puck-moving defenseman, Erhoff plays an almost identical style to Maatta, Pouliot, and Simon Despres.
Expect him to see significant time paired with all of the kids I just mentioned.
One more thing about Erhoff: he gives Pittsburgh flexibility to make a trade. Essentially a younger, more skilled version of Martin, Erhoff’s signing has set off a whirlwind of trade rumors.
While dumping Rob Scuderi would be a miracle, Martin would command a much more significant return in a trade to the right team. Getting rid of both would free up over $8 million in cap space, and I can think of at least one team (looking at you, Detroit) that would pony up a highly skilled winger in exchange for Martin’s services.
Moving along to the forward group, Rutherford bolstered Pittsburgh’s bottom six with quality forwards on the cheap, a major point of failure for his predecessor Ray Shero.
Once RFA’s Brandon Sutter Nick Spaling, and Jayson Megna have re-signed, Pittsburgh’s bottom-six will be solid for the first time in years.
Marcel Goc was brought in at last-years trade deadline but was hampered by an ankle injury, and took less money to re-sign with Pittsburgh again this season. If he can stay healthy, he could be an extremely solid 4th-line center.
Blake Comeau for $700K a year is a steal. One of the more underrated depth guys in the league, Comeau is a big body with some sandpaper. He scored 22 goals playing with the Islanders a few years back, so he’s got some offensive touch as well. If he can re-gain some of that form, he could slot in nicely with Sutter on the third-line.
Thomas Greiss is a better backup the Jeff Zatkoff. Period. Expect Zatkoff to be sent down to Wilkes Barre, and Vokoun to sign with another team as a free-agent.
That leaves Steve Downie. Though he’s had trouble staying healthy as of late, the 27 year-old Downie is a rugged winger built in the mold of the team that drafted him: the Philadelphia Flyers.
Though he’s probably most famous for his fists, Downie scored 22 goals on a line with Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis in 2011. If he can re-gain his form as top-six power forward and less as a psychotic goon, Downie’s presence in Pittsburgh will be most welcomed by his teammates as well as the fans.
He will most likely be shifted up and down Pittsburgh’s lineup the first few weeks of the season, but expect him to see at least a few shifts with Sidney Crosby on the top line.
I still think the Penguins need a top-six forward, but it’s only July. As far as I’m concerned, they have up until the trade deadline to land solid forward to play with either Crosby or Malkin.
But as of right now, I like every move they’ve made.
Final grade: B+