After trading Phil Kessel to the Arizona Coyotes, the Pittsburgh Penguins will have some extra cap space to utilize this offseason. The team acquired Alex Galchenyuk in return but will need more to make up for the loss of Kessel’s elite offensive production.
Pittsburgh will likely prioritize re-signing its restricted free agents — Teddy Blueger, Zach Aston-Reese, and Marcus Pettersson — before looking to the open market. With roughly $5 million to work with right now, the Penguins will be limited to small moves. Who are some low-key free agents that could fit in with the team?
Ryan Hartman – Dallas Stars
Ryan Hartman never actually played for the Dallas Stars; the team acquired him a week ago in order to dump Tyler Pitlick’s contract to the Philadelphia Flyers. The 24-year-old has played for three different NHL teams since the start of the 2016-17 campaign and will likely find another new franchise to suit up for next season. He’s a solid source of depth scoring, notching 42 goals and 88 points over the last three seasons.
Hartman was the 30th-overall pick in the 2013 NHL Draft and still shows signs of becoming a more consistent winger. Depending on the interest he draws on the market, he could command a bit more money than the Penguins are able to shell out. However, if his price stays reasonable, he would make a perfect addition to the team.
As mentioned, the Penguins need to make up for the loss of Kessel’s elite offensive output. Hartman’s goal-scoring ability would definitely make some progress there. He plays a full, two-way game despite being a bit undersized and could be a great complement on the wing for Evgeni Malkin or Nick Bjugstad.
Magnus Paajarvi – Ottawa Senators
On the opposite end of the spectrum from Hartman, Magnus Paajarvi could be an incredibly cheap option. Selected 10th-overall in the 2009 NHL Draft, Paajarvi scored 15 goals and 34 points as a rookie during the 2010-11 campaign. He has yet to crack the 20-point mark since then and didn’t post double-digit goals again until last season.
The 28-year-old won’t provide much in the offensive end, which can be frustrating at times. However, as a defensive forward, Paajarvi could fit into the Penguins bottom line in a depth role. Again, this only makes sense if Pittsburgh could sign him around the league minimum, though he still wouldn’t help make up for the loss of Kessel’s offensive output. What he can do is wear away at opponents by grinding in his limited ice time.
Brandon Tanev – Winnipeg Jets
The Penguins have actually already been linked to Brandon Tanev. The 27-year-old winger set new career highs with 14 goals and 29 points with the Winnipeg Jets last season. Of his 14 goals during the 2018-19 campaign, 12 came at even strength while the other two came will shorthanded; this is perfect for the Penguins as he probably wouldn’t see any power-play time in Pittsburgh but he can be an effective penalty-killer.
Tanev isn’t a big-name signing but he would certainly improve the team right out of the gate. Similar to Hartman, the 180-pound winger would most likely slot into a middle-six role alongside either Malkin or Bjugstad. A possible 15-goal scorer would go a long way for Pittsburgh’s depth.
As mentioned, Pittsburgh should try to lock up their restricted free agents before testing the open market. There’s no guarantee the team will have enough money left to make a notable move, but general manager Jim Rutherford lives for these moments. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him work some magic once again.
Tyler Bowen is a University of South Florida graduate and lifelong hockey fan. Tyler covers the Pittsburgh Penguins for thehockeywriters.com. You can usually find him obsessing over his fantasy teams and looking for his next gambling tip.