The Pittsburgh Penguins appear to be on the verge of a major breakup as there have been several reports stating contract negotiations with legend Evgeni Malkin have not progressed at all. There has not been constant dialogue this offseason as the two sides appear to be far apart in annual salary. Should he decide to finish his career with another franchise, look for the management duo of Brian Burke and Ron Hextall to move on quickly as free agency opens July 13. Here are three interesting options for the Penguins, should they have a giant hole to fill at second-line center:
A Burke/Hextall type of player, Vincent Trocheck is one of the best all-around centers expected to hit the open market. The 28-year-old is a native of Pittsburgh and coming home to his childhood team could be quite the scene to watch. There would be a ton of pressure, not only playing ‘at home’ but also being the player who is replacing Malkin and his legendary resume.
Trocheck is a beast who can play in all situations and isn’t afraid to throw his body around. Last season he finished with 21 goals and 51 points in 81 games and collected 185 hits in the process. A number which was good for third on the Carolina Hurricanes last season and would have been ranked second on the Penguins. Hextall and company have been saying all the right things when it comes to their intentions to keep Malkin around, but at the end of the day, if the dollars don’t make sense, a breakup is inevitable.
To me, Trocheck would be a great complement to Sidney Crosby as he’s right-handed, plays a more physical game and still has enough offensive power to sit comfortably in the second-line spot. He also can play top power-play minutes and kills penalties, so this is certainly a player to watch for Penguins fans come July 13 when free agency is set to begin.
While Burke and Hextall absolutely love Colorado Avalanche forward Nazem Kadri, he may end up getting priced out of their range this offseason. He has admitted he’s chasing the bag this summer to try and cash in as much as possible on his career season. He’s certainly a bit of a risk, as he’ll be 32 years old when next season begins. Also, were his numbers inflated in 2021-22 because of where and who he was playing with? Kadri finished with 87 points during the regular season when his previous career high was 61.
While the Penguins have $23 million in cap space to work with, they have Kris Letang who is also in need of a contract, along with Rickard Rakell, Evan Rodrigues, Danton Heinen, and Kasperi Kapanen. Additionally, they could use some more goaltending depth behind starter Tristan Jarry.
Kadri is the type of in-your-face player the Penguins desire, but at this point, he’s likely further down on the list of preferred signings by Penguins management. The Seattle Kraken, Philadelphia Flyers and Washington Capitals are three teams who are expected to go hard at signing the free-agent center, likely putting the Penguins out of the running. Should Hextall and Burke be able to free up some more cap space with a draft-day trade, the chances of Kadri signing go way up. It should be fun to see how everything shapes up beginning at the draft later this week.
As much as Claude Giroux’s name fits here, it’s very unlikely he signs with an old rival, leaving Ryan Strome as option three for the Penguins. The pending free agent of the New York Rangers is an offensively gifted player who uses his smarts to stay one step ahead of the competition. He recorded 21 goals and 54 points in 74 games last season and makes for an intriguing option behind Crosby on the depth chart.
Strome’s not the most physical player or someone who can kill penalties, however, he’s capable of playing with top-line talent and has a knack for finding his way onto the score sheet. The Penguins know him well from their battles with the Rangers and while he’s not the perfect option to replace Malkin, he’s going to be one of the cheaper ones that may fit in financially for the franchise.
Out of these three options, Trocheck makes the most sense to me. He’s a right-handed shot, can play in all situations and brings an element of sandpaper to the Penguins’ lineup. He fits the bill with what management is trying to build in Pittsburgh and while he’s due for a raise on his $4.75 million salary from last season, he won’t cost an arm and a leg to get pen to paper. Hextall and Burke will have interest, the only question is, does he want the pressure of being Malkin’s replacement?