The Pittsburgh Penguins started the offseason with a few big trades but have been quiet since the start of free agency. General manager Jim Rutherford signed Mark Jankowski as the only newly acquired free agent so far. The Penguins have room on the blue line for one more defender behind Kris Letang and John Marino on the right side. Although Chad Ruhwedel can slot into the right side of the third pairing, adding an extra defenceman will be helpful.
With the right-handed defenders available, signing a veteran is likely. The Penguins have $2.568 million in cap space, so a cheap and short-term deal will be ideal for the organization.
A return to Pittsburgh for Ron Hainsey is possible this offseason. His last stint at 35 years old with the Penguins resulted in the club winning the Stanley Cup in 2017. Hainsey has spent the past three seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Ottawa Senators. Within those three seasons, he only missed a total of eight games, as he has remained healthy late in his NHL career.
At 39 years old, he is no longer the smooth-skating defenceman he once was, but Hainsey is reliable, and he knows the Penguins’ system. Hainsey can provide a veteran presence for the younger defenders on the club, such as Marino and Marcus Pettersson. The 39-year-old will come at a cheap price point for the cash-strapped Penguins and can be their sixth or seventh defenceman next season.
Similar to Hainsey, Trevor Daley is another veteran defenceman who played with the Penguins in the past. At 37 years old, he could have one last chance at winning another Stanley Cup with the organization. He was a key member of the Penguins’ blue line in their back-to-back Stanley Cup wins in 2016 and 2017. Daley is left-handed but plays on the right side, another similarity to Hainsey.
Since leaving the Penguins after the 2016-17 season, Daley spent the last three years with the Detroit Red Wings. He has struggled to stay healthy the past two seasons but is worth looking at for Rutherford. In their 2017 Stanley Cup run, Daley was one of the defencemen who stepped up with Letang out of the lineup. The 37-year-old will take a limited role this time around as a depth defender and would likely come with a low cap hit as well.
Madison Bowey is a different option than Hainsey and Daley, as he’s only 25 years old and has never played with Penguins before. The Red Wings didn’t qualify the 25-year-old defenceman, making him an unrestricted free agent. Bowey posted five goals and 39 points in 154 games over three seasons. The Washington Capitals selected him with the 53rd overall pick in the 2014 NHL Draft and traded him to the Red Wings halfway through the 2018-19 season.
Bowey is an offensive-minded defenceman, which helps the Penguins now and in the future with his age. He has a lot to prove in the NHL, and gambling on him could pay off for Rutherford. With the Red Wings, he played on their bottom pairing, which is what he would be doing with Pittsburgh next season. They could sign him to a one-year deal at $1.5 million. Newly hired assistant coach Todd Reirden could help the 25-year old find his game, which would make this signing a home run.
Penguins Have a Few Options on Defence
Rutherford and the Penguins still have one spot to fill on their blue line and have a few options left. They are well off on the left side with Brian Dumoulin, Mike Matheson and Pettersson. With Daley and Hainsey, though, they have two veteran players who are familiar with the core group in their locker room, while Bowey can become a long-term member if he shows some improvement. Adding a defenceman would provide the organization with some depth to their backend and will help in a long playoff run.
Sartaaj has been watching hockey for over 15 years and covers the Vancouver Canucks for The Hockey Writers.