The Pittsburgh Penguins have $6.143 million in cap space heading into the offseason. They have to find a replacement on the blue line for pending unrestricted free agent Justin Schultz, and also have options to improve their bottom six. General manager Jim Rutherford is still not done adding pieces, as the club attempts to become cap compliant (from ‘Jim Rutherford opens up on plans for Penguins’ Matt Murray, Jack Johnson,’ Tampa Bay Times, 09/30/2020).
“I would expect more things could certainly happen. I wouldn’t bet on the team we have now being our roster on opening night, whenever opening night happens to be next season.”Rutherford said about the Penguins making moves.
The Penguins reportedly are expected to offer Chris Tanev a five-year contract at less than $5 million per season. Tanev’s younger brother, Brandon, is signed through 2024-25 at $3.5 million per season. The team is hoping family ties are enough to lure in the 30-year old defenceman. The Penguins are well off on the left side of their defence with the recent addition of Michael Matheson, who will slot in behind Brian Dumoulin and Marcus Pettersson. On the right side, Kris Letang and John Marino occupy the top two pairings, which leaves the third pairing open.
Tanev has spent his entire career with the Vancouver Canucks and has been the club’s top right-handed defenceman since the 2014-15 season. He’s a defensive defenceman and can kill penalties and block shots. His 159 blocked shots were top five in the 2019-20 season.
The Penguins could pair the 30-year-old defenceman with Matheson, who Rutherford expects to be the fastest player on their blueline. Tanev played along with Calder Trophy runner up Quinn Hughes last season, who played an offensive style game. They were a perfect pairing as the veteran defenceman perfectly balanced out the offensive-minded rookie. Tanev could help Matheson reach his true potential next season with the Penguins.
Other than Tanev, the Penguins have other options through free agency. Rutherford should look towards Travis Hamonic, who is coming off a seven-year contract at $3.875 million per season. Hamonic played seven seasons with the New York Islanders before being traded to the Calgary Flames, where he spent the last three seasons. The 29-year old built solid chemistry with Noah Hanifin over the past two seasons. He decided to opt-out of the NHL’s return to play program, and the Flames missed the defenceman during their first-round matchup against the Dallas Stars, as they lost in six games.
Hamonic is similar to Tanev, as he is an effective penalty killer and shot blocker. Sportsnet’s Eric Francis speculates Hamonic is headed to free agency as the Flames won’t entertain paying him what he is hoping to receive through the open market. The Flames have other players who they will likely prioritize ahead of the Manitoba native, including T.J. Brodie. The Penguins can sign him to a four or five-year deal at $4 to $4.5 million per season.
If the Penguins are looking for a cheaper deal on the right side of their defence, Dylan DeMelo is an option. DeMelo has played five seasons in the NHL for three different teams. The San Jose Sharks drafted him in the sixth round in 2011, and he spent three seasons with the big club before being traded to the Ottawa Senators in 2018-19. The Winnipeg Jets acquired him for a 2020 third-round pick at the trade deadline this past season.
DeMelo is coming off a two-year deal at $900,000 per season but has improved since signing his last contract. Although he only posted 10 points in 59 games last season, he had a 53.1 Corsi for percentage. DeMelo is a cheap and effective option for the club’s third defensive pairing and will likely only cost them between $1 and $2 million for a short-term deal.
Since the Penguins traded Patric Hornqvist, the organization could use a forward who plays with grit. Wayne Simmonds is the perfect option to replace the Swedish forward. Although Simmonds isn’t the 50-point player he once was with the Philadelphia Flyers, he is still a great option on the wing. Since leaving the Flyers, his points have dipped, but he will occasionally prove to be a great option to fill in on Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin’s wing when needed.
With Hornqvist no longer on the roster to be a net-front presence on the power play, Simmonds would fill in that role as well. Simmonds will likely come at a cheaper price point on a one-year deal worth $2.5 to $3.5 million. Also, the forward is looking to help a team become a Cup contender, and the Penguins are the perfect team for that.
“My whole career, I think I’ve been that guy who is willing to do all the dirty work. I pride myself on doing that type of dirty work. I think now I’m in a position as being a free agent again where hopefully I can land myself on a contending team. That’s the goal here. I want to be a difference-maker, I want to be a piece to a puzzle that’s not yet complete, but I can help push over the top.’’Simmonds told TSN Hockey Insider Pierre LeBrun.
Mikko Koivu will not return to the Minnesota Wild next season after spending his entire 15-year career with the franchise. If he decides to return for a 16th NHL season, he would be a great fit on the Penguins’ third or fourth line. He had his lowest point total since his rookie season in 2019-20 with 21 points, but Koivu provided the Wild with leadership during his time with the club.
“His hard work, dedication and team-first mentality will be extremely difficult to replace in our lineup. Off the ice, Mikko’s impact in the State of Hockey was immeasurable as he went out of his way to make a positive impact on so many people in our community, including his charitable contributions to Children’s Minnesota (health care organization).Minnesota general manager Bill Guerin said about Koivu.
The Penguins could use Koivu on the third line if Jared McCann struggles during the season. If McCann proves to be a quality third-line centreman, Koivu can centre the fourth line. He would be in a similar role as Matt Cullen was during his time with the team. Koivu brings leadership, something that could help the Penguins get back to their competitive ways, and a defensive skillset. He was a Selke Trophy finalist in 2017, losing out to Patrice Bergeron.
Penguins Could Find Help in Free Agency
The Penguins have both expensive and cheap options in free agency to improve their roster. They only have enough cap space to sign one player if they sign either Tanev or Hamonic. If they decide to roll the dice on DeMelo, they can add either Simmonds or Koivu as well. If Rutherford struggles to find help through trades, he can look towards free agency.
Sartaaj has been watching hockey for over 15 years and covers the Vancouver Canucks for The Hockey Writers.