The Pittsburgh Penguins have a need for right-shot defensemen and should consider some options in free agency this off-season. Kris Letang will be in the final year of his contract in 2021-22, and it remains to be seen what his future holds with the franchise after next season. Could the team begin to move on from the big three of Sidney Crosby, Letang and Evgeni Malkin after the 2021-22 season? John Marino is signed until the end of the 2026-27 season and remains the only right-shot defenseman currently on the active roster with a contract that lasts after the 2021-22 season.
Free agents Dougie Hamilton and Seth Jones are two defensemen who could be wearing new uniforms at the start of next season, but both will command more money annually than the Penguins can afford. Jones will be looking for a new contract after next season and will have a higher average annual value (AAV) than his current contract. If general manager Ron Hextall wants to acquire any defensemen via trade, that is an option, but there are some worthwhile considerations in free agency as well. Here are two right-shot defensemen for the Penguins to consider adding in free agency this off-season.
1. Adam Larsson
Adam Larsson is 6-foot-3, 208 pounds and is the kind of defensive defenseman the Penguins need to consider signing in free agency. With the recent acquisition of Duncan Keith and his entire salary, the Edmonton Oilers could be in even more of a bind in attempting to re-sign Larsson or defenseman Tyson Barrie.
In order to consider signing the former fourth overall pick in the 2011 Draft, Hextall will need to clear some salary off of the books, as Larsson had a cap hit of $4.16 million in 2020-21. Defenseman Marcus Pettersson and forward Jason Zucker could be playing elsewhere next season, and if the organization can get creative and shed some salary with other players that will not be a part of the future, the Penguins could be in a better position to offer him a contract.
While the signing looks unlikely and there are no rumors connecting the Penguins and Larsson, here is what the defenseman can bring to Pittsburgh. According to JFresh Hockey, Larsson’s projected wins above replacement (WAR) percentage is at 87 percent, with a 39 percent at even-strength offense (EV Off) and a 98 percent at even-strength defense (EV Def). So the primary contribution the Penguins would be getting from him would be on the defensive side as he does not contribute much offensively. The signing is more of a hypothetical-based acquisition that borders along the lines of wishful thinking, but there’s no doubt Pittsburgh could benefit from signing the defenseman.
2. David Savard
David Savard is another defenseman that sticks to his own end instead of creating offensive chances. The defenseman spent his entire career with the Columbus Blue Jackets before being traded this year to the Tampa Bay Lightning back in April. At 6-foot-2 and 233 pounds, he can use his size in order to be physical when necessary, which can be an asset for a franchise that needs these kinds of players. However, his cap hit of $4.25 million in 2020-21 would require Hextall to move some players in order to create some cap space.
Savard is coming off a Stanley Cup victory with the Lightning, and his championship will mesh with the culture that has been established but lacking with three consecutive seasons of first-round series eliminations in Pittsburgh. He has a knack for blocking shots, as he had a total of 958 shot blocks throughout his tenure with the Blue Jackets and remained among the top defensemen in the category prior to his trade to the Lightning. He is the kind of big, physical defenseman that can add to the depth to the Penguins’ defensive unit.
Larsson and Savard are two of the right-shot defensemen available in free agency that can provide a strong presence on the second pairing and increase the depth to a strong defensive unit. Tyson Barrie is a right-shot defenseman who is a free agent, but his biggest asset is on the power play, and Pittsburgh ranked fourth in the NHL with a 23.68 percent success rate on the man advantage and do not appear to need to strengthen that unit. It remains to be seen what additions Hextall will make this offseason, but if the general manager is able to clear some cap space in the expansion draft or through trades, adding Larsson or Savard can provide some much-needed stability to the right side of the defense for the Penguins.
Matt covers the Philadelphia Flyers and the Pittsburgh Penguins for The Hockey Writers. Matt’s priority is to contribute exceptional content about the Flyers and Penguins for THW and its readers. Matt writes for The Globe newspaper at Salt Lake Community College. To see more of Matt’s writing, visit his portfolio. For interview requests, follow Matt on Twitter that appears at the end of articles for THW.