The NHL’s annual free agent signing period opens today at 12PM eastern time.
The Pittsburgh Penguins figure to continue the overhaul of this season’s roster by adding a few new faces to the organization.
The rumor circulating right now is that new GM Jim Rutherford has targeted at least four players whom he’d like to add to the current mix. That number may have changed slightly in the past few days due to multiple contract buy-outs by other NHL franchises.
Below I’ll examine the one free agent that Rutherford has publicly identified as a target, along with a few others at which I think the Penguins can afford/should make a run.
Nikolai Kulemin – RW
- Last Team – Toronto Maple Leafs
- Last Cap Hit – $2.8M
This is the player that Rutherford has identified publicly, as well as Kulemin’s agent Gary Greenstin backing the reported interest.
Kulemin has been a mostly down player in his six seasons in the NHL. Last season he was only able to muster nine goals while being shuffled up and down the Leafs’ lineup by head coach Randy Carlyle.
What is worth noting here is that Kulemin tallied 30 goals in the 2010-2011 season, which happened to Ron Wilson’s final stint behind the Toronto bench. So his meager numbers over the past three seasons (23G-48A) could be more a product of the system in which he’s playing.
The bigger deal here is the relationship that Kulemin has with Penguins’ superstar centerman Evgeni Malkin.
It has been rumored that Malkin and Kulemin are best buds off the ice. That’s all well and good, but friendships don’t score goals. Perhaps the fact the two have played together on the Russian National Team (Olympics, World Championships), and were even linemates while playing for Metallurg Magnitogorsk of the KHL during the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, could produce wonderful results.
Rutherford is on record as saying that he’ll explore finding a winger for Malkin via free agency, after trading 71’s partner-in-crime of the past three seasons, James Neal.
For this deal to work in my opinion, it can’t be any longer than three years and no more than a $2.5M cap hit. I don’t see how a guy can ask for more than his previous cap number after having put up those paltry stats of the past three seasons.
- Bottom Line: sign Kulemin to a $7.5M/3-year deal (AAV – $2.5M)
Benoit Pouliot – LW
- Last Team – New York Rangers
- Last Cap Hit – $1.3 M
This is another name that has been thrown around, most recently by the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review’s Josh Yohe.
Pouliot would be a welcome addition to the Pens bottom six, especially considering what they had this past season.
But a solid effort in the 2013-14 campaign (15G-21A), plus a nice little run through the Stanley Cup Playoffs (5G-5A) figure to give the tall but lanky left winger a nice little raise on that meager cap hit from a season ago.
This could create a bidding war for a guy who would be no better than the third-line left winger.
While the Penguins will undoubtedly spend all but right up to the cap ceiling (if not just shy of it), they have to do so smartly. Feeding the bidding war that Pouliot’s services could produce will be neither financially prudent, nor productive in terms of dealing with other free agents.
- Bottom Line: Sign Pouliot to a $9.75M/3-year deal (AAV – $3.25M) but no higher.
*The remaining names mentioned here are my opinion. I’ve heard nothing to suggest that any of these deals could happen.
Dustin Penner – RW
- Last Team – Washington Capitals (acquired from Anaheim at the trade deadline)
- Last Cap Hit – $2M
Penner is another guy who be an instant upgrade in the bottom six group.
While with the Ducks this past season, Penner tallied 13 goals to go along with 19 helpers before being shipped to the Caps to supposedly make room for Ryan Kesler at the trade deadline.
Before being traded, Penner was already having a better year in Anaheim than his previous three seasons spent with the Kings. Although in fairness, his first season in L.A. was cut short due to injury, while his final season was shortened because of the labor dispute.
Prior to signing in L.A. in 2010, Penner was a hugely productive player on some pretty bad Edmonton Oilers squads.
I’m not interested in Penner for his scoring, although he has a bit of a scorer’s touch. His skating, however, has declined in recent years. I’m more interested in the guy for his character and leadership. Two qualities that Rutherford is looking for in a free agent acquisition.
- Bottom Line: A “Plan B” type of option (to Pouliot) but more affordable. No more than a $3.5M/2-year deal (AAV – $1.75M)
Jarome Iginla – RW
- Last Team – Boston Bruins
- Last Cap Hit – $6M W/performance bonuses
Here we go again.
Yes I am totally on board with at least trying to bring back “Iggy.” I don’t think that anyone would argue that he was not used properly under Dan Bylsma’s system. So why not try to entice him to come give it one more go in the ‘Burgh? New coach, new management, new linemates, and best of all, the right position!
It could work. As long as, once again, Rutherford and Co. spend wisely.
Iginla is everything that Rutherford and the boys have been screaming for since they took over.
Skill and puck possession? Check.
Toughness and grit? He just finished a one-year stint in Boston, so check.
Perhaps most important of all: leadership. I truly believe that if Iginla did end up back in Pittsburgh he would do some things differently.
Having been in the room once before, and now witnessing the upheaval brought on by five seasons of disappointment, his mouth would not be closed for long. The one thing that this Penguins team needs is a voice that can calm the masses (namely Crosby and Malkin) when the going gets tough, especially in the playoffs. Iginla will bring that. Add in his desire to win the Cup, along with a team that seems poised for a renaissance of sorts, and you’ve got a match made in Heaven.
The Penguins can’t break the bank for Iggy, but he may be willing to take less money on a longer term contract, say two years. It would just be a matter of the finances working out properly in other deals.
- Bottom Line: He has to be willing to take less money, but I’d be willing to go $11M/2-year deal (AAV – $5.5M) plus that’s about all the Penguins could probably squeeze into this. And even then its a stretch.
- Farhan Lalji of TSN in Canada tweeted that the Canucks plan on making a big push to sign the western Canada native:
I’m told the #canucks will be making a big push for Iginla tomorrow. Has good relationships with Linden & Benning.
— Farhan Lalji (@FarhanLaljiTSN) July 1, 2014
Martin Brodeur – G – New Jersey Devils
- While it is believed that some how or other Brodeur and the Penguins have been in contact, I don’t see a fit here from any standpoint whatsoever. Brodeur coming in – despite being Marc-Andre Fleury’s boyhood idol – would mess with the incumbent Pens’ netminder’s psyche. Not exactly what you want from your franchise goalie who has had is share of mental breakdowns in the past few seasons. This is one that I think you can write off.
Christian Ehrhoff – D – Buffalo Sabres
- Buffalo bought out the remainder of Ehrhoff’s deal on Sunday, making the 31 year-old defenseman a surprise unrestricted free agent. Ehrhoff is believed to want to go to a contender, and the Penguins have surfaced as a possible destination. Pittsburgh has far greater needs than another 30-something defenseman that would cost them $5M a year (Paul Martin). Another one that can be forgotten about in short oder.
Ales Hemsky – RW – Edmonton Oilers/Ottawa Senators
- Hemsky’s name has long been rumored to be destined for Pittsburgh. The chances would seem to be higher than ever (yet I think still remote) for him to join the Pens now that he has reached UFA status. Here’s the problem: Hemsky has always been a “potential” guy, who has never lived up to the hype. A product of a bad team in Edmonton for most of his career, or just a bust? I won’t lie, I’m not an advanced metrics (Corsi, etc.) guy. I like to watch the player play on the ice and make my own evaluations. That said, the AM crowd seems to think that Hemsky would be a great fit in Pittsburgh, and Rutherford is big on the science project that is advanced metrics. I just don’t see it.
Milan Michalek – LW – Ottawa Senators
- This is an interesting one. Michalek has speed to burn and would like rather nice on Malkin’s left wing in my opinion. He’s a bigger forward at 6’2″ 216 lbs, which is nice because he’s never been shy about throwing his body around. His price tag shouldn’t be all bad, as perhaps a plan B or plan C if Rutherford doesn’t land another name or two from his wish list.
It is truly a wonderful time of year to be a hockey fan. Hope springs eternal for all 30 NHL clubs, especially once free agency opens and the new roster begins to take shape.
Enjoy it hockey fans!
Pittsburgh, Pa. Class of 2000 graduate from Robert Morris University with a B.A. in Mass Communications. Full-time objective sports fan.