Penguins Have Big Free Agency Decisions to Make

The trade deadline is fast approaching, and with Marcus Pettersson signing a deal to stay with the Pittsburgh Penguins, it is a good time to look at the rest of the upcoming free agents and decide what their futures might hold.

As of Jan. 28, the Penguins have eight players in the final year of their contracts. Let’s evaluate them and stamp each one with a must sign, maybe sign, or a move on – the three Ms, if you will.

Many of the upcoming free agents will be unrestricted, so management will have to make a decision on each of them. The Penguins are almost always a cap strapped team, making re-signing each of them not ideal. Some trades may even have to be made.

Alex Galchenyuk (Unrestricted Free Agent)

Pittsburgh and the Arizona Coyotes swapped Alex Galchenyuk and Phil Kessel last offseason. Both forwards may not have started the season as strongly as they wanted, but at least one of them has picked up the pace since then. Spoiler: it’s not Galchenyuk. The Penguins had high expectations for the former 30-goal scorer. However, he hasn’t found his place on this roster, and it doesn’t seem like he will anytime soon. Forty-one games played and only five goals to show just isn’t good enough.

Alex Galchenyuk Pittsburgh Penguins
Pittsburgh Penguins center Alex Galchenyuk (Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports)

Expectations may have been high, but no one expected this kind of downfall. It may be a shock to see, but the organization has to move on from Galchenyuk, and fast.

Jared McCann (Restricted Free Agent)

Looking back at the trade with the Florida Panthers that brought McCann and Nick Bjugstad to Pittsburgh, not too many people would have expected McCann to be the biggest catch for the Penguins. At 80 games played with his new team, he has scored 25 goals and notched 20 assists for 45 points.

Penguins center Jared McCann
Penguins center Jared McCann (Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)

He has proven to be one of the most versatile players, showing that he can produce at any spot in the lineup, whether on the wing, as a center, on both sides of special teams, and in clutch moments with four game-winning goals this season. Not only do his numbers look good, but so does his future. He is a must sign.

Dominik Kahun (RFA)

Trading away Olli Maatta and his contract for Kahun looks to be a match made in heaven. He was put on this team to be a speedy defensive forward, and he has done much more than that. No one would have guessed that he would be playing alongside Evgeni Malkin and Bryan Rust as those two set the world on fire. He may not be a long-term player on this team, but he is a guy who has been able to perform well wherever he is in the lineup.

Germany forward Dominik Kahun
Germany forward Dominik Kahun (72) celebrates. (Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

Kahun, for the time being, is a must sign. A short contract could serve well to show that he is the real deal in Pittsburgh.

Dominik Simon (RFA) 

For Simon, there is no in-between. He is either on the first line with Sidney Crosby or acting as a fourth line depth piece. Before his linemates, Crosby and Jake Guentzel, went down with injuries, it looked like Simon was going to be one of the top assist getters on the team, feeding two possible 30 to 40-goal scorers. When Crosby went down with a core muscle injury, Simon’s production came to a near standstill. He went the entire month of December with only three points. Those three points came in the last three games of the month.

Dominik Simon Pittsburgh Penguins
Pittsburgh Penguins forward Dominik Simon (Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports)

Simon is a guy who needs to play a better game on his own, but if you stick him with a superstar, such as Crosby, he can be a huge asset. At the moment, Simon comes across as a leaning towards a move on from. 

Justin Schultz (UFA)

It’s been hard to get a read on Schultz these past two seasons, as he suffered major injuries in both. He currently makes $5.5 million against the cap and the Penguins have looked sharp defensively without him. He is a talented defenseman who, come this offseason, might be looking for a lot of money. The biggest question is if the Penguins will be able to afford him, even if he stays at $5.5 million.

Justin Schultz Penguins
Justin Schultz, Pittsburgh Penguins, January 2, 2018 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

At this point, it’s time for the Penguins to move on from the two-time Stanley Cup champion. Cap space and some outstanding youngsters in the pipeline are to blame for this, i.e. Pierre-Oliver Joseph, Calen Addison, and John Marino.

Juuso Riikola (UFA)

When the Penguins signed Riikola from Finland, fans and management alike expected a lot from the then 25-year-old defenseman. Then came the “best defense” that general manager Jim Rutherford had seen since being GM. Riikola was bumped down the depth chart and never able to get consistent playing time, only playing 37 games last season and starting this year as a healthy scratch.

Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Juuso Riikola
Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Juuso Riikola (Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports)

Riikola is a player who can’t ask for a boat load of money, but has been coming around as a stout third-pairing defenseman. For those reasons he would be a maybe sign, but leaning towards moving on from.

Matt Murray (RFA)

Murray has been the focal point of much discussion and criticism since first being called up in 2016. Effectively ending Marc-Andre Fleury’s tenure in Pittsburgh, he went on to win back-to-back Stanley Cups as a rookie. He looked to be the goalie of the future for the organization, but inconsistent play and injuries have plagued him since Fleury was taken by the Vegas Golden Knights in the Expansion Draft. Murray has always found ways to improve his play and win. However, fans will be quick to criticize his game when things take a small dip.

Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Matt Murray
Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Matt Murray (Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports)

Murray is the Penguins’ number one goaltender for the near and possibly distant future. He is a must sign no matter how his numbers may look at this point, but they’re improving. The contract may not be as big as he had hoped at the beginning of the season, but Tristan Jarry may have stolen some of that money from him. Speaking of Jarry…

Tristain Jarry (RFA)

…To think teams passed on him this offseason. It seemed like a sure thing that the goalie tandem for the 2019-20 season would again be Murray and Casey DeSmith. However, no one took a trade for Jarry and he remained in Pittsburgh to play backup while DeSmith cleared waivers and was sent to the American Hockey League’s Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. Since then, Jarry has stolen the show, as Murray was inconsistent to start the season. League-leading numbers in goals against average, save percentage, and, at one point shutouts, will speak for themselves.

Tristan Jarry Pittsburgh Penguins
Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Tristan Jarry (Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)

Jarry’s all-star season has made DeSmith look pretty expendable and like a possible trade piece. It is a must to keep Jarry around and maybe look into shipping off DeSmith, who has spent the entire season in Wilkes-Barre.

Those are all of the Penguins on the current NHL roster with expiring contracts and what their futures with the team should look like. Obviously, there are more names in the system, like Sam Lafferty and Joseph Blandisi, who have found NHL ice time, but that is a deeper dive for another day.