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NHL Free Agency

3 Popular Free Agents for Penguins to Avoid, Avoid

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Tyler Bertuzzi. NHL free agency, Pittsburgh Penguins

Fans aren’t the only ones who drool over big names with big stats on their resume. General managers also succumb to the temptation to project the best despite recent reality or likely outcomes. The word “if” is a dangerous thing, and the 2024 unrestricted free agent class has an inordinate number of free agents who will draw headlines, but the Pittsburgh Penguins should avoid.

Bad fits or too much money, the Penguins have built a stable culture and system, but the recent turnover at the top of the organization has meant changing, changing, and changing philosophies. Three GMs in four years. Fortunately for the Penguins, current president of hockey operations/GM Kyle Dubas seems to be far more clued in to coach Mike Sullivan’s needs than his predecessor.

Yet, with big names available on July 1 and money to spend, there’s always the temptation to see the best in a player or reach to fill a space as better options fall off the board.

In our feature story last month, agents told Pittsburgh Hockey Now that Pittsburgh remains a wildly attractive option, removing any concerns the Penguins might have to overpay or be shut down by their top choices.

READ MORE: Agent: Free Agents Should be Drawn to Penguins

The Penguins’ immediate and long-term futures remain at odds, with the end in sight for their core three of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang. Players signed beyond a few years will need to be tradeable or more primary than complementary participants.

4 Free Agents for Penguins to Avoid

Tyler Bertuzzi

If you remove one magical season in which Bertuzzi popped for 30 goals and 62 points, Bertuzzi has not scored more than 21 goals in his other seven seasons. Bertuzzi bet on himself and signed a one-year deal with the high-powered Toronto Maple Leafs, hoping to fill the net and then fill his wallet as the salary cap rises this summer for the first time in four years.

Bertuzzi, 29, is a gritty winger willing to go to the net and get after the puck, but he’s on the list for one primary reason: He will most likely seek a raise on his $5.5 million salary, but his output just doesn’t meet the cost. He was credited with only 98 hits this season, and he went through ice-cold streaks. A team in a better position than the Penguins can take advantage of Bertuzzi’s strengths, but the view here is that the Penguins need better value and greater scoring from a free-agent winger.

For example, Warren Foegele of the Edmonton Oilers produced nearly identical numbers and will cost significantly less.

Jake DeBrusk

DeBrusk frustrated the Boston Bruins, who did make attempts to re-sign him. It appears he’s committed to free agency, and the raw materials available would be perfect for the Penguins. He’s 6 feet and about 200 pounds, can be a creative offensive player with finish around the net, and has scored at least 19 goals in each of the last three seasons.

The biggest problems with DeBrusk are simple to point out. He’s streaky, and he’s projected to make nearly $6 million on a five-year deal. The player DeBrusk too often diverges from the player he could be. At 27 years old, it would be a risk to assume that his inconsistency will correct itself. Using cold statistics, he’s a 20-goal, 40-point player.

The Penguins can get that kind of production for less money … but he sure is tempting.

Oliver Ekman-Larsson

Because Ryan Graves failed to integrate into the Penguins on-ice product, the team could use a reliable left-side defenseman. However, Graves’s contract, which has five years remaining with a cap hit of $4.5 million, can’t be ignored.

There are several problems with advocating for the Penguins to sign Ekman-Larsson. The first is the Graves situation—they need to give him the space to recapture his best game, which led to the contract, lest they be on the hook for a brutal contract with no return.

The other reason to avoid Ekman-Larsson is a matter of fit. The Penguins already have enough defensemen who struggle in their own zone. A team that has been among the dubious league leaders in blown leads for two years running and already has a pair of elite offensive defensemen doesn’t need Ekman-Larsson.

Others

Anthony Mantha: He finally cashed in on his talent with a 23-goal season, but the risk is greater than the probability of reward.

Sam Reinhart: His next contract will outkick the Penguins’ salary cap space, and we don’t yet know if he’s a center that can carry a team. At $11 million per season, we expect a player to be the focal point, which isn’t what the Penguins need.

Victor Olofsson: He scored 28 goals last season for the improving Buffalo Sabres, but was still an amazing minus-23. He found the pressbox and trainer’s room this season en route to a 15-point season in 50 games. Anything close to his current $4.75 million salary is best left to a team desperate for offense.

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Robert Shoemaker
Robert Shoemaker
7 days ago

I agree on all these guys unless they choose a bargain deal. Save the cap space and go with prospects to fill out the roster if hockey trades cannot be made. Bargain deals are what Kyle should be looking for. He already made his big splash last offseason and that did not work out very well.

Sam
Sam
7 days ago

Dubas should go after Joshua. After that, make a hockey trade as in “we trade you our rebound candidate, you trade us your rebound candidate”. This requires superb scouting and talent evaluation and vision for how the acquired player will fit in the lineup and locker room. In that regard Dubas has Spezza and Doug Wilson providing input. If they can’t handle the assignment, why are they on the payroll?

Matthew Caddy
Matthew Caddy
7 days ago

Agree on all these. None would provide the Pens what they need at the cost they can afford.

Vittorio Di Stazio Jr
Vittorio Di Stazio Jr
6 days ago

Okay then the options for younger cheaper wingers is limited if you overlook Olofsson. I like Joshua but outside of him there aren’t many options available. Dubas has 2 options: 1. Sign a Young Cheap FA LW or 2. Stick with DOC next to Sid.

Vittorio Di Stazio Jr
Vittorio Di Stazio Jr
6 days ago
Reply to  Dan Kingerski

Okay then: Anthony Duclair, Danton Heinen and Warren Foegele. After that you have guys that can’t score or didn’t fit the first time around so unless there is someone I’m missing it’s guys like the 3 I mentioned above or players like Drouin and Olofsson(I’ like him way way way more than you do and I truly believe that if placed next to Sid his +/- will go way up) or Option C: Stick with DOC next to Sid and move on from there.

sjf928
sjf928
5 days ago

Were we warned to avoid Graves last year?

Aaron
Aaron
5 days ago

The only one I disagree with is Debrusk. He could fill Guentzel’s role

Bachinga
Bachinga
4 days ago

In defense of Bertuzzi…last season, he played through some nagging injuries until he couldn’t…and had a very serious off ice family issue…

He’d be a better fit then Smith was…

Do you really think DeBrusk is going to get $6MM per?