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Changing Penguins Culture; 5 NHL Free Agents to Chase (or Re-Sign)



NHL free agents to chase, Tyler Bertuzzi, Evan Rodrigues, Ivan Barbashev, Pittsburgh Penguins coach Mike Sullivan

The Pittsburgh Penguins need a heart transplant. After nearly two decades of winning and hard-fought success, age has not caught up with the star players’ legs as much as the overall team attitude. Merely flickering was the swagger, the fight, pushback, and any sense of desire.

It came and went, seemingly as needed, until the end when it was gone, possibly for good.

There can be too much youth and inexperience, and the Penguins proved there could be too much experience, which dulls the emotion.

PHN wrote at numerous points throughout the season the team knew the sun would rise tomorrow. They didn’t angrily reject defeat so much as attempt to shrug it off and move on. That attitude showed in their play, too.

Anger is the fire that burns all clean, wrote Maya Angelou.

While she had far more important topics at the fore, the same applies to professional sports, especially hockey, where emotion is a necessary component.

The Pittsburgh Penguins were seldom angry. And that’s why they need to acquire some.

Thursday, PHN laid out the valuations and risks of re-signing Jason Zucker. Zucker isn’t a slam dunk decision, but at the right price, he brings everything the Pittsburgh Penguins need.

Four (More) Players to Circle for the Penguins:

1. Tyler Bertuzzi

Wad up the cash and pay the antagonistic, big-game-loving scoring LW. Bertuzzi has not perfectly fit with the Boston Bruins, and in the playoffs, his line assignment has changed more than his socks.

That should only serve to keep his price in check. And the Penguins should be camped out with lawn chairs and coolers, waiting for his eventual free agency.

If the Penguins’ new GM could find a path for both Zucker and Bertuzzi, even better (there are a few paths, including being three-deep at LW).

Bertuzzi, 28, scored 16 points (4-12-16) in 21 games after the Bruins acquired him from Detroit near the NHL trade deadline. Injuries caught him over the last two seasons, but he potted 30 goals in 2021-22.

The price tag could rise to $7 million, but that’s because he’s probably worth it.

2) Evan Rodrigues. 

A third-line center with a bit of offensive pop. His scoring is more streaky than consistent, but he was a prime playoff performer for the Penguins against the New York Rangers last May. He’s been pretty good in Round One for Colorado vs. Seattle, too.

He’s a scrapper. The Penguins could use a few of those, too, and his ability to provide competent play and offense from the third-line center role is a huge selling point. And he’s right-handed, a quality the Penguins valued about Jeff Carter for faceoffs and lineup balance.

After scoring 39 points this season, if the Colorado Avalanche don’t lock him up, the Penguins should send a fruit basket with an apology note for letting him go the first time and an armored car with cash. His reported ask last summer of three years and $10 million would have been a far better signing than Kasperi Kapanen at nearly the same price.

3. Noel Accairi

Crash and bang, little ball of hate center or wing. He doesn’t bring enough offense to be a long-term 3C, but as a right-handed shot, he could easily take the wing on the third or fourth line, as well as a fourth-line center.

Pairing his energy and physicality with Ryan Poehling on a fourth line with Drew O’Connor might turn into something special.

The Toronto Maple Leafs paid full price plus tip for Accairi and Ryan O’Reilly before the NHL trade deadline. The Maple Leafs may finally advance to Round Two for the first time since the Iraq War, or jobs are about to be lost.

Accairi’s lack of offense will keep his price in the affordable range, probably under $2 million.

4. Ivan Barbashev

The other former St. Louis Blue is set to hit the NHL free-agent market. Barbashev has an edge to his game and scored 16 points in 23 games after the Vegas Golden Knights acquired him. This season, he had 182 hits, too.

Barbashev, 27, made over $2 million this season and figures to get a raise but not an excessive pay bump. There will be bidders for his services, and the center/LW would fit nicely in Pittsburgh.