The NHL’s free agency period is a little less than 24-hours away. To be blunt, this summer’s cast of available players is largely weak and will likely cause teams to overpay for less-than-optimal talent. Pittsburgh Penguins’ general manager Jim Rutherford is seemingly approaching tomorrow’s frenzy with caution, at least, that’s according to what he told TribLive’s Jonathan Bombulie.
The Penguins — according to Bombulie’s report — are nearing a trade for their third line center position left vacant by Nick Bonino, who’s sure to sign with a new club as free agency begins Saturday at noon. But their fourth line center spot is still a crapshoot with little organizational depth in that regard, especially with the departure of Oskar Sundqvist. There are options on the market such as Brian Boyle and Martin Havlat, among others, but are they looking for fourth line duties? Can the Penguins afford them, considering the offers they’ll receive elsewhere in this summer’s market?
The Florida Panthers may have solved that dilemma for Pittsburgh this afternoon, as Jussi Jokinen was placed on unconditional waivers in order to buy out his contract.
Somehow, Jokinen continues to fly under the radar of NHL general managers. Yet, even at age 34, he’s a highly effective player that can play center or wing. Pittsburgh fans will remember his time alongside Evgeni Malkin, when he netted 28 goals and 68 total points in 91 regular season contests and added 13 points in 21 playoff games. The Penguins acquired Jokinen for a conditional seventh-round draft pick from the Carolina Hurricanes in 2013 and the conditions weren’t met, which means the Hurricanes received no compensation.
A testament to how undervalued he is as a player but that transaction is concerning since, well, Rutherford was Carolina’s GM at the time. Does he still feel the same? Consider how Jokinen stacks up with Bonino in recent seasons…
Both players had talent accompanying them for much of the last two seasons. Bonino is most known for centering the infamous HBK line with Carl Hagelin and Phil Kessel flanking him, and Jokinen primarily played alongside two talented youngsters in Florida, Vincent Trochek and Reilly Smith. Their production is very similar, though Jokinen holds an advantage in primary points. Jokinen will likely be available at bargain basement pricing and truthfully, the Penguins will see very similar numbers and impact with him on the ice, as compared to Bonino.
But we’re talking about a fourth line role. Depth down the middle is crucial — as Pittsburgh has proved year-in and year-out — and having a guy that you can elevate when needed or shift to wing is extremely beneficial.
Obviously, things can change on a dime and depending on how the cards fall when free agency opens, Jokinen’s price may actually rise. But if he’s available for a cost similar to what Pittsburgh paid Matt Cullen last season, this is a no-brainer and will prove to be extremely beneficial for a team lacking NHL-caliber centers.