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NHL Free Agency

Who’s Left for the Penguins? Remaining Scoring Options



PIttsburgh Penguins news, NHL Trade talk revolves around Patrik Laine. Update.

Vladimir Tarasenko is off the board, and with him went the Pittsburgh Penguins’ best chance to add legitimate scoring into the NHL lineup at a price they could afford.

The Detroit Red Wings signed Tarasenko on Wednesday afternoon to a two-year, $9.5 million deal. Detroit’s offer exceeded the salary cap space that the Penguins have available, and it was for two years, which is one more than the majority of contracts Penguins president of hockey operations/GM Kyle Dubas has dished this offseason.

While it’s true the Penguins could have exceeded the salary cap by up to 10%, such a move would have effectively nullified their ability to recoup assets for whatever trade chip Dubas decided to use, or it could have put Dubas in a position to spend precious assets making a move.

Just to be clear, acquiring future assets is the name of the game this summer. Dubas isn’t going to put himself in a compromising position in the immediate that could detract from the future.

That’s the new Dubas edict. He spent assets last summer but will not this summer, and that’s the cost of a largely abysmal season that ended in April.

However, the Penguins still need a bit more scoring, lest their third line become Anthony Beauvillier–Kevin Hayes–Valtteri Puustinen.

Popular as Puustinen may be, he had only 20 points in 50 games, and the coaches needed to send a few messages along the way. The other pieces of the line are castoffs from bad teams that cannot or should not, be expected to provide more than 30 points if given a full-time third-line role.

The Penguins can upgrade the scoring, but slim pickings are remaining on the UFA market.

Remaining Penguins Potentials

Patrik Laine

Laine, 26, can score. The rest of his game may be suspect, but his wrist shot can light more lamps kerosene. He’s had a rough go in Columbus, and all involved agree it’s time for a fresh start.

He’s not a free agent but will be readily available via trade.

Laine has not yet been cleared by the NHL/NHLPA player assistance program, so any trade talk is premature until doctors say he has completed the program. Still, when he receives clearance, both the player and the organization agree that a fresh start is needed.

Despite Laine’s on-ice struggles, he still potted 51 goals in his last 129 games over three seasons.

Imagine Laine, who poured in 40 goals with some pretty good centers in Winnipeg four seasons ago with a clear head and motivation. Based on social media and writings, the belief from Columbus media is that new GM Don Wadell will need to affix an asset to Laine to make the trade.

Perhaps the Penguins are the team that takes the chance on Laine without the draft pick but merely sends back an unwanted salary of his own. Or, Dubas gets both. The market for Laine isn’t yet known, but Laine could be what both coach Mike Sullivan and Dubas termed as “something shakes loose.”

Read More: Dubas and Sullivan on the Penguins future; Free Agent strategy.

Tyler Johnson

Johnson is the only remaining free agent who might be able to score 20 goals without frequently tempting Sullivan to serve him plates of press box nachos.

Johnson has a pair of Stanley Cup rings from his time with the Tampa Bay Lightning but has played the last three seasons with the rebuilding Chicago Blackhawks. He’s well respected inside the room and one of the more important players on the team, but the team is moving forward from the 33-year-old forward.

Johnson, who is only 5-foot-8, scored 17 goals last season and can play both center and right wing.

3rd Tier Options

Perhaps the Penguins would be better off not signing anyone rather than dipping into the third-tier choices, but here they are:

Daniel Sprong

Sprong was the Penguins’ 2015 second-round pick, and his absent defensive game had no place in the Penguins’ Stanley Cup contender lineups. Former GM Jim Rutherford deftly rescued the situation by swapping Sprong with the Anaheim Ducks for Marcus Pettersson.

Sprong, 27, was re-signed by the Detroit Red Wings and will play for his fifth team in seven seasons. However, he had 18 goals and 43 points in 76 games. He’s now the highest-scoring winger on the UFA market but probably won’t command a raise on his previous $2 million salary.

Could the Penguins have Sprong as a power play and bottom-six scorer, using him as Puustinen insurance?

Kailer Yamamoto

He’s talented. Connor McDavid’s former linemate was a polarizing prospect because of his top-shelf talent but diminutive size. He’s 5-foot-8, 153 pounds.

He has had one 20-goal season (2020-21), but he has otherwise been a player who scored about 20 to 25 points. Last season with Seattle, he had only 16 (8-8-16).

Former Penguins winger Alex Nylander is also a UFA after Columbus punted despite him scoring 11 goals in 23 games with the club. However, given the frustrations from both sides, which led to a late-season trade in which Dubas gave up Nylander and potentially a third-round pick for Emil Bemstrom, a reunion seems less than unlikely.