Not one to let moss grow under his toes, hours after making a trade and agreeing on a free agent deal, Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford signed Riley Sheahan to a one-year, $2.1 million contract, Wednesday. Sheahan will get a small $25,000 raise next season. Monday, the Penguins declined to qualify the restricted free agent center, which would have made Sheahan an unrestricted free agent, July 1. However, the deal avoids that possibility and the Penguins have locked up their fourth line center.
Rutherford said just a couple hours before signing Sheahan, “I think his number’s going to fall where we thought it was going to.”
“He likes it here, and we trust when he said he understood why we didn’t qualify him,” Rutherford said. “We were in communication the whole time with the agent and him. Yeah, I guess there’s a little bit of a risk, but not a lot.”
The Penguins acquired Sheahan, 26, eight games into this season from the Detroit Red Wings. In 73 games for the Penguins, Sheahan posted 32 points (11g, 21a). Sheahan just completed the two-year $4.15 million contract he signed when he was a member of the Red Wings.
The 6-foot -3, 214-pound center was the Penguins reliable defensive zone faceoff man. He won nearly 55 percent of the draws, started a career-high 64.8 percent of his shifts in the defensive zone and led the Penguins in shorthanded minutes per game (2:41).
Earlier in the day, the Penguins traded winger Conor Sheary and defenseman Matt Hunwick to Buffalo for a conditional fourth-round pick. The move cleared $5.25 million salary cap space. The Penguins promptly agreed to sign free agent Jack Johnson to a five-year deal worth between $16.5 million and $17.5 million.
Sheahan was the beneficiary of playing with talented forwards in January when he began to amass a majority of his points. From January through the end of the regular season, Sheahan scored 21 points in 42 games.
As a third line center, Sheahan was not a good fit. His defensive style and limited playmaking ability left the Penguins wanting more. However, as a fourth line center, Sheahan is a nearly ideal choice. His corner work, ability to play down low in the offensive and defensive zones, and faceoff prowess should elevate the Penguins fourth line from the statistical deadzone it was this season.
A second year in the Penguins system should also increase the pivot’s comfort level. It’s a lot to ask of a player to step into a locker room chasing its third straight Stanley Cup.
After mightily struggling with the Red Wings in 2016-17–Sheahan scored only two goals all season and didn’t score them until the final game of the season–Sheahan may find a home in Pittsburgh. It’s a solid signing which allows the Penguins to focus on restricted free agent defenseman Jamie Oleksiak and filling other needs.