What do the Pittsburgh Penguins need this offseason? Aside from millions more to sign Kris Letang, the team must fill out its forwards crew. There could be significant departures beyond Letang and Evgeni Malkin, as Rickard Rakell is a UFA, they have a pair of RFA middle-six wingers. Also, Jason Zucker’s health is a looming question, and Evan Rodrigues could bolt via the free-agent market.
So, yes, the Penguins will need significant help in the NHL free-agent market. In addition to the expiring contracts, the market could include several players whose teams terminated their contract in the NHL buyout window, which began on July 1 and ends on July 12.
Several names could be what the Pittsburgh Penguins need. As Penguins president of hockey ops Brian Burke mused to our Dave Molinari this week, the Penguins hit on some deals shopping at K-Mart last summer.
The Penguins have Drew O’Connor waiting in the wings to take a third or fourth-line role at an affordable $750,000. Also, GM Ron Hextall mentioned Valterri Puustinen in his season-ending press conference. Puustinen had 20 goals in the AHL last season but was also a minus-15. Maybe not yet for the former seventh-round pick.
Perhaps another blue light special or three can be found, again, in the $1 million range.
**Zach Kassian, Edmonton
The rugged winger isn’t afraid to be physical, nor is Kassian afraid to gently lay his gloves on the ice and discuss things in a less than calm manner with opponents who run afoul of the rules.
Perhaps if someone, anyone, punched New York Rangers defenseman Jacob Trouba in Game 1, he would not have been a wrecking ball in the Round One series? He can play in the corners and the tough areas. He no longer kills penalties in Edmonton but has been part of the PK in the past.
The 31-year-old makes $3.2 million but is a genuine candidate to be a buyout victim this week, thus hitting the UFA market. He would be a solid fourth-line addition for the Penguins.
**Petr Mrazek, Toronto
At first glance, Toronto would be silly to buy out Mrazek, who had a down year in the blue and white. They signed him to a three-year deal with a $3.8 million AAV, and the Toronto Maple Leafs are quite possibly losing starter Jack Campbell to free agency.
Yet there is rampant speculation in the great white north that Mrazek could be bought out. He posted just an .888 save percentage in 18 games last season with a 12-6-0 record. However, the 30-year-old goalie has playoff experience and enough pedigree that Toronto GM Kyle Dubas signed him to platoon with Campbell.
The Penguins could use a backup to Tristan Jarry, who has some playoff experience, yes?
**Patric Hornqvist, Florida
Stanley Cup-winning goal, 2017.
The crazy Viking was relegated to the Florida Panthers’ fourth line. However, in fairness, Florida had a stacked lineup. Few teams could match the talent and depth in the regular season.
The arguments against Hornqvist are easy. He’s 35 years old, he’s not a penalty killer, and the Penguins PP1 is full. He’s neither the best skater nor the most versatile player.
And yet, he could bring a lot back to the Penguins, who traded him for Mike Matheson and Colton Sceviour in 2020. Matheson has reclaimed his best hockey, so it is hard to say the Penguins didn’t win the trade, but Hornqvist helped transform the culture in Florida.
The Pittsburgh Penguins could use a little sandpaper, a jolt of energy, and a third-line winger capable of 15 goals. Hornqvist very well may have that left in him, and if he hits the market, he could be the blue light special that lights a few red lights, too.