There were about 40 transactions to begin the 2020 NHL Free Agent Frenzy. By the early afternoon on Wednesday, the total was nearly four times that number and still going. The Pittsburgh Penguins were late to the party, but they eventually got the man GM Ron Hextall said was at the top of their list.
On Wednesday, the Penguins did some light housekeeping by retaining forward Evan Rodrigues on a one-year deal. Hextall then gave a few Penguins fans a purple nurple by bringing winger Dominik Simon back to the organization on a two-way deal. Simon, a Penguins 2015 fifth-round draft pick, became a lightning rod for criticism in his first stint with the Penguins, which ended one year ago when he signed with the Calgary Flames.
Wednesday was a torrent of contracts as aggressive teams reached deals with players before the official 12 p.m start of free agency. The dominoes fell faster than anyone predicted.
Things picked up later on Wednesday afternoon for the Penguins, too. Hextall and the Penguins signed 27-year-old grinder Brock McGrinn away from the Carolina Hurricanes with a four-year, $11 million deal.
“We were really, really busy. I mean, you’re looking at all kinds of angles because if you don’t get player X, you have cap space. And we wanted to be as good as we can without going broke. We’re really excited about having him,” Hextall said of getting McGinn amid the frantic pace. “So he was kind of one of those guys–when we looked at the cap space that we had– Brock was certainly at the top of the list for us that we could fit…”
While Hextall didn’t specifically say McGinn is a direct replacement for Brandon Tanev, who was lost via the Seattle expansion draft, McGinn will fill the role Hextall referred to as “an inside player,” who can bring physicality and do some of the dirty work, including killing penalties.
“We felt like we needed another inside player and Brock’s an inside player that scores goals around the net and block shots and does all the things that you need to do to win games,” Hextall praised. “…He’s got really good energy, and he’s a physical player who plays the same way every night. We just really valued the player. But we also value the intangibles that he brings on a nightly basis and some of the stuff that he’s going to bring into our locker room.”
McGinn is a LW with minimal offensive numbers who figures to slot beside Teddy Blueger, and Zach Aston-Reese moves to the right side. He should add the physical element a little bit of thump to the line.
McGinn’s best offensive season was 30 points (16-14-30) in 80 games during the 2017-18 season.
McGinn upped his offensive production in the playoffs during the last two “storm surges” in Carolina as that team made deep playoff runs. He had four points (3-1-4) in 11 playoff games last season.
Pittsburgh Penguins Goalies
The real purple nurple for some fans, however, regarded the Penguins goaltending situation,
“Casey is back on the ice, so he’s doing well. We certainly anticipate him being at training camp,” Hextall said regarding DeSmith’s recent surgery. “(DeSmith and Tristan Jarry) did a good job for us last year, and we anticipate them both being back.”
You can most likely put to bed the hysteria and trade rumors of the last 24 hours. As PHN and others reported, there was little to no traction or interest by the Penguins in acquiring Vezina winning goalie Marc-Andre Fleury.
That doesn’t lessen the direct comparison for many Penguins fans, but it wasn’t long that many fans thought Fleury was the worst, too.
Hextall declined any chance to comment on Fleury, the trade to Chicago, and the firestorm surrounding that trade, including a possible Penguins trade.
NHL Free Agent Frenzy
Wednesday was itself a wild free-for-all as teams gobbled up free agents with contracts large and small. The final tally on Wednesday will exceed 150 transactions combining trades, signings, and re-signings.
The GMs, after a year of fiscal sanity and calm, went bananas again on Wednesday. A fact that didn’t escape a little sarcasm from Hextall as he tried to improve the Penguins on a tight budget.
“We went into the free agency not having a lot…We would like to tweak some things, and we’re going to continue to monitor the free-agent market to see what’s out there and see if we find any fits that are upgrades for us,” Hextall said. “I was a little surprised that the day today, I mean, with the flat cap and the poor financial year last year–the way things went– we joked with a couple of other GMs that we smartened up a year ago and we got back to our regular selves today. So I was surprised with some of the prices.”
The GMs did go hog-wild, and that put pressure on a few GMs to act. It certainly pulled a few names off the board quickly that otherwise may have lasted longer were gone quickly, including now-former Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Cody Ceci.
Ceci signed a four-year, $14 million deal with the Edmonton Oilers at the start of free agency.
“We wanted to re-sign Cody, but you probably saw the numbers, and there is no real way for us at this point to make that fit.”
After signing McGinn and Rodrigues, the Penguins have just under $3.7 million remaining with a RHD, another bottom-six forward, and a new contract for Zach Aston-Reese still to be added to the cap.
Check Pittsburgh Hockey Now for the latest Pittsburgh Penguins signings and transactions.