The Pittsburgh Penguins have holes to fill but only a few dollars to do so. The flat salary cap and disappointing conclusion to the 2019-20 season presented more questions than GM Jim Rutherford can address. And Rutherford knows there are some big questions he must answer, sooner or later.
Free agency will begin around Oct. 9, pending the Stanley Cup Final conclusion.
According to CapFriendly.com, the Penguins have about $9.1 million to spend this offseason. They must sign one of their RFA goalies, Tristan Jarry or Matt Murray (most likely Jarry), Jared McCann, Dominik Simon, Sam Lafferty, and Juuso Riikola.
Also, one thing CapFriendly hasn’t factored is the addition of backup goalie, Casey DeSmith, who makes $1.25 million. So, let’s round down to $8 million in available change.
Not everyone will get to stay.
The fastest and easiest way to save money will be to buyout Nick Bjugstad. That would save the Penguins $3.5 million this season, and cost them $1.75 million next season. It’s a give and take, but may work to the Penguins’ advantage as business capital is tight.
The Penguins will move on from Justin Schultz. Rutherford didn’t need to confirm such. His boot to Schultz’s pants in the final press conference of the season was enough. So, the Penguins have a pressing need for a third-pairing RHD.
Let’s be clear, after the top few candidates, the right-handed defenseman market looks more like a flea market than a department store. There may be some values to find, but each choice comes with peril.
Potential Pittsburgh Penguins RHD Targets:
Trevor Daley, 36, Detroit
Daley is getting a little long in the tooth. Daley will be 37-years-old before next season, and three years with the historically terrible Detroit Red Wings could lessen the skills of any player.
Speed, vision, an uplifting locker room presence, and all-around skills made Daley a perfect fit for the Penguins back-to-back championship teams of 2016 and 2017.
Just how much of those skills remain? And as Rutherford tries to shake his team from their sated slumber, will a blast from the past be a good thing, or make matters worse?
Daley won’t be the same defenseman you remember, but for one or two more years, he could be the mobile defenseman the Penguins need on the third pairing with Jack Johnson.
Estimated contract: Two-years, $5 million.
Editor’s Clarification: Daley is a left-handed defenseman, however, he often plays on the right side.
Trevor van Riemsdyk, 29, Carolina
He’s never truly established himself on the stacked Carolina blue line. He’s been one bad play away from the pressbox for a few years, though he has been the apple of some Penguins fans’ eyes for a while.
Van Riemsdyk, 29, can skate, he can move the puck, and he can be physical. What’s not to like? He doesn’t do those things consistently or in tandem, that’s what.
At 6-foot-2, 192 pounds, he has the size and speed to be a reliable, everyday NHL defenseman, but his lack of consistency and sometimes spotty defensive zone coverage left him on the bubble with both head coaches, Bill Peterson then Rod Brind’Amour.
He played in 49 games this season but scored only eight points (1g, 7a). Van Riemsdyk made $2.3 million this season. His age and talent indicate he will get a small raise and term.
As Penguins GM Jim Rutherford has pointed out, on the first day of free agency, you don’t pay your price, you pay the player’s price.
Estimated Contract: Five-years, $17.5 million.
Zach Bogosian, 30, Tampa Bay
The burly defenseman can be a ferocious hitter but leaves his position to make those hits. Bogosian has good offensive instincts and size. Even better, Bogosian likes to play with the puck and knows how to weave through center ice with the puck on his stick.
Injuries have also hampered Bogosian. Buffalo terminated his contract, which carried a $5.1 million contract in February. Tampa Bay scooped him up at a bargain, $1.3 million.
With Tampa Bay, Bogosian scored two points in eight regular-season games, before the pandemic pause. He has four points in 12 playoff games.
Bogosian is a tough call on expected value. Would he sign a bridge deal with a talented team, ahem Penguins, in hopes of regaining his full value?
Expected contract: Two-years, $6 million. But, that’s a shot in the dark.
Another shot-in-the dark: Kevin Shattenkirk, 31, Tampa Bay
The defenseman has lit up the scoreboard in Tampa Bay after signing a bargain-basement $1.75 million contract. The New York Rangers bought him out last August after signing him to a four-year, $26.6 million deal on July 1, 2017.
The guess here is that Shattenkirk’s right-handed shot, ability to be a top-four defenseman, and run a power play, combined with past high value, will net him well more than the Penguins can bear. But, maybe not. If he falls into the Penguins range, or if the Pittsburgh Penguins clear more salary, he would be the best target.