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NHL Free Agency

Penguins Free Agency: Middle Six Bargains Edition

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Pittsburgh Penguins, NHL free agency, Jonathan Drouin

LAS VEGAS — The days leading to the 2024 NHL Draft have been quiet around these parts. While the Ottawa Senators and New Jersey Devils got their goalies, and the Chicago Blackhawks were paid a second-rounder to take on Iklya Mikheyev, we haven’t heard a whisper from the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Stealth and steady has been the goal of Penguins president of hockey operations/GM Kyle Dubas’s regime, so there will be no thundering and echoing rumors and waves of reports linking the team to a popular target du jour this summer.

In fact, Penguins fans may want to get used to the quiet, path-less-chosen route. The Penguins simply cannot afford to be in the high-stakes poker games anymore. The Erik Karlsson trade last summer may have been the last great caper for some time.

Even if Dubas wanted, he could not mount a serious trade package for Edmonton Oilers forward Leon Draisaitl. Not even if Dunas included Sidney Crosby could he cobble together a competitive trade offer.

The Penguins are–to use a billiards term–snookered.

So, we’re left to be looking at perhaps one substantial get this summer and bargain supplements. One player many Penguins fans have become keen on is Dakota Joshua of the Vancouver Canucks.

UPDATE: shortly after publishing, Vancouver re-signed Joshua to a four year,$3.25 million annual contract. The story has been edited and a section removed to accurately reflect the news.

Joshua’s brother, Jagger, is in the Penguins organization on a minor league contract. He completed his rookie season this year with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins after a college career at Michigan State.

Dakota Joshua is big (6-foot-3, 205 pounds) and plays with jam while chipping in a bit of offense. Last season, Joshua scored 18 goals with 32 points in 63 games. At 28 years old, it was his breakout year and just his second full-time campaign in the big league.

Vancouver coach Rick Tocchet likes him quite a bit.

“I think there’s another level. (I) really like him. Big kid,” Tocchet told reporters in January. “We need some big players who can play, and he can do that. I told him, ‘You win some wall battles, and you can pay the mortgage for a lot of years in the NHL.'”

Like dry toast, the Penguins’ lineup could surely use a bit of jam, and a 28-year-old player who just completed his second full season wouldn’t ordinarily command a big-time payday. Statistical models put Jagger’s salary in the $2-3 million range.

However, it seems Joshua is going to command a salary that outweighs the contributions.

The Penguins have a curious collection of potential fourth-line players already in place. Prospect Vasily Ponomarev, who was acquired in the Jake Guentzel trade, should be ready. He made his NHL debut last season with the Carolina Hurricanes, and reports indicated there was more to come before the trade. Per Dubas, the Penguins also planned to bring him up from the AHL, but he suffered a significant injury four games after arrival.

2019 first-round pick Sam Poulin, emerging prospect and speedy grinder Jonathan Gruden, and Jesse Puljujarvi are the others who will be in line for the fourth-line spots beside center Noel Acciari.

The Penguins’ needs are scoring in the middle six, and it will not be easy to find bargains.

Warren Foegele, 28

The forward showed very well in the Stanley Cup Final. Perhaps too well to be grabbed on a bargain contract. His three-year contract with a $2.75 million cap hit is expiring, and he had a breakout year at age 28, scoring 20 goals for the first time. The 6-foot-2 204-pound forward would check a few boxes for the Penguins. Size, skating, defensive responsibility, and the chance to chip in some offense on the left side.

He’s been a consistent 12-13 goal scorer and a complete player. Can he keep up the 20-goal pace in the right environment? If the Penguins can snag him in the $3 million range, it would be a solid get.

Stefan Noesen, 31

We included Noesen in a recent Penguins Q&A describing a possible Penguins third line. Since the Penguins lost Noesen on waivers in 2020, he’s re-established his NHL career with a couple of strong seasons with Carolina. Over the last two seasons, Noesen has scored 27 goals and played 159 games.

He might be the best bargain on the market. He made $762,500 last season. He’ll get a nice raise, but something that starts with two seems appropriate and affordable.

Viktor Arvidsson, 31

The winger has scoring touch as evidenced by 59 points with 23 goals in 77 games played in 2022-23. However, he had back surgery last October and was injured a few days after his return in January. Last season, Arvidsson played only 18 games but scored six goals with 15 points.

He had 10 points (5-5-10) in the LA Kings’ final eight regular season games and three assists in five playoff games vs. the Edmonton Oilers.

His contract with a $4.25 million salary cap hit is expiring. If teams are scared off by his injury-filled season, he could become a player who sees the Penguins as a good option for a one-year, “Show me” type deal.

Jonathan Drouin, 29

Despite Colorado Avalanche fans protective feelings toward Drouin who rebounded quite well on a “show me” stint with Colorado, he remains unsigned. Drouin put up 19 goals with 56 points in 79 games after coming to Colorado from a few struggling seasons-personally and professionally–with the Montreal Canadiens.

He remains unsigned despite high-level meetings between Drouin’s agent and Colorado execs. Drouin would provide the skill and offense the Penguins middle six is badly missing.

Will someone give him $5 million plus? Or will Drouin remain one of those players GMs are perennially leary of? If its the latter, Dubas and the Penguins lineup could score big-time with Drouin.