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NHL Free Agency

PHN’s Penguins Free Agency Primer; Needs, Criteria, & Salary Cap Space



Pittsburgh Penguins, NHL free agency, Kyle Dubas

The Pittsburgh Penguins will do battle with 31 other teams beginning at noon for the bevy of unrestricted free agents. A few fan-selected targets are off the market, including former Penguins winger Jake Guentzel and Max Domi, but the Penguins have some money to spend.

This year, the Penguins’ parameters are much different than previous years, if not unique to their franchise history in the free agency era, though their needs are not.

President of hockey operations/GM Kyle Dubas has not been secretive about the guardrails guiding the decisions by which he’ll sign the UFAs, officially swearing off the big names on the market who will want term. His budget will swear off those who want term and big money.

Say goodbye to players such as Elias Lindholm, Tyler Bertuzzi, or Jonathan Marchessault, who will command a healthy salary, presumably well above $5 million.

PHN will conduct its annual Live Blog, beginning at 11 a.m., perhaps earlier if the action starts quickly. We’ll also do a few analysis videos on YouTube.

Penguins Free Agency Primer

1. Salary Cap Space: $7.1 million

According to and the soon-to-be-departed CapFriendly, the Penguins have just over $7 million to spend. Instead of trading away salary, Dubas acquired salary to bump up his number of draft picks at the 2025 NHL Draft. The Penguins and St. Louis Blues swung a deal in which the Penguins accepted forward Kevin Hayes with a second-round pick in exchange for future considerations.

The Penguins trade was about short term help and essentially spending $3.5 million to acquire the second-round pick, which seemed to be the going rate after Detroit worked a similar deal with the San Jose Sharks one week prior.

They have 19 players under contract and will need at least one forward (likely from internal competition) and at least two defensemen. Currently, the Penguins have only five d-men, including both Ryan Graves and John Ludvig.

Dubas did not enact any waivers for the purpose of a buyout, so that window is closed. The Penguins will not get a second window because they did not qualify either Emil Bemstrom or P.O Joseph.

2. Free Agent Needs

When the Penguins chose not to qualify P.O Joseph by Sunday’s 5 p.m. deadline, Dubas created a significant hole on the left side of the defense. Reliably, the Penguins have Marcus Pettersson, and … the list stops there.

Graves has five more years on his contract with a $4.5 million cap hit but has yet to integrate himself into the lineup. The 6-foot-5, 220-pound defenseman was a disappointment, and Dubas admittedly couldn’t sugarcoat the situation in his post-season press conference.

So, the Penguins desperately need left-handed defensemen, especially one capable of playing top-four minutes with Kris Letang or Karlsson. Bartender, make that a double.

The Penguins also need middle six scoring. Captain Sidney Crosby carried the team last season garnering Hart Trophy votes in the process. However, the only winger with more than 20 goals was Bryan Rust with 28.

Reilly Smith had just 13 goals, and Rickard Rakell had 15. Third-line winger Valterri Puustinen had just five goals in 52 games in his first major taste of NHL action.

Michael Bunting was a nice addition to the Penguins’ top six after the Jake Guentzl trade, but the team is still a LW short in the top nine. Hayes could be the third-line center or LW, but he scored more than 31 points just twice in the last five seasons. Drew O’Connor filled in admirably on the top lines last season, scoring 16 goals. He could fill the LW role next season, but he’s an ideal middle-six winger.

3. The Dubas Rules

Big money? Nope. Long term? Nope.

“It’s not that we’re going to go into free agency and do nothing,” said Dubas last Friday in Las Vegas at the draft. “We’re going to try to get established guys on short-term deals (who want to) come in and try to help.”

From the horse’s mouth. The following day, Dubas acquired Hayes, who came affixed with a second-round pick next summer, from St. Louis in exchange for nothing. The Pittsburgh Penguins rebuild has begun, but it’s taking place without a demolition.

Instead, Dubas is freeing up all resources in a couple or few seasons for the great turnover. Evgeni Malkin and Erik Karlsson have two years remaining on their deals. Noel Acciari also has two years remaining. Marcus Pettersson, Lars Eller, and Reilly Smith have one left.

Sidney Crosby, 36, also has one year remaining on his current contract and presumably won’t sign a long-term extension either.

“Bringing in one guy on a long-term deal or two guys on long-term deals is not really what we need. We need to make sure that we have the flexibility and the options to bring in younger, hungrier players that can help us get back to where everyone wants to be as quickly as we can,” Dubas said.

“Last year in the summer, we tried to jump-start it in free agency and in trade, and we ended up missing (the playoffs) on the next to the last day of the season again, which is where the team was the year before. So now we need to begin to pivot away from the way that we’ve gone about it and to a more clear cut (method): guys on shorter deals who want to play with good players and play for a good coaching staff in a great city. They’ll be a good option for us if they don’t get what they want longer term.”