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The RW Free Agent Market: Who Fits the Penguins, Who Can they Afford?

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NHL trade chatter, Pittsburgh Penguins, Rickard Rakell

The retooling, rebuilding, or refortification of the Pittsburgh Penguins middle six has begun or will begin in July. The uncertainty stems from the excessive number of unsettled spots and unsigned players.

Evgeni Malkin? Rickard Rakell?

Will Jason Zucker be healthy enough to play next season or be able to correct this seemingly ongoing (chronic?) injury? After an offseason of doctor’s work, can he return to the player he was?

Kasperi Kapanen and Danton Heinen are RFAs with less than guaranteed chances to return to the Penguins. That leaves Jeff Carter as the only standing member of the Penguins’ middle six.

If Malkin returns, the Penguins will need a RW for him. Or for Sidney Crosby, if recently re-signed, Bryan Rust plays with Malkin.

And no, Crosby does not get to pick his linemates. Nor does head coach Mike Sullivan punish Malkin by giving Crosby all the good wingers, and no, Sullivan doesn’t keep giving Malkin the good wingers to prop him up.

I knew those ideas would be in the comments section, so best to address them now.

The RW market has some talent, but there is a steep drop–we’re talking Evil Kneivel-like jump–after the top handful of UFA right-wingers.

Teams have another six weeks to re-sign their players, and one of the top RWs is still playing. Based on the Penguins’ salary cap structure, we’re currently guestimating about $4 million to fill the second-line RW spot. That puts the Penguins on the low end of the spectrum, but hockey players aren’t dumb.

Could a top-shelf RW take a short deal with the Penguins to pad their numbers if the market isn’t what they want? There’s one possibility there.

Rickard Rakell upped his value significantly with his time in Pittsburgh, too.

Top 4 RW UFAs, Who Could Fit the Pittsburgh Penguins?

5. Phil Kessel. 

No. Just kidding. Stop it!

4. Valeri Nichushkin, COL, $2.5 million AAV

Great skater. Good hands. Hugely inconsistent career. He scored just 10 goals in 52 games last season and 13 in 65 games with the Dallas Stars the year before that. He exploded for 25 goals this season with the juggernaut Avalanche top-six. Perhaps his spotty past will keep the price down (it should), and if Joe Sakic doesn’t re-up the Russian winger, perhaps he could be a good get in the $3.5-$4 million range.

3. Nino Niederreiter, CAR, $5.5 million AAV

The zippy Carolina winger is 29-years-old and routinely fills the net against the Penguins. He is a tad overpaid but is a solid middle-six winger with modestly good hands. He knows how to score near the net and between the dots. He’s a good skater and 20-goal seasons are not uncommon. He scored 24 this year.

At $5.5 million, no chance, no way. Niederreiter is not at that level, nor is he much of a special teams player. The flip side is he scored 18 goals at 5v5 this season.

In the $4 million range, he’s an easy grab.

2. Ilya Mikheyev, TOR, $1.65 million  

Another Russian? In the years we’ve been doing this, we usually have to seek out Russians to pair with Evgeni Malkin. Mikheyev has been way up, way down, and way up again.

He’s 6-foot-3 but only 195 pounds. He’s not going to add the physical jam to the Penguins lineup, but he’s got silky hands. The 27-year-old came to the NHL from the KHL three seasons ago. He posted 23 points in 39 games in his rookie year but only 17 in 54 games during his second season.

Unless Toronto GM Kyle Dubas can shed significant salary before the free-agent frenzy, Mikheyev will probably become a UFA. This season, he scored 21 goals, including four shorties–more than the Penguins team combined.

He shoots a lot. The winger ripped 147 shots in 53 games.

So, he can score. He can kill penalties. But he’s also disappeared for long stretches. Buyer beware. His $1.64 million AAV expires this summer, and he could be the bargain option in the $3 million or less category.

1? Reilly Smith?

He was hurt much of last season as he suffered knee issues. In 56 games, he scored 16 goals and 22 assists. The Vegas Golden Knights probably make the playoffs if he were in the lineup down the stretch.

VGK has jettisoned most of the original misfits. Will they pony up to keep Smith? He is a solid scoring option when healthy and kills penalties. In fact, Smith is a shorthanded weapon.

He probably goes for more than $5 million. The player would fit well with the Penguins. The contract will not. However, perhaps the Penguins can get a Mike Hoffman sweetheart deal.

1.  Rickard Rakell

After the Pittsburgh Penguins acquired Rakell, 29, from the Anaheim Ducks for Dominik Simon, Zach Aston-Reese, and a second-round pick, Rakell flourished. He showed hockey sense, hands, and an ability to create offense for Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and finish the play.

It looks like a match made in heaven, but other GMs carrying their owner’s wallets may get a say. Rakell may have been lost in the shuffle while playing in Anaheim. New York Rangers defenseman Ryan Lindgren’s flagrant elbow removed Rakell from most of the Penguins Round One series against New York, but the fit is undeniable.

Rakell slumped with the rest of the Anaheim Ducks. As talent dissipated, so too did his numbers. This season, he had only 28 points in 51 games with Anaheim. He had 28 in 52 the season before.

He showed his best with the Penguins.

My colleague Dave Molinari did a Rickard Rakell breakdown and salary possibilities. I like him at $4.0-$4.5 million with term, but a rival GM could come calling with money in the 5s and term.

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Pittsburgh Hockey Now Editor-in-Chief, formerly 93.7 The Fan, Sportsnet Hockey Tonight, NHL Home Ice. Catch Dan tweeting @theDanKingerski and the official @pghhockeynow account.

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Keith Thomas
Keith Thomas
2 months ago

Interesting, It is without question difficult to know what the GM’s plans are with respect to any position at this point. Everything is so fluid, but the bottom line is the mgmt needs to have a clear boundary on what they will pay out to keep Letang/Malkin/Rakell. If none are under contract come the deadline it throws things into significant uncharted territories. Knowing that, they also must have a strategy for upgrade if any/all of those players bolt elsewhere. On top of that, the solutions may not come in the form of UFA but may well come through trade options….… Read more »

TheAccountant
TheAccountant
2 months ago
Reply to  Keith Thomas

The Pens don’t need jam, all they needed to make it to round 2 is a goalie. They played great D and scored enough to chase the expected vezina winner several times. Forced game 7 with a third string goalie.

It would be great if they could keep the band together. Kap would be cheap to keep, we should get him killing penalties with that speed.

The secondary scoring had a dry spell all at the same time but was there in the playoffs.

Keep it going for the next few years with a reliable backup for Jarry.

Jay95
Jay95
2 months ago
Reply to  TheAccountant

I’m with you. New York looks REALLY good and the Penguins outplayed them most of the series. Kapanen will have to take a salary cut so I’d definitely tender him. Heinen is restricted too so I’d do the same. Plus, this is Hextall…he’s maticulous in every way. If something falls thorough we know that he has plenty of plans in place. And, this team, as built, is one of the hardest forechecking teams in the league. They hound defenders like crazy. There will be a couple of changes, but I’m guessing that Hextall likes his chances with most of these… Read more »

Geo Svaranowic
2 months ago
Reply to  Keith Thomas

Keith,
Difficult to know what the GM’s plans are with respect to any position, and then also figuring out Hextall on top of THAT is like rubics cube! Certainly Sid has laid it out to Hextall so Ron has an idea of which direction to go…

Tom
Tom
2 months ago

Dan,
Ilya Mikheyev – 2.85 @ 7 yrs
Andreas Athanasiou – 2.75 @ 6 yrs
Rickard Rackell – 3.75 @ 8 yrs

As you can see, I’m hoping term compensates for a higher cap hit per year.

I know we might be able to add one, two, or none at all.

Might be wrong on some of those suggestions but gauging what you think?

Last edited 2 months ago by Tom
Jay95
Jay95
2 months ago
Reply to  Tom

You never offer role players term. That’s why Hextall let Tanev go. Rackell is the only player on that list that may be worth 4 years…and possibly receive a 5th to lower cap. The other 2 shouldn’t get more than a 2 year deal max.

Geo Svaranowic
2 months ago
Reply to  Jay95

Jay is right. Role players are such because they are 2 dimes a dozen.

Jay95
Jay95
2 months ago
Reply to  Geo Svaranowic

Yep! It’s why we can’t sign either Erod or Heinen for more than 1.5 – 2 mil or more than 2 years. Roll player’s production usually elevates and declines based on the roll that they’re given (why I regret to them as role players), but have a certain ceiling. Of the guys listed in the article, and on this post, only Rackell and Niederreiter are true top 6 forwards. And, if we look at the available centers, only Trocheck is a true top 6 center. It’s why Malkin needs locked up unless they can pull a crazy trade or can… Read more »

Geo Svaranowic
2 months ago
Reply to  Jay95

Get Vince. Gene is stale as week old bread.

Geo Svaranowic
2 months ago

Kinger says:

And no, Crosby does not get to pick his linemates. Nor does head coach Mike Sullivan punish Malkin by giving Crosby all the good wingers, and no, Sullivan doesn’t keep giving Malkin the good wingers to prop him up.

Kinger is wrong. They don’t call Crosby “The GM” for nothing. Sid dictates what Sid wants. And Sully listens. Nuf said.

Dave Heyl
2 months ago
Reply to  Dan Kingerski

Dan does offering Rachell a no trade clause or a limited trade to teams sweeten the deal enough for him to sign a 3 year $4.5 m deal?

Geo Svaranowic
2 months ago
Reply to  Dan Kingerski

Kinger,
You know better.
Sid is called “The GM” for a reason.
Why on earth do you think Jimmy signed Jack J?? Sid told him to. Training partners.

Geo Svaranowic
2 months ago
Reply to  Dan Kingerski

Kinger,
We lovvvvve your work and insight. Just don’t be so naive. I love Sid as much as everyone, and he’s earned his GM title, but please don’t act a shill.

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[…] Can the Pittsburgh Penguins keep right wing Rickard Rakell? If not, do they hit the UFA market for a […]

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[…] Which NHL free agents might be a fit for the Pittsburgh Penguins and who can they […]

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[…] The retooling, rebuilding, or refortification of the Pittsburgh Penguins middle six has begun or will begin in July. The uncertainty stems from the excessive number of unsettled spots and unsigned players. Dan Kingerski gives the winger options that the Penguins can afford. (Pittsburgh Hockey Now) […]

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[…]  Who Fits Penguins in RW Free Agent Market? […]

Patrick Niederriter
Patrick Niederriter
2 months ago

I think I speak for everybody with my last name when I say that we should absolutely get Nino – pay him whatever he wants for however long he wants, no questions asked.

Daniele
Daniele
2 months ago

Every player that hextall has brought in has been a fit. I think we should let some of GMJR’s final pieces (zucker, kapanen) go and give hextall a clean slate to build the middle 6.

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