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Penguins Q&A: The Off-Season, UFA Targets, Mock Trades

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Pittsburgh Penguins, Evgeni Malkin, Erik Karlsson

One pertinent question encapsulated the entire operation. As we dive into another Pittsburgh Penguins Q&A, one reader put a big bow on everything from the Penguins’ trade possibilities to free agency with a simple query.

“Please define a successful offseason.”

And with that, we have the foundation for everything. The Penguins are in a unique spot that only a couple others have been during the salary cap era. They are old, successful, established, aging, talented, and have some life left in the tank but are falling behind. For the first time since half-past never, the Penguins also have salary cap space to burn.

So, when Kory Indzeoski lobbed that question, it deserved to be the first up.

Great question. We could fill the entire column with this answer. Last summer, president of hockey operations/GM Kyle Dubas wanted to shake things up, so he targeted Erik Karlsson. It was supposed to reinvigorate the Penguins, refresh the locker room, and add one of the best defensemen in the game.

It was supposed to, anyway.

This offseason will be defined not by one big move but by how Dubas positions the Penguins for the future. It’s still Sidney Crosby’s team, assuming he signs a contract on or shortly after July 1, but the five-year outlook is now paramount. Can Dubas put pieces in place to win now, AND ones who will carry the franchise after the core three have faded?

Karlsson is 34 years old and not part of the long-term plan. He was “now.” A successful offseason will be one that makes the Penguins better than they were on April 17, but also one in which the future becomes visible.

Any free agent signing should be a short-term veteran or younger and longer-term. This writer maintains that a player capable of being the second-line center this season or next would be a wise move.

Penguins Trade Hopes and Free Agency

That’s quite a shopping list, BJ! AFP Analytics projects Jason Zucker’s next contract to be three years and $3.7 million per season. At that price, I’m buying and not even reaching for a coupon. That would perfectly dovetail with the Penguins’ current life cycle and make them better.

Tyler Johnson, formerly of the Tampa Bay Lightning and possibly an ex of the Chicago Blackhawks, is an intriguing Penguins free-agent target. He offers lineup versatility, playing center should Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, or Lars Eller be injured, and he can chip in offense from either wing. He’s also become quite a mentor in Chicago.

Johnson’s offense dropped off over the last three seasons in Chicago, but he netted 17 goals with just 31 points this season. There are also the matters of age—he’s 33—and size—he’s 5-foot-8. However, AFP projects him to make $1.7 million next season, which could make him a solid buy-low candidate on a short deal.

The rest? No thanks. Blake Wheeler is probably getting on with his life’s work. Anthony Beauvillier never started. Viktor Olofsson had 15 points in 50 games with the Buffalo Sabres. Goalie Cam Talbot couldn’t cut it with the defensively stout LA Kings, and Martin Jones would be a lovely third goalie option, but no more.

Should they add Martin Necas? Yep. Can they? Nope. The trade cost will be stiff and the Penguins don’t have the available horses for that ride.

Dave Perron. It didn’t work the first time when the Penguins players were in their prime. Why would it work now? He’s 36, and that’s old, even by the Penguins’ standards.

Oliver Ekman-Larsson is an interesting proposition. He skates well, has talent, and can play big minutes on the left side, but he’s not such a good defender and the Penguins have filled their quota on defensemen who are shaky in the defensive zone.

Interested? Sure, why not?

Teravainen scored 25 goals and 53 points this season, and if he can competently play Carolina’s grinding man-to-man defense, he could surely handle the Penguins’ system. However, he’ll cost about $5 million per year on a four-to-six-year deal. He fits, kind of, but the Penguins would need to clear space on their roster—namely Reilly Smith- to make it work within the lineup. I don’t see it as a strong possibility.

Penguins Coaches and Changes

It would fit, given his relationship with Penguins coach Mike Sullivan. However, there are some negative factors to consider. First, there was the short three-year tenure in New York, which included very little success, followed by a brief two-year stint in San Jose, in which there was apparently some level of discord with the players.

Given the negativity with which his San Jose job ended, he might not be the right coach for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, and one could see why Dubas might shy away from the dynamics that would accompany bringing in a close Sullivan buddy to the NHL bench.

Then again, he got the most out of Mikael Granlund, eh? I don’t discount the possibility, but I would go in a different direction.

Here are three names previously published on PHN.

Dallas Eakins. A decade ago, he was the hot commodity as the coach of the Toronto Marlies, leaving to accept the head spot with the Edmonton Oilers. He didn’t last long but lasted much longer as coach of the Anaheim Ducks, from 2019-2023. He’s coaching in Germany right now. Perhaps a return to the AHL is what he needs to jumpstart his career.

Jay Leach remains an assistant in Seattle. He was not terminated with head coach Dave Hakstol, but coach Dan Bylsma just took over, and he may want his own assistants. If Leach is unsure of his future, he was briefly the head coach of the WBS Penguins in 2015-16 following Sullivan’s promotion.

David Carle interviewed for the New Jersey Devils’ head coach position, though Devils GM Tom Fitzgerald admitted he knew Carle wasn’t yet ready for the job. The coach has built a college hockey powerhouse, winning two national championships in three years with Denver. He coached Penguins prospect Tristan Broz, so the Penguins should be familiar with him. If he wants to be an NHL bench boss, perhaps an AHL gig is the next stop.

I’ll toss another name you might know–Jon Goyens. He coached Raivis Ansons and Nathan Legare in the QMJHL after a career coaching Quebec Major AAA. By all accounts, he’s very good with young players and the Penguins have plenty of those on the way. He’s currently doing a lot of media work after an ill-fated stint with troubled Cape Breton of the QMJHL in which he returned the team to the playoffs for the first time in several years. He’s currently serving as a color analyst for the Montreal Canadiens and Laval Rockets. Oh, and his father wrote the book on Mario Lemieux.

And Chris Lazary just won the Memorial Cup with the Saginaw Spirit of the OHL. I really liked their style.

It’s too soon for Fedun to become a head coach. If that’s his next career choice, he’ll need some seasoning behind a bench as an assistant or a lower level.

And lastly…

Fair? Jack Campbell has three more years left on a $5 million deal, and he was banished to the AHL. It will take those picks just to move him. Regardless of sour Penguins fans’ opinions, Tristan Jarry is an NHL goalie. What would the Penguins gain in that deal other than wasted salary cap space languishing in the AHL, a need to spend additional assets to acquire a starting goalie, a late first-rounder, and a newly acquired need for a top-four defenseman?

But I’d love for you to take over a team in my dynasty keeper league!

That’s an easy one. Lars Eller.

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Stanley Kupp
Stanley Kupp
9 days ago

Jarry is indeed an NHL goalie. Just not one the team can count on during crunch time. I’m a former Jarry fan, but I’ve seen enough though I know he isn’t going anywhere this season.

Vittorio
Vittorio
9 days ago

Dan how can you say no to Olofsson? He’s just 2 years remove hitting over 20 goals and your just dismissing him come on now? I got 2 other names for you and everybody else to consider: Jon Drouin and Dakota Joshua. Both wingers are not only cheap but younger than a majority of the Pens Top 6 Wingers.

Eri
Eri
9 days ago
Reply to  Vittorio

Can’t say I’m familiar with Olofsson. Dakota Joshua is an interesting option. I have a feeling Dubas will search for several of these younger, late 20’s players on league minimum deals, which can be waived if need be. Although age is not the only factor, as youth is no guarantee of innovation and age is no guarantee of efficiency. They need the Right players to fit in the Pens system, culture and most importantly with their linemates whether said player is 27 or 33 or anywhere in between. Balancing the AAV and term will be the trick.

Vittorio Di Stazio Jr
Vittorio Di Stazio Jr
9 days ago
Reply to  Eri

Olofsson of Buffalo was injured last season and therefore his numbers went down, but when he’s healthy and that usually means about 70+ games he hits 20+ goals so I’m thinking a 1-2 year deal that is less than 3 million and you have yourself a LW for Sid but do not discount DOC for that spot or even Rusty for that matter(can play either side). Dubas said he wanted to make the team younger well what better way than guys like Olofsson and Joshua to implement that look into the team. Your right in that youth is no guarantee… Read more »

Eri
Eri
9 days ago

DOC & Rust are very dependable and versatile, they could play top line or 3rd and be effective, certainly gives Sullivan options. Maybe that’s the ticket this year, experience down the middle, flanked with youth on the wings to do some of the dirty work and get some more 5v5 goals, especially from the bottom 6. Then give EK65 supreme allied command of the powerplay.

Vittorio
Vittorio
8 days ago
Reply to  Dan Kingerski

The guy has hit over 20 goals twice in the last 3 seasons and your just gonna say no. Okay he fell out of favor with Buffalo but tell me something Dan can you honestly sit there and say that he wouldn’t be able to find success next to Sid should the Pens sign him?

Also thanks for at least being intrigued by the mention of Drouin. I do have 1 more name but I don’t know if it’s really a solid answer: Danton Heinen.

Eri
Eri
9 days ago

DOC – Crosby – Rust Bunting – Malkin – Rakell Arthur Kaliyev – Eller – Puustinen Poulin – Colton Sissons – Acciari Pettersson – Karlsson Sean Walker – Letang Graves – St. Ivany Ludvig Shea Juuse Saros – Ned – Matt Murray – Blomqvist (WBS) Sign Kaliyev to minimum 2/3 year deal Sign Sean Walker for market value, Graves to 3rd pair Re-sign Ned short-term (even tho it looks bleak that it will happen) ; Murray on a league minimum 1 year deal (could be waived to AHL) – you can decide what to do with Saros next year, dependent… Read more »

Robert Shoemaker
Robert Shoemaker
9 days ago
Reply to  Eri

No way the preds make that deal. Trading for 3 underperforming players and giving away your star goalie is a move that i don’t think they are looking to do. Not to mention taking on all that salary

Eri
Eri
9 days ago

Saros didn’t have a stellar year either and NSH may not meet his agent’s contract demands – so that leaves them in a bind, I also believe NSH has a younger Blomqvist type prospect in their system; Sissons, I believe had a little bit more offense this year but is primarily a defensive forward, I think he would be a very good depth option for PIT. NSH could look at Jarry as their guy for the next 2/3 years, he was great for the first half last year and then had his rough patch, but when Guentzel was traded the… Read more »

Robert Shoemaker
Robert Shoemaker
9 days ago
Reply to  Eri

Don’t get me wrong, i would take that trade in 2 seconds. I feel you are undervaluing Saros and overvaluing the pens players in this scenario.

Eri
Eri
8 days ago

Perhaps I am, as a Pens fan I will be bit bias toward PIT – but given the internal and fan frustration with the Pens performance the last 2 seasons it has led to undervaluing our roster players individually. I still say there is deal to be made, even if its just a goalie swap for 2 reasons: NSH doesn’t want to pay Saros the range of Hellebuyck or Bob or future Shesterskin money and wants to get a good goaltender who is under contract for a reasonable AAV for the next few years.

Robert Shoemaker
Robert Shoemaker
8 days ago
Reply to  Eri

Follow up question, Do you think the Penguins would want to give Saros the money and years that he is potentially looking for?

I think not, given that a rebuild is coming and Blomqvist is a year or 2 away from being ready.

Eri
Eri
8 days ago

I understand where you’re coming from. The long answer, yes, if it’s ballpark $7.25 mil X 5 years (M-NTC) and they move Jarry’s contract. NSH may not want to commit that much because even with a rising cap, they have about 12 mil in dead cap space this year and 8.5 dead the following season with other areas of concern. 5 mil for Saros this season would be reasonable and if he gets you to the playoffs, then all is well. In my scenario they (NSH) address LD, top 9 and a starting goalie while adding only a few million… Read more »

Eri
Eri
9 days ago
Reply to  Eri

I guess more people bought Smith and Jarry jerseys than I thought.

Eri
Eri
8 days ago
Reply to  Dan Kingerski

It would be a gamble, but Dubas will have to make some bets – Kaliyev may not be one of them. What do you think of Alex Laferriere (LAK) ? Younger, bigger RW and is still under contract for 1 year – may be able to pry him out of there but the problem, as you know and have mentioned, is a team is probably not going to part with a younger player making less than or around a $1 mil who is on an upward trajectory and regularly contributing. I know we’re not parting with DOC or St. Ivany… Read more »

BJ Johnston
BJ Johnston
9 days ago

Dan I won both my NHL and NFL fantasy leagues this year so yes I’m open to joining your league… my thought was Jarry is from EDM so he wouldn’t decline that trade, if Florida beats EDM in the final I bet they look for another goalie to pair with skinner as a backup… Campbell was a dubas guy in Toronto and if EDM gave us albeit more back then I listed why not take him back and see if he can bounce back maybe Edm retains a couple mil idk 🤷‍♂️ my point is PIT isn’t going to contend… Read more »

BJ Johnston
BJ Johnston
9 days ago
Reply to  Dan Kingerski

Take on a player who has performed well in the hopes he bounces back while gaining assets to do it makes sense in my head… pair him with nedjelkovic or a similar 1A, we have Blomqvist, then sign a hellberg-type #3 and we have a decent 4 goalies

Rob
Rob
8 days ago
Reply to  Dan Kingerski

What concerns me most about your reply to BJs trade idea (besides the condescending tone) is that your are referring to POJ as a top 4 defenseman.

Robert Shoemaker
Robert Shoemaker
9 days ago
Reply to  BJ Johnston

The penguins haven’t given up yet like many of their “fans” have. Whether the front office and players are delusional for thinking that is up for debate. These people are competitors first, entertainers second. Don’t expect this team to throw in the towel completely until Sid is done!

When they completely give up is when they start weaponizing their cap space and selling off their assets.

Last edited 9 days ago by Robert Shoemaker
Steve
Steve
9 days ago

I hate that I missed this week’s Q&A live. Last year, Dan, you wrote this: “ I bet you didn’t know Predators forward Tanner Jeannot was worth five picks and a player. He was going to be on PHN’s list this week, but I never–NEVER–would have projected the price tag.” Rumors abound he is available and makes $2.65 million. Is he a player worthy of a serious look? Surely, Tampa knows they won’t get close to what they paid. Assuming this isn’t a Riley Smith situation and a salary dump, what’s a Jeannot deal going to look like? Should the… Read more »