Connect with us

NHL Free Agency

Dubas and Sullivan Agree, Cheap & Fast Free Agents to Watch



Pittsburgh Penguins potentials, NHL free agents, Noel Acciari

President of hockey operations Kyle Dubas and coach Mike Sullivan appear to agree, at least in principle, on the primary changes needed for the 2023-24 Pittsburgh Penguins.

With over $20 million in salary cap space, the Penguins don’t need to make more roster changes to afford a complete lineup. No, they don’t need more or significant changes, but they should want them just the same.

As a baseline, we’re looking at the easy changes and additions.

Friday, Sullivan confirmed that adding speed would be “plausible.” He also specifically cited adding more speed as the immediate and clear need to improve the Penguins’ roster

“I think that’s an aspect we can improve. There’s lots of other areas that I think we’ve looked at … but if I were to point to one aspect, I think that’s an area we could look to improve,” Sullivan said Friday.

The situation both Sullivan and Dubas face is having $20 million in cap space, needing five forwards, a top-four defensemen, and a starting goalie.

There are numerous ways to configure the roster puzzle without nuking the lineup (though many of you wouldn’t mind a thorough cleansing) or affixing high draft picks to otherwise untradeable players such as Jeff Carter or Mikael Granlund.

Penguins Forwards

However, the possibility of spending future capital on fixing the present by moving Carter or Granlund also exists. With that $20 million, we’ll assume the Penguins will re-sign restricted free agents Drew O’Connor and Ryan Poehling. Salary estimates for both could be between $1-$2 million. As a placeholder, we’ll use a $3 million total.

Both O’Connor and Poehling can skate; Poehling registered the fastest speed of any NHL skater this season. So, the real-life salary cap total comes down to about $17 million, needing three forwards and a top-four defensemen, and a goalie.

Editor’s note: the original version of the story indicated the Penguins needed four defensemen. That was a typo which should have read a top-four defenseman.

There is the matter of Jason Zucker. If the Penguins let him walk via free agency, they will need a top-six forward. Finding one who can skate, forecheck, and pull center Evgeni Malkin into a straight-line game rather than a sideways thrust would help tremendously, but those types aren’t cheap.

Penguins Defensemen:

If Sullivan and assistant coach Todd Reirden are comfortable elevating Marcus Pettersson to the top pairing with Kris Letang and speedy young defenseman P.O Joseph to the second pair with Jeff Petry, they need only a third-pairing defenseman to round out their blue line.

Preliminary UFAs to Watch

Speed. Granlund doesn’t have it. Jeff Carter doesn’t have it anymore. What those two do have are contracts for next season. However, the Penguins realistically have three forward spots to fill, barring a shocking trade.

With a nearly set top-six capable of big offensive numbers, the Pittsburgh Penguins don’t need big-money third liners. There will be affordable bottom-six speed on the free agent market, though a few desperate teams could inch up the price beyond what we consider affordable.

Watching the Vegas Golden Knights charge toward a Stanley Cup, their bottom six is made of castaways, who skate, hit and forecheck as well as any group in the league, but it would be asking a lot to entirely revamp the entire Penguins roster in the next five weeks. We’re starting small at the moment.

Fast Bottom-Six Possibles:

*Noel Accairi

Dubas acquired him in Toronto near the NHL trade deadline. The little wrecking ball was an astute get for a team that needed an infusion of grit.

A current NHL player praised Dubas’s acquisitions of Ryan O’Reilly and Acciari to PHN, “They played the right way. They didn’t last year,” the player said.

In Game 2, Round Two, Acciari racked up 10 hits. He’s fast, can play center when needed, and hits everything that moves. He’s Brandon Tanev at a lower cost and with more versatility.

*Jesper Fast

After seven years with the New York Rangers, Fast spent the last three in Carolina. He seems to be a strong candidate to re-sign in Carolina, but they again fell just short of a Stanley Cup. Their offseason plan is still being formed. If he becomes available, the 31-year-old is a speedster with 29 points (10-19-29). His expiring contract carried a $2 million AAV.

He could be the next Carl Hagelin type with the Penguins.

The Rest:

Of course, as we scrape the barrel, we’re guestimating who will be available and extrapolating their potential fit. A team can take on one or two of these players, not several.

*Colin White (an RFA with arbitration rights who could become a UFA if the Florida Panthers decide non-tender him due to cap concerns) is a speedy bottom-six winger whom the Ottawa Senators lavished a six-year contract upon after the 2018-19 season when he had 41 points. The hefty contract was worth $4.75 million per season, but they bought him out after his numbers dropped and injuries rose. He made $1.2 million this season with Florida and scored 15 points in 68 games.

He can also play center.

*Nick Bjugstad seemed to return to his old form with the Edmonton Oilers. He was quick and effective with Edmonton in the playoffs, even playing as their second-line center when coach Jay Woodcroft put Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid together.

And before you howl at the possibility of Bjugstad (even I did upon writing his name), his analytics jumped significantly last season. His teammate Corsi, which is comparing playing with and without him, was largely positive and significantly so. Defenseman Jakob Chychrun saw a seven-point increase with Bjugstad on the ice; the pair neared 56% Corsi on the atrocious Arizona Coyotes. Bjugstad also elevated Mattias Maccelli by seven points into plus territory. In Edmonton, Bjugstad was a mixed bag as they sought to find his lineup niche, but he elevated frequent linemate Mattias Janmark by 10 points from a 40% Corsi to 50%.

He played significantly better in the playoffs than you remember, I promise. He made only $900,000 this season.

Stats are according to

That’s merely a preliminary list. Others, such as Janmark, Zach Aston-Reese, and Sam Steel, might also be available.

You know Aston-Reese and his defensive prowess. Later in the season, Toronto media began to discover the “hidden gem” who signed a PTO with Toronto to attend training camp. He had 10 goals and 14 points. Steel is only 25 and still working to find his niche in the league. The former Anaheim Ducks first-round pick and possibly former Minnesota Wild forward has the type of wheels the Penguins want. He had 28 points but only 46 hits in 65 games.

Those aren’t sexy names that will draw headlines, but they are the type of players that would quicken the Penguins’ bottom lines, add some defensive prowess, penalty killing, and especially in Accairi’s case, physicality. More importantly, they would also be affordable.