Since Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet floated the idea, it seems a good time to look at Tyler Bozak and what the formerly prized pivot could possibly plunder via an NHL payday. The Pittsburgh Penguins will be without a pair of notable centers to begin the season, which leaves a gigantic hole in the lineup.
But that hole should be re-filled in November as Penguins GM Ron Hextall seemed to indicate that an LTIR designation would not be applied to Sidney Crosby, who is out for at least six weeks from Monday, and probably not for Evgeni Malkin, who should return after that.
Hextall poo-pooed using LTIR money to bridge the gap.
“It’s not as easy as it looks. We get to sign a guy to a contract for a couple of months, and then player X comes back, or player Y comes back,” Hextall explained. “But that’s not the way the system works. So we have to be compliant when both players come back. We can’t add a big dollar player here because both (Crosby and Malkin) are going to be back.”
Also, to be eligible for LTIR designation, a player must miss at least 10 games or 24 days. It doesn’t seem that Crosby will miss 10 games, though the Penguins figure to update Malkin’s status in training camp.
Malkin had knee surgery in June. Extrapolating a six-month recovery would put Malkin’s return in December. A four-month recovery could put him back on Penguins ice in October.
So, do the Penguins need Tyler Bozak?
Well, Ummm, maybe?
As attractive as the name is, and the temptation of a shiny new toy, the Pittsburgh Penguins will have four solid centers when Evgeni Malkin returns though the team’s top three centers were born in the 1980s. Ronald Reagan, jellies, Wham!, pegged Bugle Boy jeans, as well as the births of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Jeff Carter.
Also in the 1980s, MTV played music. If you wanted to talk to someone, you had to use a device that hung on the wall with curly chords and a rotary dial-out design.
And the people you called had no idea who was calling, so they answered every call politely. Sometimes, even with formal greetings, like “Hello, the Smith residence.”
Yeah, I’m saying they’re old…at least by hockey standards.
However, neither Bozak nor Carter are tied to the middle. Over the past couple of seasons, Bozak spent time at RW in St. Louis so whippersnapper Robert Thomas could move to the middle. Bozak was red hot on the right side.
Last season, Bozak popped 17 points (5-12-17) in 31 games. It was his best points-per-game average in three seasons with the St. Louis Blues and best since 2017-18 when he was with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Bozak just finished a three-year, $15 million deal, so the prospect of playing for the peanuts, which the Penguins fans may want to offer (PTO, $1 million), is probably a no-go. Actually, it may be a bit insulting.
Pittsburgh Penguins Salary Cap Structure
The Penguins officially have about $121k in cap space, including two goalies, seven defensemen, and 14 forwards. Assuming the Penguins could send two players to the WBS Penguins to remove their salary hits, That opens up about $1.5 million unless one of those is UFA signee, Danton Heinen.
Then the cap space would “balloon” to about $1.87 million.
Bozak, 35, probably wants all of that and more. The Penguins would have to make a corresponding trade to open enough space for Bozak, probably, but he would fit the roster well.
Eric Staal, Travis Zajac
We removed Carl Soderberg from the list. After watching the center in the playoffs against the Vegas Golden Knights and getting input from scouts (courtesy of San Jose Hockey Now, Sheng Peng), Soderberg is at the end of the road.
We also removed, for obvious reasons, Mark Jankowski, Alex Galchenyuk, and Ryan Donato.
That leaves Staal and Zajac.
The New York Islanders might still have a contract or two in the top drawer, and if Islanders GM Lou Lamoriello does, Zajac’s name is likely on one. But he’s still out there, and you can forgive his anemic production with the fish sticks as he was cast as a winger and buried in the lineup. It really didn’t work in New York.
Zajac, 36, is also at the end of his career, according to the scouts who helped our offseason critiques.
The Pittsburgh Penguins could sign Zajac for the short term and use him as a center, winger, 13th forward type. He likely fits the salary cap structure and the couch-cushion change the Penguins can pay.
Staal, 36, is probably a no-go. He just completed a two-year, $6.5 million deal signed with the Minnesota Wild but split last season between Buffalo and Montreal.
The reasons Staal is an unlikely get are two-fold. First, He had 47 points (19-28-47) in 66 games in 2019-20, so he will most likely command a contract that exceeds the Penguins’ pain tolerance. Two, he hasn’t played wing since a short-lived experiment in 2014?
If he has played wing, we couldn’t find any past stories besides the 2014 switch in Carolina.
Staal probably isn’t yet at the desperate stage where he’ll take an opportunity that could last only a month.
Maybe we should re-open the door for Jankowski, eh?