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Penguins Free Agency: 3 Big-Name UFAs to Avoid

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Tyler Bertuzzi. NHL free agency, Pittsburgh Penguins

NHL general managers make more mistakes on July 1 than any other day on the hockey calendar. Impulsive or panic moves toss stacks of cash toward players who may have once been worthy or never will be, but GMs stuck in the cage of the feeding frenzy need to improve their team lest they suffer the wrath of ownership or fans. The Pittsburgh Penguins have been there and done that.

With some amusement, one of the best Penguins trades of the salary cap era was born of such regret when the Penguins swapped David Perron for Carl Hagelin, who had just signed a four-year, $16 million free-agent deal with the Anaheim Ducks.

(The New York Rangers traded Hagelin’s rights to Anaheim, where he signed as an RFA, but it’s close enough).

Perhaps we won’t dive into the Penguins’ biggest mistakes on July 1, a couple of which they’re still dealing with. The comments section is better suited for that discussion.

Free agent spending is relatively new to Pittsburgh as the organization didn’t have the capital to spend for most of its existence, and when owner Howard Baldwin let rip, the club was soon in bankruptcy.

However, an occurrence as rare as a solar eclipse is headed this way on July 1. The Penguins will have money to spend.

The rising salary cap this summer, after a few years of a flat cap, will only further spur GMs to spend like they’re on a three-day bender.

In that spirit, big names will be available to the Penguins, and tantalizingly so. Get this player! Get that one! Since it’s only May, the deafening roar of an eager fanbase has not yet begun, but it will soon, and there are a few names to avoid.

3 Big-Name UFAs to Avoid

1. Tyler Bertuzzi, 29 years old

It seems like a minute ago, he was a 40-goal scorer with a chippy game. What’s not to love? He carried on the family legacy from uncle Todd, and the Detroit Red Wings seemed to have a gem.

Correction: Tyler is Todd’s nephew.

However, a back injury slowed him in 2021, and his production has never quite been the same. He signed a one-year, $5.5 million contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs on July 2 but never really got going in Toronto. Despite playing beside Auston Matthews, who scored 69 goals in one of the greatest offensive seasons of the last 35 years, Bertuzzi scored 21 goals with 43 points.

The Bertuzzi name and potential will raise the bidding. A 40-point LW is worth about $5 million, but he will likely command more on a long-term deal. The Penguins would be better off calling an old friend who’s lighting it up in Carolina.

Buyer beware.

2. Nikita Zadorov, 29 years old

A big, physical defenseman.

Again, what’s not to love? He’s 6-foot-6, 235 pounds, and doesn’t mind using his frame to inflict a little damage.

I can hear some Penguins fans already lining up. Interestingly, he has four goals and 10 points in Vancouver’s 14 playoff games while having just 14 points, including five goals, in 52 regular-season games.

However, he’s also maddeningly inconsistent and hasn’t been happy in the same spot for too long. He’s shuffled from Buffalo to Colorado, Chicago, Calgary, and Vancouver.

In a different situation, he’d be a great addition, bringing a needed element to the Penguins’ blue line. Unfortunately for the Penguins, he doesn’t project to be a guy who could play beside Kris Letang or Erik Karlsson—that inconsistency would buckle the pairing.

However, a hulking defenseman with a mean streak coming off a great playoff run? He’s going to get paid.

This has regret written all over it. Someone is going to pay handsomely and give Zadorov a healthy raise over his current $3.75 million salary cap hit signed by Calgary in 2022.

It should not be the Penguins.

3. Jake DeBrusk, 27 years old

A year ago, this writer might have advocated for a trade to rescue DeBrusk from the Boston Bruins, where it seems he has had more trips to the doghouse than Snoopy.

DeBrusk’s name appeared in more NHL trade rumors than Elliotte Friedman.

DeBrusk has teased Boston with gobs of offensive potential and a bit of power-forward grit. After living on former Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy’s bad side, DeBrusk popped last season under coach Jim Montgomery. He finally broke free from the mediocre offensive statistics and scored 27 goals with 50 points in just 64 games.

It was a big year, and the sky was the limit … finally. However, DeBrusk sank right back into his middling statistics with just 40 points this season.

The bet here is that a GM sees the potential and figures beside the right centerman, and in the right situation, DeBrusk is a sure-fire 30-goal guy with 60 points and a beaming toothy smile.

Someone will bet on him, but the greater odds are that he is just a 20-goal, 40-point guy with the potential to be more.

Sure, if the Penguins could get him on a short, “show me” deal like Bertuzzi signed with the Maple Leafs, he could be a fantastic gamble. Slot him on Sidney Crosby’s left wing while Michael Bunting takes the second-line slot, and it could be gold.

But most UFAs hit free agency, hoping for a giant payday. DeBrusk’s cap hit was $4 million this season. That would be the ceiling for that type of gamble.

The Penguins have money to spend, but they don’t have time to waste. Mistakes will only hasten the end of any hope of returning to the Stanley Cup playoffs.

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Robert Shoemaker
Robert Shoemaker
5 days ago

You basically said NO to 3 free agents which a majority of fans in this comments section would like to have. BRACE FOR IMPACT!!

You make valid points. My feeling is, especially after the Graves signing, is that free agency is like a box of chocolates.

I also didn’t think that Bunting would click with the penguins like he did. So there is that.

Bachinga
Bachinga
4 days ago

I 67% agree with Dan…disagree about DeBrusk…would love to see him bang around with Bunting and free up space for Geno…

Robert Shoemaker
Robert Shoemaker
5 days ago

My previous comment isn’t showing up 🤔

Michael Siegel
Michael Siegel
5 days ago

Tyler is Todd’s nephew not his son

Pete
Pete
5 days ago

No no no. Don’t get any big D men. They would interfere with Sully’s system of getting steamrolled if front of your own net!!!

JoJo
JoJo
5 days ago

Who cares who we’re gonna sign, once they come here they’ll play like $hit like everyone does under this $ystem

Bachinga
Bachinga
4 days ago

I believe DeBrusk would be a good fit with Malkin and Bunting…GMKD needs to punt Rakell and undo the last dumb thing Burxtall did that remains…

Bachinga
Bachinga
4 days ago

Wonder who taught him this>?

Would love to see him with Acciari and Eller,,,

https://x.com/HockeytownWpod/status/1790912195989029062

Last edited 4 days ago by Bachinga
GaryK77
GaryK77
4 days ago

Why would anyone think a free agent or traded player work in Pittsburgh? Since the b2b, who has come here and performed up to expectations? I give you Marcus Pettersson. A few (Kapanen, Rakell) have had 1 good season until the Mike Sullivan affect takes hold. We’re now at 7 years and 3 GMs later. Fix the main problem 1st, then discuss free agents.

Matthew Caddy
Matthew Caddy
3 days ago

I would be ok with Bertuzzi…at the right price. But some team will come along and overpay for his services so I don’t see it as a possibility anyway. Totally agree avoiding Zadorov and DeBrusk especially for the salaries they’re expected to get.

Cal
Cal
3 days ago

Disagree on Zadorov, he is exactly what the Penguins need, just turn the beast loose!