It was an unprecedented and wild day in the NHL. Day 2 of the draft is typically a race to the airport, and five rounds are completed in three, maybe four hours. As the Pittsburgh Penguins were scouring the world for their fifth and sixth-round picks, Day 2 dragged on for nearly eight hours and, in the process, overlapped the NHL deadline for teams to tender qualifying offers to restricted free agents.
As teams were drafting players, they were also making last second decisions to tender or non-tender players. The non-tendered players become free agents at noon on Friday.
“There were a bunch of guys not qualified today. There’ll be a lot of conversation on those guys,” Penguins GM Jim Rutherford said. “We won’t be in on the big free agents on Friday, but we will be looking at adding more players.”
After the Jack Johnson buyout, the Penguins and Rutherford have about $4.7 million remaining under the salary cap, according to CapFriendly.com. Rutherford previously identified RFA forwards Sam Lafferty and Anthony Angello as players he would sign, but neither is an established NHL player. In Angello’s case, the Penguins likely could slip him through waivers to the WBS Penguins to create as much cap space as possible.
“That’s what we’ve been working on. We talk about a lot of things. Can we strengthen different areas? And, we’re going to have to see where guys and their salaries fall to see who we can fit. We don’t have a lot of cap space, not a lot of teams do,” Rutherford said.
The Pittsburgh Penguins need to settle their blueline with an NHL regular right-side defenseman, and a third-line center wouldn’t hurt, either. We’ll get to the forwards who are newly available, too. The Penguins currently have four lefty defensemen with top-prospect Pierre-Olivier Joseph knocking on the door to be the fifth.
The Penguins only have three righties, including depth defenseman Chad Ruhwedel, who is penciled in as the third-pairing RHD.
There are several NHL players now on the market who could help the Penguins. Right-handed defensemen, to boot.
Potential Pittsburgh Penguins Non-Tendered Free Agent Targets, RHD:
1. Troy Stetcher, Vancouver
Talk about manna from Heaven. The right-handed D-man skates well, moves the puck well, and joins the rush. He’s been a consistent 20-point scorer from the Vancouver blue-line, but, like everyone else, Vancouver is cap-strapped.
Stecher, 26, had a similar career path to Penguins defenseman John Marino. The undrafted Stecher played only a few AHL games after he finished at North Dakota. He joined Vancouver for the NHL campaign, and he stuck around for four seasons.
The rearguard made $2.3 million last season, and he could be in demand as a low-cost, third-pairing option. He could be harder to play against and more consistent, but he is a bonafide NHL defenseman.
The defenseman’s stats sagged a little last season, and he scored 17 points (5g, 12a) in 69 games. However, according to NaturalStatTrick.com, he began his shifts with far more defensive zone faceoffs than offensive zone draws. That stat can mean many things, but one thing it certainly means is that he was thrust into hard minutes and defending.
However, analytics folks should note his Corsi typically resides in the 47% range (which is about the range for which Jack Johnson was vilified).
Stecher had some downs last season, but when re-paired with Alexander Edler, his ice-time and performance again improved (Pairings are so important).
The Penguins should have the money to sign Stecher, but the defenseman should have several suitors. He could earn a raise, which may take him out of the Penguins stratosphere.
2. Matt Benning, Edmonton
This was a head-scratcher. Edmonton could lose Oscar Klefbom for the season, but still cut ties with right-side defenseman Matt Benning.
Benning is also only 26-years-old, was undrafted, and Edmonton is his hometown. The steady-Eddie third-pairing defenseman can be a bit vanilla. He limits mistakes and isn’t going to wow you on the highlight reels.
Perhaps that’s exactly what Rutherford and the Penguins need to counterbalance newly acquired Mike Matheson, who will be the third-pairing left side?
Benning is 6-foot-1, 201 pounds. He’s got the size and skates to play in the NHL. He had eight points (1g, 7a) in 43 games and averaged only 13 minutes of ice-time per game.
It’s always a red flag when a defenseman averages such low ice-time, which means Edmonton coaches were sheltering him. Benning isn’t a long-term solution, but he could be a very affordable NHL capable defenseman who can physically handle the NHL. Perhaps the Penguins see more than Edmonton?
He made $1.9 million last season, and the market will probably force him into a pay cut.
3. Madison Bowey, Detroit
The former prized prospect in the Washington Capitals system will be looking for his third team, but man, can he skate. The lightning-fast defenseman excels in the speed and puck-moving departments. He also likes to get his nose dirty.
Bowey, 25, had 17 points (3g, 14a) in 53 games last season. It’s somewhat surprising that Detroit would cut ties with the young defenseman who made only $1 million last season.
Detroit GM Steve Yzerman didn’t make a cap decision to release Bowey.
PHN believes there is skill to be mined and value to be had with Bowey, perhaps on a two-way deal. If not for the Pittsburgh Penguins tenuous blueline situation, he would be an ideal reclamation project.