After finally acquiring Riley Sheahan, Saturday, the Pittsburgh Penguins appear ready to move on to talented Russian left winger, and Evgeni Malkin friend, Danis Zaripov. Sources with direct knowledge of the situation confirm the sides expect to speak Saturday night and Sunday.
The dominoes finally began to fall, Friday, when the Detroit Red Wings signed hold-out winger Andreas Athanasiou. The Red Wings would not move Riley Sheahan until they signed Athanasiou. The Penguins would not sign Zaripov until they acquired Sheahan.
The stars are finally aligned.
Zaripov is believed to have declined or tabled offers from at least two other teams, in order to wait for the Penguins offer.
The Penguins currently have about $2 million in salary cap space, assuming one defenseman is re-assigned to Wilkes Barre/Scranton and one fourth-line forward would be re-assigned when Zaripov is ready.
Zaripov, 36, is making the move to the NHL because he received a two-year doping ban in the KHL, which also applies to international play. Since the banned substance, pseudoephedrine, is not restricted by the NHL, and Zaripov was not given a chance to testify on his own behalf before receiving the ban, the NHL cleared him for play this season.
Zaripov has been a leading scorer in the KHL, averaging nearly a point per game in the regular season and often over a point per game in the KHL playoffs. He is a four-time Gagarin Cup (KHL championship) winner. The left-handed winger is 6′-0″ and 194lbs, so he is physically suited to the NHL game.
Also, having a friend and supporter like Malkin could be a big boost to both players. Malkin has been pressing lately and has expressed frustration with his play.
Potential Lines with Danis Zaripov
Guentzel – Crosby – Sheary/Rust
Zaripov – Malkin – Kessel
Hagelin – Sheahan – Hornqvist
Kuhnhackl – McKegg – Rust/Reaves
The Penguins could also put Kessel with Sheahan and elevate Hornqvist to be the puck retriever for the Zaripov-Malkin duo. It does seem risky to put similar talent on a line, which could create a defensive liability.
After witnessing another Antti Niemi stinker, Saturday, the Penguins find themselves searching for answers at backup goalie. And, with Daniel Sprong tearing up the AHL, the Penguins have several decisions to make.
Is there enough room for Zaripov? It is also possible Zaripov allows another winger to become a trade chip as the Penguins assess their needs.
We could know quickly.