The Pittsburgh Penguins have only until Monday, June 25, to tender qualifying offers to their restricted free agents, but Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford does not yet appear to be in a rush.
Sources with knowledge of the negotiations between the Penguins and restricted free agents Riley Sheahan and Jamie Oleksiak spoke with Pittsburgh Hockey Now late Tuesday. Those sources termed the Penguins talks with Sheahan as “just discussions.”
Discussions are not necessarily big news; however, those discussions are significant as they seemingly place Sheahan at the top of the Penguins’ RFA list. Sheahan, acquired from the Detroit Red Wings in October to be the Penguins’ third-line center, was a solid but unspectacular presence. He was shuffled to fourt- line center after the trade deadline acquisition of Derick Brassard.
However, Brassard’s injury and struggle to integrate forced Sheahan into a modified third line role in the Penguins’ Round 2 playoff loss against Washington.
Sheahan, 26, scored 32 points (11g, 21a) in 73 games with the Penguins. He was scoreless in eight games with the Red Wings. Penguins coaches clearly respected his defensive work. Sheahan started a career-low 35.2 percent of his shifts in the offensive zone and posted a 48.1 percent Corsi rating. He also had 46 hits and 46 blocks for the Penguins.
In the playoffs, Sheahan had three points (1g, 2a) in 12 games.
According to NHL rules, because Sheahan played one game as a 20-year-old with the Red Wings but more than 10 games that season with the AHL Grand Rapids Griffins, the year counted as a professional season. The 2018-19 season will be Sheahan’s seventh professional season which means he could be an unrestricted free agent next summer.
Because Sheahan made over $1 million this season ($2.075), the Penguins only need to offer 100 percent of his salary to retain his rights and continue negotiating a new deal, whether for one year or more.
Sources indicated the Penguins have not yet met with or discussed a contract with representatives for Oleksiak, but will meet this weekend at the NHL Draft in Dallas.
Oleksiak, 25, was acquired in December after over five seasons with the Dallas Stars. It’s important to note this season was also Oleksiak’s sixth year, which means the defenseman can declare unrestricted free agency next year despite not turning 27 until December 2019.
Read PHN Extra’s analysis and projections of the Oleksiak situation.
Oleksiak must wait until the weekend to find out where he stands with the Penguins, but the Penguins only need to offer the frequent top-four defenseman $1 million to retain his rights. He earned over $964,000 this season, so the Penguins’ qualifying offer must 105 percent of his 2017-18 salary but per CBA quirk, the offer cannot exceed $1 million.
The offer will be declined, and the real negotiations will begin. If the Penguins and Oleksiak do not come to an agreement, Oleksiak is eligible for salary arbitration.
Oleksiak, 6-foot-7 and 255 pounds, scored only three points (1g, 2a) in 21 games with the Dallas Stars but was more effective with the Penguins. He scored 14 points (4g, 10a) in just 47 games for Pittsburgh, and was a plus-13. The large defenseman also had 138 hits with the Penguins and 53 blocked shots.
Oleksiak was not as effective in the playoffs. He had just one goal and no assists in 12 playoff games and was a minus-2.
Like Sheahan, Oleksiak will be eligible for unrestricted free agency next summer. The deadline for either player to file for arbitration is July 5, but negotiations may take place until the hearing in late July or early August.