UPDATE 3 p.m.: Defenseman Andrej Sustr and winger Anthony Duclair were snapped off the market within hours of each other Thursday afternoon. Sustr will make $1.3 million with the Ducks in 2018-19, while Duclair will make the minimum ($650,000) for one year in Columbus.
Both players have been connected to the Penguins at one point or another. The Penguins had interest in signing Duclair before the free-agency period begun, while Sustr attended the team’s development camp in 2012 before signing with Tampa Bay.
My original report from Thursday morning is as follows …
The big names are almost all off the board after the first four days of NHL free agency. Maybe the most recognizable of those, Rick Nash, is still deciding whether he wants to continue playing at age 34.
As far as unrestricted free agents go, that doesn’t leave much in the hopper. Out of the remaining UFAs who had the 20 highest cap hits last season, only Tyler Ennis (28 years old) is under 30, and he’s coming off a 22-point season that precipitated the Wild buying out his contract.
Yes, the pickings are slim, but for a team like the Penguins, they’re probably not looking to add much if at all after the twin signings of Jack Johnson and Matt Cullen. Jim Rutherford has about $2.8 million in space under the NHL’s salary cap with which to work, which leaves room for perhaps one more addition.
(The ongoing negotiations with restricted free agent Jamie Oleksiak complicate matters, but let’s assume he’ll get something in the ballpark of $1.5-2 million per year, no matter the term. Also, right winger Jimmy Hayes is on a two-way deal that would pay him less in the American Hockey League, so there could be more wiggle room than there appears.)
Pittsburgh Hockey Now reported last week that the Penguins had interest in free-agent winger Duclair, who spent 2017-18 with the Coyotes and Blackhawks. Click the above link for more on the 22-year-old Duclair, but rest assured he should command somewhere around the $1.2 million he earned last season. Less would be preferable, considering the cap crunch, but PHN hasn’t heard anything to indicate the Penguins have moved on.
For his bargain-basement value and his speedy, skillful style of play, Duclair apparently would fit well with the Penguins, who have a need on left wing that Rutherford is also trying to address via trade. Perhaps Duclair could be a backup plan should either Jeff Skinner or Max Pacioretty not pan out.
Another option that makes some sense is former Lightning defenseman Sustr.
At 27, he’s the youngest defenseman still out there among those who made more than $1 million last season. A negative shot-share player for much of his tenure in Tampa Bay, Sustr actually lifted the Lightning’s level at even strength last year when he was used in a more limited role, getting just over 12 minutes per night in 44 games.
Sustr isn’t a huge contributor to offense, with just 10 goals and 53 assists in 318 NHL games, but he is a huge human being. At 6-foot-7, he’d match Oleksiak for size, if not physicality. Sustr could be a bit of a project, but he would also flesh out the Penguins’ blue line depth and give them an additional right-handed option.
Trade remains the Penguins’ most likely avenue for further roster augmentation this summer, but don’t rule out a trip to the bargain bin. Duclair and Sustr are cheap enough to fit that description, in addition to being young enough to still promise some untapped upside.