PENS FREE AGENCY BUZZ
As the Penguins brass are still a few weeks away from formulating their off-season plans, Penguins GM Ray Shero has no imminent talks planned with the agent for defenseman Matt Niskanen, the Penguins top restricted free agent.
A source close to the situation told Inside Pittsburgh Sports this afternoon that negotiations between the Penguins and Niskanen’s camp won’t get underway until June.
The Penguins last summer took a similar approach with Tyler Kennedy who at the time was an impending restricted free agent and top priority. Talks didn’t heat up until closer to the draft and Pittsburgh ended up not making a qualifying offer to Kennedy but the two sides struck a deal just minutes before 12:00 p.m. on July 1 when Kennedy would have become an unrestricted free agent.
In his first full season with the team, Niskanen, 25, made great strides in Dan Bylsma’s system, collecting 21 points and a plus 9 rating in 75 games played. By the end of the season, Niskanen emerged as one of the Penguins top-4 defensemen.
Â Niskanen hopes to continue to grow with the organization, an individual said today. Niskanen in the Penguins player exit interviews told the media, “I’m falling in love with this organization.” Pittsburgh must make a $1.75 million qualifying offer to retain Niskanen’s rights prior to July 1 to keep him from becoming an unrestricted free agent if the two sides don’t strike a deal beforehand. Niskanen is eligible for arbitration.
Despite being a pleasant surprise this past season, Niskanen though is best suited for a No. 3 pairing role and the Penguins have to decide where he fits moving forward on the ice and financially as their could be some new faces and cheaper optionsÂ on the blueline next season.
In addition to what do the Penguins do with the struggling Paul Martin and what feasible options might be availableÂ via free agency or trades, the PenguinsÂ have three prospects emerging as NHL ready defensemen next season, highlighted by top prospect Simon Despres who the Penguins are expected to give every opportunity to earn a top-6 spot.
Meanwhile, RFA Robert Bortuzzo who scouts believe should be playing in the NHL is waiver eligible, while Brian Strait also a restricted free agent,Â has emerged as a No. 6/No. 7 type defenseman at the NHL level.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
Here is a rundown of the Penguins restricted free agents this summer and qualifying offersÂ (4 notable players)Â the team must make to retain their rights next month:
D Matt Niskanen – $1.75 million QO (1-way)
LW Eric Tangradi – $726,000 QO (2-way)
D Brian Strait – $605,000 QO (2-way)
D Robert Bortuzzo – $577,500 QO (2-way)
Forwards Keven Veilleux, Cal O’Reilly, defensemen Carl Sneep, Alex Grant, Alexandre Picard, Boris Valabik