FREE AGENCY OUTLOOK
The Penguins enter free agency with uncertainty due to multiple failed trade attempts in recent days and dead weight still on the roster.
Pittsburgh has around $10.9 million in cap space, 15 players committed to next season.
The Penguins remain active in trade talks to try to land a top-6 winger and are continuing to explore some trade scenarios to create cap space/roster flexibility but have been unsuccessful to this point and it only gets more difficult to move salary after July 1.
Will Jim Rutherford get desperate and overpay when the clock strikes noon for a Justin Williams or Joel Ward, or get into the mix for Michael Frolik who executives believe could land a deal of 6 years, $30 million?
Or will the Penguins stick to their original plan of only dipping into free agency to sign depth forwards at a good cost like last summer?
For an organization that lacks direction and a plan, everything is going to be on the table, as those who work under Rutherford sometimes have no clue what the plan is on a day-to-day basis. They very well could make a splash today, based on players they’ve talked with. The Penguins focus, though, needs to be attacking free agency like last year on July 1, signing depth players to 1-2 year deals at a low cost and continuing to focus on trying to add a top-6 winger via trade.
It is an extremely weak class when it comes to top tier talent but it’s a market where the Penguins should be able to find value for bottom-6 or third line skilled players.
I: THE STAY AWAY GROUP
Michael Frolik, 27 years old — Some teams have Frolik as the No. 1 forward on their board. The Penguins are believed to be one of those teams but the Penguins should avoid him by all means because of the price tag and there’s no sense that Frolik is targeting them as a destination as the top players on the market right now pretty much know where they’re going, though, things can change quickly in free agency. Frolik’s agent Allan Walsh is widely believed to be coveting a 5-6 year deal worth at least $5 million per season. Legitimate shot he gets it. Good two-way player, but he won’t look as appealing at $5-$5.25 million per season.
Matt Beleskey, 27 years old — One NHL executive predicted Beleskey will get a 5 year deal in the $27 million range and wouldn’t be surprised if he gets six years. Visited a couple Eastern Conference teams, including the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Penguins are not in the mix, at least they weren’t as of Tuesday afternoon.
Joel Ward, 34 years old — The Penguins have been among nine teams that have shown interest and Ward has a lot of interest in them. He’s likely to stay in the Eastern Conference and get the four years he is seeking. I know the Penguins are willing to go three, very intrigued about Ward, but that won’t get it done.
Justin Williams, 33 years old — There’s been discussions between the Penguins and Williams agent Thane Campbell but the Penguins haven’t given an indication yet whether they intend to seriously pursue Williams who is looking for somewhere in the $4-$5 million range and was seeking a five year deal from the Kings. Many around the league, though, believe the Penguins will make a play for Williams today.
Alex Semin, 31 years old — Six teams expressed preliminary interest. No decision internally from the Penguins has been made on whether to pursue Semin today.
II: DEPTH OPTIONS WORTH CONSIDERING
Eric Fehr, 29 years old — He’s represented by Craig Oyster who is also Brandon Sutter’s agent. Fehr scored 19 goals last season and has drawn heavy interest from Western Conference clubs and all indications are the market will be strong for him. The Penguins have kicked his name around I’m told and there’s been some conversations. He’s versatile, can play center or wing and would give the Penguins size, speed in the bottom-6. A cheaper replacement for Brandon Sutter until Oskar Sundqvist proves he’s ready for the 3rd line center role or the Penguins could play him on Sutter’s wing until they figure out what to do with him. He’s one of the few players I’d go three years for.
Jiri Tlusty, 27 years old — The Penguins have spoken with his agent Rick Curran and Tlusty was already a name linked to the Penguins this past season, as GM Jim Rutherford is very high on the player he had in Carolina, but there’s some reservations from others in the Penguins organization. Not a top target but potential option they might consider today. Tlusty went to Winnipeg prior to the trade deadline instead of landing in Pittsburgh, but the situation may now be ripe for him to come to the Steel City. He is 27 years old and has teetered around the 20-goal mark for much of his NHL career, posting a personal-best of 23 goals in 48 games during the strike-shortened 2012-13 season. But his previous AAV was $2.95 million, putting him on the upper-end of the ideal price range while being on the lower-end of the range of proven-productivity. We’re hearing he’s likely to get a two year deal.
Shawn Matthias, 27 Years old — Versatile, big, strong player who can play all three positions. He had a breakthrough year with 18 goals in 78 games for Vancouver, including 17 even strength goals. His cap hit was a meager $1.75 million AAV, but he only has 69 goals in 408 career games. Anyone that shows the potential to score 20 should certainly should be a discussion in Pittsburgh, but his poor possession numbers cause a level of concern that his season could have been a fluke. Some scouts, though, liked what they saw from him on the wing last season.
Mike Santorelli, 29 years old, — It wouldn’t be a signing that changes the complexion of the Penguins team by any means, but Santorelli is at the top of the Penguins wishlist of depth targets today when the clock strikes noon, Inside Pittsburgh Sports has learned. There’s been several discussions with Santorelli’s agent JP Barry in recent days and Wilkes Barre coach Mike Sullivan who coached Santorelli in Vancouver for a season, has given Penguin officials a strong recommendation on Santorelli. Pittsburgh likes his versatility to play all three positions and playmaking ability on the wing.
Brad Boyes, 33 years old — He’s expected to be able to be had for under $1 million per season on a one year deal after being bought out. Just a year removed from a 21 goal season. Who has a better chance of scoring 14-16 goals next season, Brad Boyes or Blake Comeau? I’d take my chances on Boyes and offer the money the Penguins gave Blake Comeau last season, $700,000.
Patrick Eaves, 31 Years old — Has had an up-and-down NHL career. But 14 goals in just 47 games in Dallas last year is hard to overlook. He is a right-shooting right winger, as well, and only earned $650,000 per year on his last contract.
— Dave Fryer also contributed to this article —