Free Agent Targets
Options on the wing, particularly the left side, are plentiful, if not completely spectacular. To build up the depth of the organization, and fill in the holes/roles left behind by likely free agent departures Matt Niskanen, Jussi Jokinen and Brooks Orpik, the Penguins need to land at least one, if not two or three, of these guys. Otherwise, we're in a situation where we have to trust Jim Rutherford to make skillful trades – not exactly a happy thought given his history. Let's have a look at the potential dance partners, shall we?
After spending the majority of his career with the Islanders, Comeau has bounced around a bit and found himself in Columbus where he is now a free agent. There isn't much of a scoring upside. A small exception, 46 points in 2010-2011, is a lofty expectation. Comeau would probably be best suited for a 4th line, grinding role. But, the price isn't bad.
Morrow was the captain, and essentially the heart and soul of the Dallas Stars for a few years and has already made one stop in Pittsburgh. Opinions of his performance vary. Generally speaking, it seems like Morrow plays well with better line-mates. Let's face it, he doesn't have blazing speed. However, speed isn't what the Penguins should expect from a Morrow signing. Leadership, grit, and a net-front presence would be on top of my list. Morrow is probably best suited for 3rd line duty unless a faster center is playing on the 4th line.
Winnik has bounced around the Western Conference from one team to another, and found himself with the Ducks last year. He put up a career high, 30 points, while there. My opinion on Winnik is that a better player could be had for less money based upon what the players were paid last season. Heck, Nick Spaling came pretty close. In addition, due to the West coast bias, it's hard to image Winnik playing for an Eastern Conference team. But, if the Pens really want to add some depth, and a good grinding type, Winnik could fit the bill.
The only reason Moulson makes the list is due to Pascal Dupuis injury and the thought that it might be nice for the Pens to trade an aging, dinged up player and then upgrade. Moulson seems to be the offensive version of Niskanen this off-season. He may not truly be worth what he'll be paid, but he's still definitely due for a significant raise. Let's be honest, I'm dreaming here. Dreaming is nice though, huh?
After his trade to the Capitals for a 4th round pick, Penner had very little to write home about in his stay on the East coast, and averaging approximately 45 points per year probably won't set off any alarms. However, he is the type of bruising, big body player that the Penguins might need. Much like Morrow, it might be wise to match Penner up with a quicker center, but he's got experience in the playoffs. He's battle-tested. And if his value is only a 5th round pick, I say we snatch him up on the cheap and slot him into the 3rd line with Sutter and a speedy winger like Megna or Gibbons.
Poiliot looks more like an AHL player based upon statistics and career paths. He spent his first three years in the league bouncing between the NHL before making his way to Montreal. After flaming out there, and in a couple of other stops, Pouliot ended up with 36 points in 80 games last year with the Rangers. He's younger than any of the other left wingers on the list, but I'd suggest he's probably the least worthy of a spot on an NHL roster as well.
Rumors around the league have Kulemin already headed to Pittsburgh to play alongside his former Magnitogorsk teammate Evgeni Malkin. And thank God for that. With Jokinen likely moving on and all of the uncertainty and depth issues with the forward lines, Kulemin, who can both score goals and play a physical game, will be a very welcome addition, especially if the salary remains ~$4M.
That's about it when it comes to skilled wingers. Hey, it's been said that the free agent crop is pretty thin this year. All hope is not lost though. We still haven't looked up the middle or on the back end. And, it's grit that the Pens are after this off-season, right? Here's the grit. Neither guy should be anything more than a press box pizza-eater or 4th liner, but they're both definitely nasty. I don't think anything else really needs to be said about them.
Zack Stortini (RW) - ($600K) – Age: 28 – Anaheim Ducks
It's a good thing the Pens have some amazing centers locked up for the foreseeable future. Guys like Paul Stastny and David Legwand are way too expensive, and what's left on the pile isn't much to look at. Here's a couple moderately shiny objects, which the Pens could reasonably afford, from the heap.
Dominic Moore (C) - ($1M) – Age: 33 – New York Rangers
Moore has bounced around the league since making a pit-stop in 06-07 in Pittsburgh. The numbers are nothing to write home about in terms of offensive production, but Moore isn't necessarily needed or noted for point production. He's a pest. If you're looking for a reason to believe Moore might be headed to Pittsburgh. His first pro team – the Rangers, his second – the Penguins. Otherwise, there are likely better and cheaper options.
If we're in the market for a 4th line center, Handzus might be the guy. The downside is age and declining speed. That's to be expected from a 37 year old. The upside is all of his experience and a Stanley Cup winning resume. He's probably not the ideal guy, but he's cheap and he's got something to bring to the table.
Brian Boyle (C) – ($1.7M) Age: 29 – New York Rangers
At 6'7, Brian Boyle is a very imposing figure, the type that would look incredible on the Pens 4th line, or even the third if Boyle has some speed opposite of him. Scuttlebutt around the league is that Boyle wishes to stay with the blue-shirts. He's due for an expanded role and a pay raise though. Given the beatings that Boyle dishes out and the abuse Crosby and Malkin receive during the playoffs, it would be pretty nice, in my opinion, to have Boyle as a punisher.
By now, you've probably started to zero in on a few guys and toss others off the list. Don't worry, I did the same thing. We've just got to fill up the list with names, don't have to consider all of them as real possibilities. There's one spot left to look for FA help though: defense. Let's hope we find something good.
Word is that he's going to talk to the Oilers, thus a Fayne signing may not be in the cards. However, he stands at 6'1 and weighs over 200lbs. While there are quite a few guys that fit that description amongst the young defensemen on the Pens' roster, Fayne may have just enough physicality, just enough experience and cost just a small enough amount to garner some interest.
Nikita Nikitin (D) - ($2.15M) – Age: 28 – Edmonton Oilers
He's gone. Traded to the Oilers for a 5th round draft pick, and then promptly signed for $4.5M per season. Makes you wonder what Matt Niskanen will make on the open market.
Anton Stralman (D) - ($1.7M) – Age: 27 – New York Rangers
Reports are that the Rangers have offered Stralman in the neighborhood of $4M for four years. That's awful rich for my taste, but I suppose the salary cap has gone up, hasn't it? At four million, Stralman isn't that attractive of an option, but I had him slated in as a potential offensive defenseman replacement to Kris Letang. Yeah, still thinking about that.
For $900K, Gilbert was a steal for the Panthers after a compliance buyout by the Minnesota Wild. Gilbert has played top pair minutes and contributes a fair amount offensively while holding his own against the better competition from around the league. Check out his numbers in Florida if you don't believe me. I didn't even have him on my list until I went back for a second look at the availables. Gilbert would make a nice character, IQ, and leadership addition to relatively inexperienced blue-line.
So, that's it. Certainly, there are other guys available. Naturally, I compiled a list of guys that I thought would best fit the Penguins though. With that being said, there's not a whole lot of hope for improvement given this list. The Pens are already strapped for cash, and unless a big move goes down, it's likely that only one or two of these players could be signed. For the record, if I'm the guy in charge, my top 4 are Kulemin, Penner, Boyle and Gilbert. Given the circumstances, we had better land Kulemin or resign Jokinen if we want even a remote opportunity at winning the Cup this year. If Penner and Boyle could be fit in under the salary cap, I believe it would add a much needed degree of grit, or as I call it – physicality, to the roster. Gilbert, I like as a Paul Martin type of mentor to the youngsters, but he's not absolutely essential to success.
Now that I've said my peace, at least for the time being, tell me your thoughts.