The first week of July is always a flurry of contract signings in the NHL and this year several ex-Penguins have hit the market and found new riches and sometimes new homes. A couple recently too, so why not dive in and survey the landscape of recent signings with Pittsburgh connections.
New team: Anaheim Ducks
Contract: 3 years, $1.13 million per season
When news of this hit yesterday, it was difficult to believe. Rowney had a very difficult 2017-18 season and performed pretty poorly. He’s obviously going to give an honest effort but three years?! Well, good for him. The money really isn’t THAT bad, since Anaheim could place him in the minor leagues and basically make the salary cap hit disappear. Still, in this climate 4th line/replacement level players don’t often (and really shouldn’t) get three year guaranteed deals - especially when their original team doesn’t want them back. For some reason that wasn’t a red flag for Anaheim, so good for Rowney and his family. Rowney was a part of the 2017 Stanley Cup team, so in a small way he’ll be in franchise lore forever.
Speaking of Cups, two-time champion Tom Kuhnhackl has moved on, signing a one-year deal with the New York Islanders worth $650,000. Kuhnhackl reportedly turned down a two-year deal from Pittsburgh, so that doesn’t look too good about now (unless of course they let him know there was a chance he could be waived and sent to the minors). Anyways, how Rowney can get three years and over $1 million and Kuhnhackl gets one year and NHL minimum wage is a weird thing. Rowney can play a bit of center but, ehh not so well.
Regardless, Kuhnhackl’s time in the Pens organization from 2010-18 was quite the transformation from mid-round pick to ECHL player who had to work on his two-way game, to AHLer to penalty killing, 4th liner (who played really well in 2016). His play slumped since then a bit but as a guy who played 47 playoff games in Pittsburgh over the last three seasons, he’s certainly been something of a lower line mainstay.
The Real Deal is taking his talents north of the border to Calgary, in lieu of a five year contract that will pay him $5.75 million annually. A lot of cheddar for a 31 year old, but Neal could have a shot at 400 career goals if he can stay healthy. It’ll be interesting to see how he meshes with some of the young offensive talent that the Flames have, they could be a fun team to watch next season.
Like Neal, fellow former Golden Knight David Perron moved on in free agency, signing with (who else) St. Louis for four years and $4 million per for Perron’s third stint with the Blues. Heard a great stat that despite playing on SIX different NHL teams Perron has only signed contracts with the Blues. Pretty wild. We’ll see if the now 30-year old gets a bit more stability in his career.
The 30-year old Gibbons put up career highs in goals (12) and assists (14) with New Jersey last year in 59 games. That earned him a one-year, $1 million contract from the Ducks for 2018-19. It’ll be interesting to see if he’s capable of building on that as Gibbons had two strong seasons in the Devils organization but isn’t very big nor skilled.
Had a brief cup of coffee in Pittsburgh, signed this summer with Toronto 1-year one-way $650,000 contract (which means an AHL guarantee salary of $650k). Good for him to get NHL kind of money despite the fact he probably isn’t a full-time NHL player.
The 2016 Cup champ gets two years at $1.05 million per to re-sign with the Buffalo Sabres. After the early season trade for Detroit (where the Pens got Riley Sheahan), Wilson was dreadful for the Red Wings with 0 goals and 0 assists in 17 games. They waived him and his old former Wilkes-Barre manager Jason Botterill (now GM in Buffalo) took a flyer on him, because it’s not like the Sabres have anything else going on. Wilson made the most of what surely was his last chance in the NHL by scoring 6 goals and adding 8 assists in the last 49 games of the year in Buffalo. That’s earned him more time, so good for him.
After some negotiations with Columbus, Cole ended up hitting the open market and quickly signing with the Colorado Avalanche for three years and $4.25 million, doubling his previous salary. They structured it so he gets paid $5.0 million next year too. Ian Cole, $5 million bucks for one NHL season. What a world!
Orpik remains a free agent after winning the Stanley Cup this June then quickly being traded to Colorado as a salary cap casualty and then being bought out by the Avs. That move cost Orpik (who was due a $4.5 million salary next year) $1.5 million bucks, since the buyout only pays him $3 million. He’s been rumored to possibly even return to Washington, so it would be funny if he made them pay him more than $1.5 million so that he comes out making more in 2018-19 than contractually he was set to. That would be fittingly ironic and hilarious.
After winning the Cup in 2016 with the Pens, Fehr’s career went into the desert a bit. He was traded to Toronto as Pittsburgh looked to shed salary costs, but the Maple Leafs only played him 5 NHL games and stashed him in the minors. Finally, as a rental he was dealt to San Jose and played out their season and playoffs. Now he signed one year, $1.0 million to join the Minnesota Wild and coach Bruce Boudreau, whom Fehr faired really well under back in their days together in Washington.
After reports of some possible reunification with the Pens (no doubt fueled by the Pittsburgh media inquiring and writing about it), Kunitz and Pittsburgh didn’t have much conversations about bringing the soon-39 year old winger back. Instead, he quickly signed with the Blackhawks for one-year and $1.0 million. Chris Kunitz and the Chicago Blackhawks, a good match since they both were so much better in 2013.
After getting some interest around the league, the NHL’s toughest player remains with Vegas with a surprisingly massive (for him) two-year contract at $2.775 million per year, easily doubling his previous $1.1 million salary. Good on him to get that money, and Vegas (with plenty of cap room) basically said that Reaves was getting 3-year deals for the same total money and they just smashed it into 2 years because they don’t care/need and wanted to keep the player but also not give him 3 years.
Other Notable Free Agents still seeking jobs:
Paul Martin, Lee Stempniak, Mark Letestu, Jussi Jokinen, Tanner Glass and I guess technically Jamie Oleksiak