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Penguins’ free agency: Players to go after, avoid, and ignore

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Sign this player; not that player

NHL: Stanley Cup Final-Media Day Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

There is no more insane day on the NHL calendar than July 1, the official start of the free agency signing period.

That is the day today’s missing pieces turn into tomorrow’s buyouts or salary dump trade as every NHL team loses its mind and signs a declining player that already played their best hockey for someone else to a massive, massive, massive contract that looks like a bad idea from the start.

Is that an overly dramatic way to put it? Is it resorting to hyperbole in an effort to get some attention? Hell no.

Just go back three years to the summer of 2016 and look at the biggest deals signed that day.

  • David Backes to Boston for five years and $30 million
  • Milan Lucic to Edmonton for seven years and $42 million
  • Frans Nielsen to Detroit for six years and $31.5 million
  • Loui Eriksson to Vancouver for six years and $36 million
  • Kyle Okposo to Buffalo seven years and $42 million
  • Andrew Ladd to New York for seven years and $38.5 million

Every single one of those contracts today is an albatross on their team’s salary cap books, and just about every one of those teams is looking for a way to get out from just about all of those contracts.

Two years ago you had Karl Alzner going to Montreal for five years, Matt Hunwick to Pittsburgh for three years, Sam Gagner to Vancouver for three years.

NHL free agency, it is a fools paradise!

Still, you know the Penguins are going to find a way to add someone on the open market when it officially begins on Monday, especially if general manager Jim Rutherford can complete another trade to open up some more salary cap space so he can add another new face or two to the roster.

Let us take a look at some of the options, ranging from the realistic, to the impossible dreams, to the BAD IDEAS!

Let is call us this the Penguins’ Free Agency Heat Index.

Ice Cold: The players probably not even worth discussing

The names: Artemi Panarin, Matt Duchene, Sergei Bobrovsky, Anders Lee, Joe Pavelski, Robin Lehner

Really good players, maybe even GREAT players, but for one reason or another are just not logical options for the Penguins. When it comes to Panarin, Duchene, Lee, and Pavelski the Penguins do not have the salary cap space to acquire one without making a significant trade to a significant player on the roster. Quite honestly, other than Panarin there is not one player in that group that would be worth doing that for.

Bobrovsky and Lehner play a position the Penguins have zero need at.

Lukewarm: Would definitely help, but probably not realistic

The names: Jake Gardiner, Gustav Nyquist, Mats Zuccarello, Ryan Dzingel, Micheal Ferland, Brett Connolly

Gardiner is the player that would make the most sense, but with Erik Karlsson off the market he is easily the top defender remaining and is going to be paid quite handsomely. I honestly thought about putting him in the Ice Cold section but he actually plays a position the Penguins need help at, and he is the type of player they could definitely use. If they ended up dumping Phil Kessel’s salary (or managed to work some magic and dumped Jack Johnson and/or Erik Gudbranson), Gardiner would not be the worst use of that newfound cap space. But I do not see any of those sequences of events happening.

Nyquist and Zuccarello might end up being better values, dollar for dollar, than some of the bigger name forwards but are probably still out of the Penguins’ price range at the moment.

Am kind of torn on Dzingel, because while he is a pretty good player he also strikes me as the type of player that is going to be paid way too much for what he does.

Ferland is more than just a big hitter that checks people because he can actually play hockey a little bit. The problem with him is his size, physical play, and the fact the Blues just won the Stanley Cup with bigger, physical players is going to make a lot of general managers hand him a blank check. Probably out of the price range.

Connolly never became the star you want a No. 6 overall pick to become, but he turned into a really solid depth player and one that the Penguins could definitely use, if not for the fact that his price tag is probably going to be way too high for what he is.

AVOID AVOID AVOID: Do not even pick up the phone

The names: Corey Perry, Wayne Simmonds, Tyler Myers

With all due respect to my pal Mike Darnay and his great work on signing Corey Perry, I just do not know that he moves the needle in a meaningful way for the Penguins given his current situation (age, type of season he is coming off of, what the Penguins actually need, etc.).

Wayne Simmonds was a force for so many years and as much as Penguins fans hated him at his peak, every single one of you would have crawled over miles of broken glass to get him on the Penguins a few years ago. He is not that player today and, reportedly, will have multi-year offers on the table. Stay away from that.

Myers is expected to get a HUGE contract on the open market, probably from the Vancouver Canucks, and you do not need me to tell you why that is going to be a terrible idea for the team that signs it.

Boring reclamation projects: These are one year “prove it” players

The names: Thomas Vanek, Jason Pominville, Valtteri Filppula

Nobody here even really worth talking about because they just do not excite me, nor should they excite you. Maybe one of them could score 20 goals on a one-year deal. Meh.

Look at these players: The realistic targets that might actually help

The names: Joonas Donskoi, Marcus Johansson

Now we are maybe getting somewhere.

These are the players I would make an effort to go after.

They will not be cheap, but they should not break the bank.

They are not stars or impact players, but they will help.

Donskoi is an interesting player because he has always produced in a limited role and never seemed to gain the trust of Peter DeBoer in San Jose.

Johansson carries some risk due to his recent injury history, but if he is healthy and right you are getting a second-line talent.

So there we have it. It is your typical NHL free agency class of players, with a handful of star players at the top that are out of the Penguins’ price range (or that they have no use for), a bunch of players waiting to be overpaid, some players that might make sense in hockey terms but not necessarily in salary cap terms, and maybe two or three players that could be perfect fits.

Personally, it would not bother me one bit if Jim Rutherford put his phone in the Allegheny River on Monday and sat back and did nothing. Whether or not that happens remains to be seen, but July 1 always carries way more risk than reward, and this year seems to be no different.