In a surprise to many, the Penguins announced that they re-signed soon-to-be restricted free agent defenseman Juuso Riikola to a two-year deal. The contract will keep Riikola in Pittsburgh through the 2021-22 season and comes with a $1.15 million AAV against the salary cap.
The Penguins have re-signed defenseman Juuso Riikola to a two-year contract.— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) September 5, 2020
The deal runs through the 2021.22 campaign and carries an average annual value of $1.15 million.
Full details: https://t.co/V32CC89GVC pic.twitter.com/IhVSaV9eJe
Through his first two seasons in the NHL, Riikola only appeared in 73 games, making this deal a bit of a shocker too many fans. Given how little he played and consistent rumors that he was in Sullivan’s dog house, many figured Riikola and the Penguins were set to part ways this offseason.
Another sign pointing towards Riikola’s exit was the log jam the Penguins have on the left side of the blue line even without Riikola under contract. Not counting Riikola, the Penguins already have Brian Dumoulin, Marcus Pettersson, and Jack Johnson under contract for next season. Add in prospect Pierre-Olivier Joseph being nearly NHL-ready, it makes makes one wonder what other plans Rutherford has up his sleeve.
Many fans clamored for Riikola to get playing time over the likes of Johnson in the postseason, but Riikola remained a healthy scratch and it looked like his time in Pittsburgh was indeed over. During what limited action he did see this season, Riikola posted solid underlying numbers and was a positive possession player as a third pairing option.
With four left handed defenseman now under contract and another one ready to make the leap to the big time, it will be interesting to see what Rutherford has up his sleeve next. Remember, Riikola won’t be the only one on a new contract next season as Marcus Pettersson is set to begin his new deal was that pay him just over $4 million against the cap.
Combining Dumoulin, Pettersson, Johnson, and Riikola, the Penguins will have $12.5 million wrapped up on just the left side of the blue line for next season. For a team who is looking to cut salary and come in under the cap, other moves are surely coming before the 2020-21 season begins later this year.