With free agency on the horizon this Wednesday at noon, the Pittsburgh Penguins and the rest of the NHL will shift gears into the latest phase of the off-season.
For the Pens, the month of July has brought in modest changes. They’ve made one trade to flip Jared McCann to Toronto prior to expansion for a prospect, and then lost Brandon Tanev to the expansion draft. Other than that, the team has been quiet.
The free agency week and period is a time for action and this could be the time to seek upgrades.
The Athletic mentioned the Pens’ interest in a possible trade with Arizona for Darcy Kuemper, saying in part of a story titled “Penguins intensifying their search for a goaltender during NHL Draft weekend”:
The Penguins are not completely averse to the idea of bringing back the tandem of Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith. However, management is well aware that Jarry was a disaster against the Islanders during the first round of the 2021 postseason and that, statistically speaking, he was ordinary at best during the regular season. DeSmith is viewed by management as a very good backup, but the Penguins want a goaltender who can lead them to a championship next spring. They only have so many assets to part with but, in the Coyotes, they may have a solid trade partner.
They also listed impending free agent Petr Mrazek as a player Pittsburgh would be interested in talking to should he not be re-signed by Carolina prior to Wednesday.
Elliotte Friedman also set the busy stage around the league with the goalie carousel about to start spinning and distributing new faces in new places:
If Braden Holtby isn’t traded, does he get bought out by Vancouver?
• Does Martin Jones get a new start somewhere, assuming a buyout from San Jose?
• Is Carolina’s next starter Antti Raanta, Frederik Andersen or someone else? (A few teams suspect the analytics-inclined Hurricanes love Raanta.)
• Where does Darcy Kuemper end up?
• What does Vegas do? There were rumblings they had a move for someone that fell through. I thought it might be Robin Lehner to New Jersey or Marc-Andre Fleury to Chicago. I also wondered Detroit before the Red Wings traded for Alex Nedeljkovic, but I’m not expecting Steve Yzerman to reveal much.
• What is Colorado’s limit with Philipp Grubauer? The highest recent UFA goalie deal was Jordan Binnington’s 6x6, and it’s believed Grubauer’s ask was somewhere near there — but I don’t believe the Avalanche would go there. Is there a happy medium?
• What’s the market for Linus Ullmark?
With a $6 million ask, we know Phillip Grubauer’s next contract is too rich for the Pens’ blood and won’t be a candidate to even bother with too much.
Holtby and Jones could be on the market as buyout candidates, where the price would be right, but the issue there is performance. Both are 31+ years old and both have been below average for several seasons in a row. For a team looking to improve goalie performance, neither Holtby nor Jones provide confidence in being a strong answer for 2021-22. They’re over the hill at best, and close to washed up in a worst case scenario.
The Coyotes have been having a fire sale of assets, and Kuemper is actually good, but if they trade him and lose Antti Raanta to free agency, uhh, who is playing goal in Arizona this season?
The Vegas goalie situation is constantly in the rumors, but they’re also a team that knew what they were doing when they signed Lehner last year to a big contract. I remain skeptical they are going to move him, or especially Fleury, until it happens.
As free agents, veterans Andersen, Raanta, Ullmark and Mrazek are the names to watch, but are any of these options a clear upgrade over Jarry’s body of work? Be it age, performance, injury issues, ability to be a clear starting goalie and play a majority of the games as the “lead horse”; all of these goalies have question marks somewhere.
That makes for a challenging situation for the Pens to be in. They probably feel the need to address the goaltending, yet while there certainly are plenty of options, none are of a huge caliber that would give confidence as making a solid addition.
If Pittsburgh could somehow land Darcy Kuemper in a trade, that would be a quality move, but he probably would be the toughest to pull given the rest of the league knows Arizona is in another rebuilding phase and the cost could be high to the point the Pens can’t or won’t meet it.
Could all of this end with another Jarry-DeSmith combo, at least to start the 2021-22 season? It’s a scenario that may be more plausible given the circumstances.
Oh, and Friedman mentioned this in his free agent predictions:
Brandon Saad: St. Louis, Islanders, Pittsburgh or Los Angeles
St. Louis is expected to lose Jaden Schwartz, so they will have the need and some salary freed up to pursue a top winger. The best case for the Pens would be if Colorado’s Gabriel Landeskog goes to the market and STL makes him their focus as the day starts.
The Islanders have $17 million in cap space (but still need to re-sign RFA’s Adam Pelech, Anthony Beauvillier and Ilya Sorokin). They’ve been linked to keeping Kyle Palmieri and even for the Vladimir Tarasenko trade derby. Ideally NYI sticks with Palmieri and figures the rest of their cap space is needed for internal players, like maybe also keeping Casey Cizikas.
Friedman linked LA to Philip Danault, perhaps that will be their priority over Saad.
GM Ron Hextall did say the Pens wouldn’t be huge players for free agents, but he also doesn’t seem the type to come right out and give all his plans and intentions out there like his predecessor. Could Pittsburgh, say, make a run for Saad and then look to deal Marcus Pettersson to balance out the cap situation? Then suddenly they could be a contender for a reasonable free agent.
The clock is ticking towards Wednesday and whether it’s in net or out front, the Pens have some work to do if they want to get involved and make some additions.