The first day of NHL free agency is always a flashy dash of teams making big moves that are sometimes regrettable but often fun in the moment.
With limited cap space and most of their key players already in place, the Pens were largely inactive yesterday. They signed forward Brock McGinn in the most notable move, and also added back Evan Rodrigues and Dominik Simon in depth moves. Pittsburgh officially watched Cody Ceci (Edmonton), Frederick Gaudreau (Minnesota) skate off to greener pastures, as did depth goalie Maxime Lagace (Tampa).
Where do the Pens sit as of this moment? Let’s take a look at what the potential depth chart is shaping up to look like, via the always handy CapFriendly:
This team has $4.4 million in cap space. That will be lessened with any of Simon, Sam Lafferty or Anthony Angello get penciled in as fourth liners or depth options, but for now we’ll keep them to the periphery since they can be buried. Simon, for instance, is as of now only “in the mix” to “fight” for a spot in training camp and there is shaping up to be a real competition open this fall for once for fourth line spots to be earned among a variety of options.
Ron Hextall was confident that restricted free agents Zach Aston-Reese and Radim Zohorna will be signed in the coming days, which can be projected to eat up about $3ish million of the remaining space, and complete the starting lineup of players. Add back in a Simon/Lafferty/Angello/Drew O’Connor and that makes for a 13th forward and will leave a projected amount of about $300-500k of salary cap space remaining for the Pens.
At this point you should be able to see why the Penguins were not more active in free agency and unable to meet the somewhat surprisingly high prices in the market yesterday. But market prices aside, Pittsburgh still wasn’t in a position to do much more than they did, aside from the possibility of targeting different players than McGinn and Rodrigues with the $3.75 million that they spent yesterday.
The other big unknown, at least publicly at this time, is the status and timetable for Evgeni Malkin and when he will be available to play. Malkin had knee surgery in early June (eight weeks ago from today, actually) and may miss the start of the season, which begins about 19 weeks post-surgery.
He also posted a picture on his Instagram account yesterday being out on the ice with his son, albeit with Papa Gene noticeably not on skates.
If Malkin is out for the beginning of the season, the team suffers on the ice with a big hole on their roster. It might mean incorporating O’Connor (who excelled in Wilkes-Barre late last season in the middle) or a yet-to-be-signed depth player as the temporary fourth line center. If the Pens could find the 2021 version of the next Freddy Gaudreau, that would sure be helpful!
Overall though, for long-term changes, any future movement for the Pens is going to have to be close to “dollar in, dollar out” situations where whatever contracts they add will require a corresponding move to send out a very similar amount.
Hextall’s future jockeying will probably come down to whether or not he can (or even wants to) move players like Marcus Pettersson and Tristan Jarry to find upgrades on the roster. Hextall mentioned early in the off-season that he was pretty comfortable with his division winning team and wouldn’t mind seeing it stay intact, and after the busiest day of the off-season that might be fairly close with the path Pittsburgh is on for 2021-22.