The Penguins currently have a salary cap obligation of about $62.5 million next season according to CapFriendly, leaving almost $21 million in open space to work with. Ideally, the next general manager should look to leverage that even higher by virtue of removing some pieces who have salaries on the books next season via trades or buyouts.
While the amount of open cap space is relatively high, Pittsburgh has significant needs to address with that money. The goalie situation needs to be sorted out with Tristan Jarry or a replacement as a starter- likely to be addressed in a trade. Jason Zucker and Brian Dumoulin played in key roles that will need to be filled. The third line is a wasteland right now. The fourth line looks better, with likely candidates coming from the team’s own restricted free agents (Drew O’Connor, Ryan Poehling, Filip Hallander) that could or should form the basis there.
The Pens aren’t in the playoffs, but several players who are pending the open market are putting on a show. Here’s a few standing out. Clearly the Penguins aren’t in a position to make a serious run at all of these players on the market, but identifying a few top performers now holds some value to potentially add players on the upswing to help the Pens get back on track.
Tyler Bertuzzi (BOS, $4.875 AAV million contract ending) - It’s a fairly weak free agent class in terms of star power, but Bertuzzi is playing himself into a lot of money this spring already. He scored 62 points (30G+32A) in 2021-22 with Detroit before missing the start of this season. Since being traded to Boston, Bertuzzi put up 16 points (4G+12A) in 21 regular season games and has been a menace in the early going of the playoffs with 2G+4A in four games. Bertuzzi is nearly three years younger than Zucker and provides more playmaking and an even higher level of peskiness. He wouldn’t come cheap, but would be a major addition for a team like Pittsburgh.
Ryan O’Reilly (TOR, $7.5 million contract expiring) - Even at 32-years old, O’Reilly is showing his value in Toronto. He scored 11 points in 13 regular season games and has added five more in as many playoff games. O’Reilly has touch in front of the net, is a wing or center option, adds leadership and fire. He plays in all situations, from power play to penalty kill. Adding someone like him would improve the Pens’ supporting options and locker-room. With 61 career playoff points in 67 games, he’s a quality player that always seems to rise to the moment and help.
Ryan Graves (NJD, $3.16m contract expiring) - Graves is a player who has blossomed as a shutdown defender with the Devils in the last two seasons, getting matched to the toughest opponents all season. His age (turns 28 next month), size (6’5, 220 pounds) are ideal for a team like the Penguins who need to add a quality left side defender to fill the hole that the once-effective Dumoulin held. Graves is averaging 22:52 for New Jersey this playoff so far. He also scored eight goals this year (and has a nine goal season as well) and isn’t strictly a defense-only type of player. I’m not certain he even makes it to free agency without re-signing, but the Devils do have some young defenders like Luke Hughes coming up the ranks that could make it time for them to move on.
J.T. Compher (COL, $3.5 million contract expiring) - With all of Colorado’s injuries and absences this year, Compher has quietly grown into being a super important player. He’s at a prime age (28) and just recorded a career-best 53 points this season. He’s currently playing 20+ minutes in the playoffs as their second line center and leads Avalanche forwards in PK time. Compher would be a big-time get to establish a quality third line, with the availability to play up the lineup as and if needed.
Noel Acciari (TOR, $1.25 million contract expiring) - If the Pens want a veteran option for the bottom-six, Acciari is a player that should stand out. His hits/minute were 18th in the NHL, he can play center or wing and he chipped in 14 goals this season from a classic PK role at the bottom of the lineup. Acciari isn’t going to change the team on his own, but is a nice short-term add for a veteran physical player who
Pierre Engvall (NYI, $2.25 million contract expiring) - The physical tools and traits stand out for a 6’5, 215 pound forward who can skate well. Engvall is turning 27 and isn’t a huge point producer but could reward his next team with solid play from a supporting role. If the Pens wanted to get bigger, younger, faster, Engvall checks a lot of those boxes - or as much as the free agency pool will offer anyways.
Alex Killorn (TB, $4.45 million contract expiring) - Killorn is older (34 before next season begins) but also coming off a career-high in all of goals (27), assists (37) and points (64) in 2022-23. The success that Tampa’s had the past few years speaks for itself and Killorn has been a key supporting figure on that great team for a long time. If Zucker departs and the Pens need a short-term patch, the Nova Scotia native should be on the list to consider.