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Assessing the Penguins heading into free agency

Looking at where the Penguins roster stands and what moves need to be made on the eve of NHL free agency.

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2023 Upper Deck NHL Draft - Round One Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

With the NHL Draft now fully in the rearview, it’s time to shift focus towards the next big ticket item on the offseason calendar: Free Agency. For the first time since 2019, the NHL free agency period is set to begin on its traditional date of July 1st with the window opening at 12 PM Eastern Time.

This is the prime opportunity for team’s to improve their rosters though the free agent class this summer isn’t the strongest. Despite that, there may be some names on the market that could be right in the wheelhouse for what Kyle Dubas is looking for.

Let’s take a look at where the Penguins stand heading into free agency.

Forwards

Top-6 looks good: Bringing in Reilly Smith from Vegas was a big first move from Dubas and one that looks to close the door on a Jason Zucker return though Dubas wasn’t quite ready to shut the door on that yet. If Zucker comes back then it changes things, but overall the Top-6 looks to be pretty set at the moment.

Bottom-6 is a different story: This part of the lineup remains a complete mess and it will take some magic from Dubas to get it completely fixed in free agency alone but there are steps to take that could improve what is on the roster at the moment.

It’s a weak free agent class but there are more than a few players hitting the market that could satisfy a need and with over $15 million in cap space and likely more to come, there are openings for improvement here.

Solving the Mikael Granlund question: Dubas has until the end of today to decide whether or not to buyout the remaining two years of Granlund’s contract, a move that opens up almost an extra $4 million in cap space. Dubas is reluctant to do it, but it he can’t find a suitable trade partner his hand may be forced.

Defense

Finding a partner for Kris Letang: There have been hints that the Penguins have discussed a new contract with Brian Dumoulin, but even if they do bring the veteran back it will likely be in a diminished role away from his long time blue line partner. That leaves a gaping hole on the top pairing with no easy fix unless they can swing a major deal for a guy like Noah Hanifin. That seems unlikely with how few trade assets they possess so they will have to find another solution. Could an old rival like Dmitry Orlov or Shayne Gostisbehere fill the role?

Trading Jeff Petry: Since first reported on Wednesday, all signs still point to the Penguins moving defenseman Jeff Petry in a trade. Those rumors persisted on Thursday but for now they just remain rumors.

Depending on the return, moving Petry could help fill some holes throughout the lineup while also opening up a significant chunk of cap space both this coming season and next summer as well. Moving Petry also helps the Penguins get younger, another goal Dubas had on his list.

Figure out the rest: If Petry goes and Dumoulin walks, that leaves Letang, Marcus Pettersson, Pierre-Olivier Joseph, Chad Ruhwedel, and Jan Ruuta on the roster. There is also Mark Freidman in the AHL and Ty Smith as a restricted free agent. If Dubas can swing a trade to bring in a Top-4 blue liner then it solves a lot of problems.

Goaltending

Tristan Jarry: If the clock strikes noon on Saturday and Tristan Jarry does not have a new contract with the Penguins then he’s on the open market. Dubas has alluded to bringing Jarry back though likely on a short term contract. Some projections have Jarry receiving a long term, high money offer that prices him out of Pittsburgh. Looking at the free agent goalie market, the Penguins best option might be getting Jarry back on a short term deal and finding a 1B to play alongside him.

Per Rob Rossi at The Athletic:

The Penguins’ expectation is that Jarry will exercise his option to become an unrestricted free agent, though Jarry had not firmly decided to go that route as of Thursday, a source close to the player said. Jarry, 28, would presumably rate high on any list of available goalies if he opts for free agency; personnel from several clubs said over the past two days that the consensus expectation is for Jarry to receive more term elsewhere than he would if re-signing with the Penguins.

Casey DeSmith: If the Penguins bring Jarry back, and even if the don’t, it’s hard to justify running it back with DeSmith again. He shines for spurts at a time but can never stay consistent and when he’s bad it can get ugly. His contract last summer was another Hextall mistake that Dubas is saddled with.