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Former Penguins still out on the UFA market

Phil Kessel among many ex-Penguins still looking for a home

Vegas Golden Knights v Pittsburgh Penguins Photo by Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images

It has been going on four weeks now since the NHL’s free agency market opened up on July 1st. Most of the big pieces were snatched up quickly, but several key players are still out there waiting to sign with their next teams. Due to the salary cap still remaining relatively flat, as it has been since 2019, the pressure has hit a lot of these mid-level players who aren’t much of priorities for teams out there that are already dealing with limited cap space.

Sorting by points scored, here are some former Pittsburgh Penguins that are currently free agents.

Phil Keesel - the now three-time Stanley Cup champion recently got his day with the Cup, but little is out there about his next team. Kessel’s 1,064 iron man game streak is still alive, even though he was a healthy scratch for all but four playoff games, which might be a consideration for the 35-year old to find a spot where he can stay in the lineup. Kessel only scored 14 goals and 36 points this season, but the veteran could still offer something for a team looking for some help on the wing.

Derick Brassard - The nomadic Brassard has played for seven different NHL teams since leaving Pittsburgh in 2019. Last season he had to go to Ottawa on nothing more than a tryout deal, and played well enough to earn a contract and spot in the lineup. Brassard got to hit his 1,000th career NHL game but unfortunately broke his fibula in a season-ending injury. Brassard turns 36-years old before the start of next season and it remains unknown if he will have any interest this time around, which could finally be the end of the road for his playing days.

Danton Heinen - Life moves fast in the NHL. In 2021-22, Heinen revived his career with an 18-goal season for the Penguins. But even then, he wasn’t given a qualifying offer last summer and found little interest or suitors and had to accept a modest $1.0 million contract with Pittsburgh a few weeks into free agency. This summer, the cap crunch for a player like Heinen remains, but he does not have the benefit this time around of having the momentum/perception of coming off a strong 2022-23 season. He’s unlikely to return to Pittsburgh and will likely have to compete for a spot in an NHL lineup and start all over again.

Zach Aston-Reese - Aston-Reese had a career-high 10 goals with Toronto last season (only four assists, though) en route to a moderately successful season with his obligatory strong defensive stats and metrics. Aston-Reese ended up a healthy scratch for the final four playoff games, after ending up on the fringes of the roster following the trade deadline additions the Leafs made. Turning 29 later this summer, Aston-Reese would be a good pickup for a team looking for lower line help and doing some dirty work.

Scott Harrington - Likely a case study and beneficiary of the league expanding from 30 to 32 teams in recent years, Harrington is still hanging around at age-30. He split 45 NHL games in 2022-23 between two of the worst teams in the league in Anaheim and San Jose and was claimed off waivers two times (once by Anaheim, another time by New Jersey, where he did not appear in a game). The journey could yet continue for Harrington at this point of his career.

Nathan Beaulieu - Does he count as a former Penguin after not playing any games with the team in 2022 trade deadline as an injured player? Beaulieu signed with Anaheim and is back on the market. His career is on the downswing but with #grit and size and some veteran experience to offer, he could be a camp body or tryout candidate for someone out there.

Some other names you might have lost in the shuffle as players who left the Pens at the end of this season...

Dmitry Kulikov - signed a $1.0 million, one year deal with Florida, where he played from 2009-16.

Nick Bonino - The Connecticut native Bonino moved onto his somewhat near-ish hometown team the Rangers on a $800k contract for one year.

Ryan Poehling - Free agency worked out well for Poehling. After not receiving a qualifying offer from the Penguins, Poehling got a relatively generous $1.4 million contract for one year from Philadelphia very early at the start of free agency. That almost doubles Poehling’s last year salary of $750k. He was a nice enough young player, but that’s a big ticket for an unestablished player without a very high ceiling.

Josh Archibald - Meanwhile, if any Penguin bottom-six free agent forward deserved a little bit of a premium based on 2022-23 play, it would have been Josh Archibald. The veteran didn’t get much of it in salary, at barely over league minimum with Tampa ($800k), but the feather in his cap is that Archibald did receive a two-year, one-way deal — which many lower line players didn’t see offered their way this summer. Should be a quiet but quality add to Tampa’s fourth line.

Brian Dumoulin - Ron Francis has never been shy to add former Penguins up in Seattle, and he against showed that brining Dumoulin in on a two-year, $3.15 million annual contract to add to the Krakens’ depth. Dumo will see plenty of familiar faces as he rejoins former teammates in Jared McCann, Brandon Tanev, Jamie Oleksiak and one of his best buds in Justin Schultz.

Jason Zucker - It wasn’t a surprise that Zucker was one of the first free agents gobbled up when the market opened. However, the destination (Arizona!) and the terms (only one year at $5.3 million) were very surprising. Turned out that was about the market this year — Tyler Bertuzzi signed a similar contract ($5.5m for on year, albeit for the polar opposite of markets in Toronto). The good news for Zucker is only Bertuzzi and Alex Killorn ($6.25m) signed as UFA forwards for more money this year. The bad news is it was not the long term commitment he was probably aspiring towards.