Two weeks later than the usual July 1 date, but here we are again, the opening of free agency in the NHL!
In the wake of all the drama leading up to the eleventh hour contract extension signed by Evgeni Malkin late last night, the Pittsburgh Penguins now find themselves more or less with the same roster as last year, but with about $4M more to play with. It’s not a ton of money considering there are a bunch of teams out there with over $15M in cap space, and that could put many of those teams in the conversation for some of the bigger names left on the market. As far as the Penguins are concerned they could sit on their hands and do nothing of substance over the next week, just sign enough bodies to backfill the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton roster, and that could be fine. I’m of the opinion that the Cup is still within reach for this roster, but only just by the tips of their fingers. When you look at the makeup of the teams that made the Conference Finals this past postseason — Edmonton, the New York Rangers, Tampa Bay, and the champion Colorado Avalanche — we know how close Pittsburgh came to beating one of those teams (fuck Jacob Trouba), so it’s not completely out of the question to suggest that the Penguins could have been a Conference Finalist last season. Oh well!
So, without any meaningful changes as of yet, is the Penguins’ roster still good enough to make the final four in the coming 2022-23 season? The team is not getting any younger, and even if they did it’s hard to say if those players would amount to any improvement in production. The one young player who is on the threshold of joining the team from the AHL is Pierre-Olivier Joseph, the 23 year old left defenseman who was recently given a two-year extension. However, the way is still shut to get a full-time promotion, with Brian Dumoulin, Mike Matheson, and Marcus Pettersson blocking his way. Perhaps not coincidentally, all three of those guys have had their names out there as assets in a potential trade to free up space ($4M+) and make way for baby, so to speak. Then factor in the presumed improvement of most of the rest of the League this offseason, whether through their free agent acquisitions or the continued maturation of their prospects, and the calculus for the Penguins to have the opportunity to make the playoffs, let alone winning a playoff series, doesn’t look as optimistic as it might have this past May.
General manager Ron Hextall did accomplish two major goals this offseason: he re-signed all of the major UFAs (Malkin, Kris Letang, Bryan Rust, and Rickard Rakell), and he did so while saving the team some salary. But while it is clear that the roster could stand some improving, there’s little certainty that he’ll be able to do that without moving some other parts in the process.
I will try to keep this space up to date with the bigger acquisitions and moves from today and likely the next few days as well. Maybe I’ll even keep them organized by relevance! It’s an exciting time of year, let’s get silly with it!
July 13 12:00PM update
At the crack of the dawn of free agency, no Metro teams have made any announced deals or signings as of yet. Carolina looks to be aiming to replace defenseman Tony DeAngelo (whose RFA rights were traded to Philadelphia on July 8) with San Jose’s Brent Burns via trade. Burns is 37 years old and is three seasons removed from being a Norris finalist, but he nevertheless played the most minutes in the NHL last season.
July 13 12:30PM update
Some bigger and more notable names have been signed in the past half an hour:
- Forward Vincent Trocheck – CAR → NYR
- Goaltender Jack Campbell – TOR → EDM
- Goaltender Ilya Samsonov – WSH → TOR
- Center Claude Giroux – FLA → OTT
- Defenseman Ian Cole – CAR → TBL
- Defenseman Justin Schultz – WSH → SEA
- Forward Nicolas Aube-Kubel – COL → TOR
Relevant to the Penguins, the New Jersey Devils traded Pavel Zacha to the Boston Bruins for Erik Haula.
July 13 12:45PM update
- Forward Andrew Copp – NYR → DET
The Penguins were reportedly still interested in Copp, even after extending Malkin, but Detroit gave the 27 year old a contract for 5 years, $5.625M/yr.