Can the Penguins add another big ticket free agent?

The NHL Free Agency period is slowly winding down, and yet, some of the bigger free agents this offseason are still looking for a team for the 2020-2021 season. Forwards Mike Hoffman, Markus Granlund, Evgeni Dadonov, Erik Haula, and Anthony Duclair are the best production forwards that are still without a team. There are also lower tier (not Jankowski or Rodrigues low) forwards that will almost certainly be taking a large paycut…guys like Alex Galchenyuk, Michael Grabner, Carl Soderberg, Derick Brassard, Corey Perry, and Andreas Athanasiou. On the backend, you have Sami Vatanen, Dimitri Kulikov, and Travis Hamonic still available.

At one point, it looked like these players were just waiting for certain dominoes, such as Taylor Hall, but, now that Hall is off the market, these players are still waiting for a team. Why? Well, I think everyone knows COVID-19 has had a major impact on the league and available cap space. But just how bad is it right now? Consider the following:

  • 14 NHL teams currently have less than 3M in available cap space, with 6 of the 14 teams currently over the 81.5M cap limit.
  • 7 NHL teams have between 3M and 10M in available cap space.
  • 6 NHL teams have between 10M and 15M in available cap space.
  • 4 NHL teams have more than 15M in available cap space.

Sounds like plenty of space, right? 17 teams with more than 3M in available cap space should be plenty for guys like Hoffman, Haula, etc. Well…not really. See, a lot of these teams with 3M plus have RFAs that are still unsigned. And, these aren’t just

In the 3M-10M range:

  • Carolina has Warren Foegele and Haydn Fleury as RFAs needing a new contract.
  • Chicago has Dylan Strome
  • Dallas has Roope Hintz and Denis Gurianov
  • Colorado has Tyson Jost and Devon Toews
  • The Islanders have Mathew Barzal and Ryan Pulock
  • Calgary has Andrew Magiapane and Oliver Kylington
  • Only Philadelphia is in this range without any major RFAs to sign. They have Nolan Patrick, but his status is in question due to concussion issues.

This type of situation exists with almost every team that has 3M or more in remaining caps space. There are maybe 5 or 6 teams don’t have RFAs to sign and don’t have many remaining roster spots on the 23 man roster to fill. A few of these big name UFAs are going to have to take even less than they were expecting based on the current salary cap landscape.

So the question is, can the Penguins make a run at one of these guys? Of the bigger ticket names I mentioned above, Haula, Hoffman, Dadonov, and Vatanen would seem to have the most to offer Pittsburgh. Haula can play LW or C, has speed and good defensive ability, but has been slowed by injuries the past few years. In a normal cap world, he was likely due a raise this season, but, could he take a 1 or 2 year flyer at just 2M AAV to go to a contender? Vegas was said to have heavy interest in bringing him back, but Vegas is a team that is currently over the cap with no easy decisions coming to that roster. Would Dadonov take a 1 year 2M AAV contract to play with Geno? Would Vatanen take a 1 year, 2M AAV deal to come in and lock down the 3rd RD pairing?

All of those players above would vastly improve the depth of this Penguins team, especially the potential of adding a Haula or Dadonov to the team, and sliding a Rust or Zucker down to strengthen the 3rd line. The big question remains…will GM Jim Rutherford even bother to investigate, or is he satisfied that Evan Rodrigues and Mark Jankowski are magic beans that will greatly improve the 3rd line when most fans see Rodrigues and Jankowski as Jack Johnson level signings. I find few, if any, fans or media that feel this team is greatly improved over last year’s team. The defense is improved by removing Johnson and adding Matheson, but the defense wasn’t the biggest area of need. Fixing the bottom 6 was, and GM Jim Rutherford just slapped a bunch of cheap bottom 6 underachievers onto the roster and hopes that they click.

Make some more calls, Jim. Make a pitch. Use that 2.5M in remaining cap space to add another solid, consistent forward to the group.

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