The Penguins won their second straight Stanley Cup a little over a week ago, but since the season never really ever truly ends, here we are. Free agency!
The Pens are coming back largely intact. And it looks like most of their restricted free agents are coming back, too. There is still a handful of unrestricted free agents they have to decide upon, on top of all of the other UFA’s out on the market.
Instead of ranking all of the UFA’s the Pens have to choose from, let’s do a quick run through of the more popular names out there, including the Pens’ own UFA’s:
DO: Bring back Chris Kunitz. He can still fill the role on the bottom six, even if his days of seamlessly transitioning to the top six are clearly past him. He turns it on in the playoffs — when it matters — and that’s something the Penguins can still rely on getting from him, since the regular season really isn’t something the Pens or GMJR should be concerned about. They’re making the playoffs, they need playoff players. Kunitz can still be that guy, and has already said money isn’t an issue. Bring him back.
DON’T: Sign Thomas Vanek. Half his points came on the power play. Think he’s on the power play unit in Pittsburgh? The answer is no.
DO: Test the waters on Kris Versteeg. He’s always had decent possession numbers, and if the price is right, he could be a good fit for bottom six depth that could transition to a top-six role if needed. This would largely hinge on the Penguins’ interest in bringing back Kunitz.
DO: Bring back Nick Bonino — at the right price. This is simple: If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it. Bonino is a monster on the PK and a fearless shot blocker. The guy played, and then tried to play again, on a broken tibia. When you think of the ideal third line center for this team that has so much scoring talent, it’s everything Bonino brings to the table. No need to overthink this one.
DON’T: Sign Joe Thornton. Again, Thornton isn’t cracking this power play. There’s no need or room for another playmaking center on this roster. Love Thornton. Love his game. Love his beard. Don’t see how he fits in this lineup. A lot of people will argue this take, my response will be: If the Pens can’t afford to re-sign Bonino, what makes you think Thornton is even remotely possible? It’s not.
DON’T: Bring back Matt Cullen. I know everyone loves Dad, but the drop off from two years ago to this past season was palpable. And it’s only going to get more obvious the longer this goes. Cullen is probably riding off into the sunset, anyway, but if he wants to play another season, I’d say it should be somewhere else.
DO: Kick the tires on Martin Hanzal. He’s excellent in the faceoff circle, winning 56.4 percent of the 1,360 draws he took last season, which could certainly help the Penguins, and his possession numbers are solid across the board. He’s 30 and still in his prime, though injuries are a concern. Also, where he wouldn’t help is the PK, which is why I think Bonino should be the first play.
DO: Give a call to Brian Boyle. Ryan Reaves has already claimed the “fourth line dickhead” moniker, but Boyle could certainly lend him a hand if that’s the direction GMJR is taking.
DON’T SLEEP ON: Jiri Hudler, Dominick Moore, Marcus Kruger
Not really a position of need, but obligatory mention to #JagrWatch.
The Pens are more than likely losing Mark Streit, Trevor Daley and Ron Hainsey. That leaves Chad Ruhwedel, Brian Dumoulin, Ian Cole, Olli Maatta, Justin Schultz, Kris Letang (assuming he gets and stays healthy), and Derrick Pouliot (assuming he can escape the AHL). Theoretically, they should sign at least one, probably two defensemen.
This is a really weak group, but here we go…
DO: Go after Cody Franson. He’s big. He’s right handed. He can skate, sort of. He’s everything the Pens were hoping Ron Hainsey could sort of come close to providing when they traded for him. He is the clearcut ideal sign if the Pens are going to make one this summer.
DON’T: Even answer a call from Michael Del Zotto’s agent.
DO: Take a look at Michael Stone and Patrick Weircoich. Stone made $4-million last season, which is probably what he will fetch in free agency, so he may be a bit of a stretch. Weircioch basically died a slow death with Colorado last season, and is left handed, but would be good depth if Pouliot truly is ready to step up into a starting position.
I’d stick with Tristian Jarry at back up to conserve the cap space, but GMJR may want to young goalie to get another season in the AHL under his belt. Both moves would make sense.
If the Pens are looking at bringing in a veteran, my first choice would be Chad Johnson, assuming he doesn’t sign with Arizona or go back to Calgary.
After Johnson, Anders Nilsson is probably the best candidate. Big goalie. Swedish. Most importantly: cheap. Seems like a perfect fit in Pittsburgh, if the Pens want to go that route.