Pittsburgh Wins Big With Value Free Agent Signings
The Pittsburgh Penguins went into the free agent frenzy with glaring needs in their bottom six, an opening at wing in the top six, and an opening on the blueline for a veteran presence.
For just 6.9 million Pittsburgh was able to fill the void left in the bottom six, acquire a top four veteran defenseman, and sign a backup goaltender, although the backup goaltender position was not a glaring need.
What made this day so successful for the Penguins was that they were able to acquire all these additions at maximum value.
Their first signing of the day was perhaps their best signing. The Pens signed recently bought out defender Christian Ehrhoff for just 4 million AAV over one season. The free agent was expected to receive a five year deal worth up to five million per season, but turned that down for a chance to win and boost his potential value for next season.
The 32 year old Ehrhoff is known for his solid defensive play and booming slap shot. Ehrhoff will likely replace Matt Niskanen’s power play production at a much better value, considering Niskanen signed with the Washington Capitals for an absurd seven years at 40+ million. With Ehrhoff being a left shot it is likely that he and Kris Letang will man the point on the Penguins power play next season, giving them a mobile and potent offensive punch.
The hope is that Ehrhoff will be given an extension sometime before the end of next season at a reasonable value.
Pittsburgh was also able to address their bottom six with two additions that came at quite a bargain. First Pittsburgh signed UFA forward Blake Comeau, formerly of the Columbus Blue Jackets, to a one year deal worth just $700,000. The versatile fourth liner provides Pittsburgh with a decent combination of skating ability and grit.
While Comeau isn’t exactly a splash signing he is certainly an upgrade over the likes of Tanner Glass, Taylor Pyatt, and Deryk Engelland. His 197 hits last season were a career high and his five goals and 11 assists marked decent production for a fourth line player.
The Penguins were able to resign fourth line center/third line winger Marcel Goc as well. Goc joined the Penguins last season at the trade deadline as a depth signing. He brings good skating, size, and versatile play. Goc excelled in penalty killing for Pittsburgh last season and even developed a physical side in the playoffs.
At just 1.2 million on a one year deal, Goc could be considered a great bargain. He decided to take a $500,000 pay cut to remain a Penguin. While Goc does not bring a lot of offensive potential, he is still a 10 goal 10 assist type player in a fourth line role. Add in his over 55% faceoff win percentage and his value well exceeds his cap hit.
The Penguins final piece of the day was goaltender Thomas Greiss. At just 1 million AAV on a one year deal, Greiss has good value for a backup netminder. His 2.29 goals against average and .920 save percentage last year showed strong potential to compete for more than just a backup role. Greiss was a crucial part in Pheonix’s push for the playoffs last season after starter Mike Smith went down due to injury.
Greiss was brought in to compete with Zatkoff for the backup role, but has the potential to challenge Marc-Andre Fleury for starting time.
Overall Pittsburgh was able to get four players for just 6.9 million dollars. All four players fill a role quite well and have a good chance to prove themselves for future contracts. This should equate to a hungrier team eager to prove themselves in the playoffs.
Unfortunately Pittsburgh still has a role to fill within the top six, most likely the left wing on a line with Evgeni Malkin. Rumor has it that Nikolai Kulimen is looking to join the Penguins, however, Pittsburgh lacks the necessary cap space to accommodate his proposed salary. There is a good chance that the Penguins try to move Rob Scuderi and his contract by the end of the week, opening up 3.75 million dollars in cap space, which would provide enough space for Kulimen.
Pittsburgh is also on the verge of resigning their current RFA’s, who were all qualified by Monday afternoon’s deadline. These include Brandon Sutter, recently acquired Nick Spaling, Simon Despres, Jayson Megna, Philip Samuelsson, and Bobby Farnham (Farnham is expected to take a season off from hockey though in a strange development). The six RFA’s are expected to take up at least six million of the Penguins remaining 8.33million in cap space.
*Although Pittsburgh is rumored to be in the hunt for a top six winger, some reports have Pittsburgh looking for a new third line center. The Penguins are looking to possibly move Brandon Sutter into the top six as a scoring winger. His breakout speed and quick release make him an enticing prospect at wing despite playing his entire career at center.
*Pittsburgh is also contemplating moving salary in as many fashions as possible. One way to do this is to trade defenseman Paul Martin. Although many would rather see Rob Scuderi leave, Martin is a much easier contract to move and his play would likely bring back a solid return. Keep an eye on the Minnesota Wild who missed out on a top UFA defender and have a plethora of young talented forwards to move.
*Finally, Pittsburgh should be credited for keeping their cool today and making sensible signings. Pittsburgh spent just 6.9 million on four additions, all one year contracts. They allowed Jussi Jokinen, Brooks Orpik, Matt Niskanen, and Deryk Engelland to leave for big money. Engelland, the biggest surprise of the day, was given an egregious 3 year deal for 8.7 million total. Orpik, Jokinen, and Niskanen combined for over $76 million total on their deals. For Pittsburgh to stand pat while letting the market overreact says a lot about this teams desire to build via the draft and trades, rather than overspend on UFA’s.