5 Free Agents Who Should Be on the Pittsburgh Penguins' Wish List
With an element of uncertainty on both the ice and in the front office following another early postseason exit, the Pittsburgh Penguins are in dire need of accumulating new types of talent this offseason.
Big name skaters like Brooks Orpik, Matt Niskanen and Jussi Jokinen are hitting the free agency market this July, and while it is important the organization takes a long, hard look at whether or not to re-sign these guys, they have other important issues to address as well.
The team needs to continue to build around the core players such as Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin while trying to make the right decisions as to who stays and who walks after July 1.
Let’s take a look now at five players who could be suiting up in black and gold this October. I tried to be as logical as possible, but I also went with what my heart desired. Feel free to agree or completely shred my views apart in the comment section below.
Thomas Vanek, LW
Ex-GM Ray Shero was criticized this season for not making a big splash at the trade deadline. Has-beens like Lee Stempniak and Marcel Goc didn't necessarily turn heads. Acquiring Austrian-born Thomas Vanek was a rumor that circled the organization in early March, but it failed to come to fruition.
When teams are allowed to begin speaking with free agents on July 1, the mistake of letting Vanek slip through their fingers can be made good again if the Pens take the time to make him a fair offer.
The 30-year-old winger had an outstanding year with the Sabres, Islanders and now Canadiens, netting 27 goals and 41 assists for 68 points with the Eastern Conference clubs. So far in the playoffs, he has five goals and three assists in 13 games with Montreal. These are great numbers, and the Canadiens would be fools to let him go in free agency.
If the Habs do decide to let Vanek walk, then the Penguins would surely have to pounce on him. Adding his large frame and shooting skills to the top line with Crosby and Chris Kunitz would make it the most lethal first line in all of hockey.
It will take a good chunk of change (though not nearly as much as his last contract with the Sabres) to sign the veteran, so expect the Penguins to make some room before any offer is set forth.
Jonas Gustavsson, Goaltender
Marc-Andre Fleury fortunately didn’t have another playoff meltdown like we have seen before, though it almost looked like we were going to back in the Columbus series. In 13 postseason matchups, the netminder won seven and posted a .915 save percentage and 2.40 GAA with two shutouts as well. He looked tremendously better than what we have been accustomed to seeing from the “Flower."
I think it is safe to say, though, that a goaltender should be on the Pens’ radar this summer. Fleury is an amazing regular season goalie, and he may have finally gotten his postseason act together, but there is always room for improvement.
I believe the Red Wings’ Jonas Gustavsson could be a valuable insurance piece. In Detroit, the Swede is backup to Jimmy Howard. The vet could play the same role in Pittsburgh to take the load off Fleury in both the regular season and playoffs. I am just not sold on Jeff Zatkoff assuming that role yet.
I think the Penguins need to give Fluery at least one more chance to lead a deep charge into the playoffs next year, and I think Gustavsson could help relieve him of some of the stress.
The “Flower” has one more year on his contract, meaning the 2014-15 season could be his last chance to prove that he is physically, and most importantly, mentally sound.
Nikita Nikitin, Defenseman
With Orpik, Niskanen and Deryk Engelland all set to become unrestricted free agents, defense must be the top concern for the front office, especially with Olli Maatta and 2012 first-round draft pick Derrick Pouliot both undergoing shoulder surgery.
2014 free agency isn’t stacked with defensemen, so it looks like they will have to build through the draft, but there are some diamonds among the rough like Columbus’ Nikita Nikitin.
The Russian defenseman has a big 6’4” size with quick feet. Even though he is not known for his offensive prowess, he can really fire the puck. Finishing up his latest deal based on the AVV worth $2.15 million a year, Nikitin is a solid defenseman who could be utilized until the younger guys start finding their groove.
I would love to see the Pens throw a big time offer to Justin Schultz of Edmonton, but that would only work in my dreams. He is too much of a cornerstone in the Oilers' system to be let go.
Nikitin would definitely be an upgrade to a defense that is surrounded with question marks.
Dave Bolland, Center
Yea, I know. Dave Bolland? Let me explain.
The Penguins are known for having their top two forward lines ooze with talent, but after them, what is there really to gawk over?
Okay, I’ll admit it, I may be biased here, being from Chicago, but bringing in a two-time Stanley Cup champion like Bolland would help insure depth on the third line. Bolland is known for his gritty offensive work, but his knack for scoring key goals in big situations is worth a risky investment.
Having the 27-year-old sign with the Pens is quite a reach, but he knows how to work well with superstars like Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane of the Blackhawks, so the ‘Burgh would be a nice fit.
He would be an expensive asset and with the Pens’ tight cap situation, it will most likely never happen.
Brooks Orpik, Defenseman
I said I would be looking at free agents, right?
I know Mr. Orpik is still a Penguin, but I really think they cannot pass up the opportunity to re-sign him. This team is in dire need on the defensive front and letting go a fan favorite is unacceptable, at least in my view. He has had troubles with his knee, but that is the only reason I see him not playing in Pittsburgh next year.
Orpik is the catalyst who holds this defense together. The same cannot be said of Kris Letang or Paul Martin. He logs 20 minutes a game and is known to put his body on the line to help his team earn a “W.”
I have faith that the man named after legendary Olympic head coach Herb Brooks will re-sign with the Penguins. He may have to make a sacrifice on paper, but I am sure he understands that as he gets older.