Who Might The Penguins Pursue -- And Who Should They Avoid?
With July 1st quickly approaching and the Pittsburgh Penguins armed with enough cap space to make some sizeable additions, the focus shifts towards whatâ€™s available and what could help push them over the top. In my previous article, I detailed some of the top free agents available. Included in that list was winger Zach Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter, as well as a mention of rugged winger Shane Doan. Both players figure to be looking at least $7 million per season and would be major scores (or score, individually) for the organization but with every team in the league likely in hot pursuit of them, the odds are that the Penguins wonâ€™t get both or either. In such an event, a contingency plan needs to be in place: the following are some quality â€œplan Bâ€ players for GM Ray Shero to look into in case the big names donâ€™t fall his way.
The Penguins could use a winger that complements Sidney Crosby well, but generally speaking, the Penguins have a lot of versatile pieces that can play anywhere in the top-nine going up and down either side of a center. There are some wingers out there that would look good anywhere in the lineup that might be a 50% savings or more on Parise.
Minnesotaâ€™s Guillaume Latendresse has been slowed by injuries including a concussion that caused him to lose most of the 2011-12 season. While such an injury is a red flag to Penguins fans and management alike, Latendresse is a terrifically skilled player that can play either wing. At 6-foot-2, 230 pounds, the 2005 second rounder can be a bulldozer on the rink. He fights for ice to unleash his sensational wristshot and can score from a lot of places on the rink. Though his name translates to English as â€œThe Tendernessâ€, he is a very physical player and can crush enemies with devastating hits. When heâ€™s on his game, he can go up and down the wings defensively and steal pucks but is not a penalty killer. Heâ€™s not the fastest player in the world, but his speed is not a liability at all. While he generally plays hard, there have been instances where he takes the night off, however, they have been few and far between since heâ€™s gotten older and more mature. Minnesota refused to tender Latendresse a qualifying offer at $2.5 million but tried to re-sign him after the fact to no avail. He is in a rare window where heâ€™s eligible for performance bonuses on a one-year deal because heâ€™s a pensioned-player that spent 100 or more days on injured reserve in the previous season.
And reallyâ€¦thatâ€™s my best recommendation. Like I said, itâ€™s a tough year for free agent-seeking teams.
There are some long(er) shots out there that could come cheap but they have a better than average chance of not working.
Coloradoâ€™s Peter Mueller was not qualified at more than $2 million. Heâ€™s a talented player and former top draft pick. He can play any forward position and has a high skill level. He reads plays well and has very good vision. Heâ€™s got a good-sized frame and shoots right-handed. Never much of a physical player, but Mueller has been further kept to the sidelines in that regard due to a serious concussion history. A fine finisher that exhibits at least competent defensive play due to his up-bringing as a center, Mueller has major health issues and may not be too terribly far off from retirement despite being even younger than Crosby. He would be an asset to the power play but what it would be tough to say if he could hold together if things got too terribly rough. He has never played a playoff game in his NHL career.
Buffaloâ€™s Brad Boyes had a tough year and did not flourish under Lindy Ruff. The one-time 40-goal man was held to under 10 this past season and hasnâ€™t cracked the 20-goal plateau since 2008-09 with St. Louis. He never quite fit in with the Sabres was regulated to the bottom two lines often. He plays right wing and center and got a good taste of the latter especially after Paul Gaustad was shipped to Nashville. The former Erie Otter is a natural goal scorer but has had trouble finding chances to score and can become noticeably frustrated on the ice which typically causes him to back down all together. This will be organization number six for Boyes coming up already and thatâ€™s not a coincidence or bad luck. Heâ€™s never been known as a player to make waves though and he goes out there and does his job, but when a scorer is not scoring, it can have serious mental repercussions. Heâ€™s not a strong defensive player at all, so his placement in the bottom six would not be advisable.
Former Penguin Mikael Samuelsson is not expected to be retained by Florida. A competent goal-scorer and offensive threat, Samuelsson is getting up there in age (heâ€™ll be 36 this season) but still has some life left. Largely a third liner in Florida, Samuelsson added a little more pop and a little more two-way play to his game with the Panthers after returning from an injury mid-year. He still wouldnâ€™t be much more than a second or third line depth player with Pittsburgh, but he might come at a bargain. Unlike many free agents on the market, Samuelsson has been the distance twice in the playoffs â€“ winning once in 2008 with Detroit. With nearly 100 NHL playoff games and an Olympic Gold Medal under his belt, the right-handed Swede has some of the most big-game experience under his belt on the market.
- Who should be avoided â€“
The New York Islanders Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau should not be included in discussions. Though his stats may look good last season, he actually held back the Islanders John Tavares for doing even greater things. Parenteau is a one-dimensional player that is a below-average skater and is easily knocked off the puck. Seemingly a step behind the play mentally and physically, Parenteau holds the puck too long and carries it into isolated areas of the rink before turning it over to destroy many rushes. Heâ€™s merely a Quadruple-A player (too good for the minors, not good for the majors) that found himself on a line with one of the leagueâ€™s best young super stars. Parenteau couldnâ€™t keep up physically or mentally with what are now veterans in Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby and would only serve to ****** the growth and development of the team. Heâ€™s a player that would have fit in fine back in 2004 or 2006 when Andy Hilbert and other fringe NHLers were welcomed with open arms but Parenteau cannot feature anywhere in the lineup of a club that figures itself to be a contender â€“ much less at the price of $4 million per season, which is the approximate value heâ€™ll have on the market. Similar one-dimensional, top-line-or-bust players exist on the market for pennies on the dollar if an emergency plan is absolutely necessary.
Edmontonâ€™s Ryan Smyth likely wonâ€™t stray far from the Oilers, but hopefully the Penguins arenâ€™t on his list. Never a fast player, Smyth has lost the only step he had and is nothing more than a beat-up body in front of the net on the power play. He was hard-pressed to fit into the Oilers lineup last year and is bordering on a liability at even strength. He would have little chance of fitting into the Penguins up-tempo style and his lacking wristshot and limited vision would prevent him from creating goals on the fly at all.
Jason Blake is another player that is well beyond his time in the spotlight â€“ however limited that was for Blake. Blakeâ€™s best asset was his speed and that has largely dried up now and that renders him effectively useless. Always a rather one-dimensional puckhog, Blake would be a poor fit on the quick moving Penguins. While there are no official stats for it, I believe Blake has put more players offside in his career than any other player in history.
Players that are likely done or clinging to life support in the NHL also include: Brian Rolston, Tomas Holmstrom, Mike Knuble, Steven Reinprecht and Andrew Brunette.
The bottom-six forwards could also use a freshening up and, naturally, there are some more options on that front.
San Joseâ€™s Daniel Winnik has higher end skill than your average mucker and he protects the puck remarkably well. At his best, heâ€™s a good two-way player that can play any forward position. Heâ€™s not overtly physical, but he can lower the boom here and again. He has some scoring upside and can play the penalty kill fairly well. Heâ€™s never had a true chance to show off his skills, but thatâ€™s not to say that heâ€™d be a breakout player if he did.
Montrealâ€™s Travis Moen would be a terrific addition to a third line whose sandpapery style could rub the shine off of a diamond. Moen is a terrific defensive forward who brings a great deal of physicality and work effort to the table. Heâ€™s a reliable penalty killer and has plenty of big game experience. Penguins fans might regrettably remember him as the player who effectively ended Sergei Goncharâ€™s career as a Penguin with a workman-like shorthanded goal in game 7 vs. Montreal in 2010. Other fans will remember him being a major piece to the Anaheim Ducks 2007 Stanley Cup championship.
Dallas Stars winger Radek Dvorak would be a fine addition to a group of industrious forwards. Even as he continues to age, Dvorak has a motor that wonâ€™t stop and heâ€™s a very good defensive player that can make a big difference on any penalty kill. He is 6-foot-2 but doesnâ€™t necessarily play like it as he is not a majorly physical player. Heâ€™s sound positionally and good with his stick and isnâ€™t allergic to goal scoring. He only found the net four times last season on a defensive team but it wouldnâ€™t be out of sorts for him to pot 12-15 goals on an offensive team while playing limited minutes. Heâ€™s a player that has played in many different locales over the years but one would be hard pressed to find a more employer that wouldnâ€™t given Dvorak a ringing endorsement.
In terms of a player that can drop the gloves a bit also, New Yorkâ€™s Brandon Prust has made himself a very popular player amongst fans but is set to test free agency due to his contract demands. He was solid defensively and a very physical agitator all season long for the suffocating Rangers. Additionally, heâ€™s probably the best pound-for-pound fighter in the NHL right now. Although maybe such praise has gone to his head, as he is asking in excess of $2 million of his would-be suitors.
Winnipegâ€™s Tanner Glass is never going to win any speed-skating competitions but he plays a big manâ€™s game on the rink. He plays the game bigger than heâ€™s listed and never passes up an opportunity to hit the opposition. Heâ€™s a surprisingly aware defensive player that can play on the penalty kill with reckless abandon for his body. He was second among Jets forwards in shot blocking and is willing to sacrifice himself to stay in the league. Glassâ€™ game could probably be best compared to Mike Rupp.
While there remains many free agents yet to be discussed, these are a few that the Penguins may target if their initial plans go awry or simply to supplement their lineup after a major move.