With only a little over $14.5 million in cap space – per Cap Geek – and only seven forwards under contract for next season, the Pittsburgh Penguins need to find inexpensive, quality forwards.
Assuming the Penguins are able to re-sign Brandon Sutter and Nick Spaling on their qualifying offers, and no major trades occur before free agency, general manger Jim Rutherford is going to struggle finding quality depth.
The most probable player to join the Penguins is unrestricted free agent Nikolai Kulemin of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Many reports have been surfacing recently linking Kulemin to the Penguins, given his friendship with Evgeni Malkin, along with his potential offensive capability. Kulemin is a former 30-goal scorer, but also coming off of his least productive season at the NHL-level. Rutherford would hope that by pairing Kulemin with Malkin it can boost his offensive numbers.
Another player that has been suggested as a good fit for the Penguins is Steve Ott.
If the Penguins want to add grit to their team, then Ott would be the perfect player to satisfy that need. Ott has played for four different teams in his 11-year career, and is highly respected as a leader. Given the Penguins large amount of roster turnover, they need a proven leader to replace the void left by Brooks Orpik.
In addition, the benefit of signing Ott is the integration of a player who will give the Penguins a physical presence in the bottom-six. Coming off a four-year contract with an annual cap hit of $2.95 million – per Cap Geek – he could fit into the Penguins’ budget.
Another unrestricted free agent who could potentially join the Penguins on an inexpensive contract is left wing Mason Raymond.
Last season, Raymond played for the Maple Leafs and was able to produce 45 points while only averaging around 17 minutes a game – according to Hockey Reference. Adding Raymond would not only bring a productive forward to the Penguins bottom-six, but also a player who can kill penalties and work the power-play.
The best part about the Penguins possibly signing Raymond is that his last contract was a one-year, $1 million contract – per Cap Geek. Raymond is a complete hockey player, and his perfomance against the Calgary Flames back in December of 2010 showcases his talent and potential.
The last potential free agent the Penguins should seriously consider signing is Brian Boyle.
Boyle is known in the Rangers locker room as a leader – according to former teammate Brandon Dubinsky. Here’s what Dubinsky said in regards to Boyle, per Jason Brough of prohockeytalk.nbcsports.com: “He’s a character, a great guy, a great guy for the room and a good player, too. He was a good teammate to have ”
Boyle is one of the largest players in the NHL. Standing at 6-foot-7, and weighing 244-pounds, and was almost annually a leader in hits during his time with the New York Rangers. By adding Boyle the Penguins, he would add size and strength to their bottom-six. He also could be signed for a fairly small amount of money. His last contract – according to Cap Geek – carried a cap hit of $1.7 million each year. Boyle has limited offensive capability, but would still be a reliable third or fourth-line player.
It will be interesting to watch Rutherford try and bring in free agents, given his limited cap space and huge amount of need.
One thing is for certain, the Penguins need reliable and gritty players in their bottom-six. And all of the players I have highlighted would accomplish this while not costing a pretty penny.
Tags: Pittsburgh Penguins