Pittsburgh Penguins: Unrestricted Free Agent Situation


As things stand currently, the Pittsburgh Penguins will have four unrestricted free agents (UFAs) when their contracts expire on July 1, 2016.

Things can certainly change between now and the summer of course.  If they don’t, and these four players aren’t either traded or re-signed by July 1, the Penguins will have two forwards, one defenseman and one goaltender currently on their roster who become unrestricted free agents and hit the open market.

The four players in question, as identified on generalfanager.com are:  Matt Cullen (C), Kevin Porter (C), Ben Lovejoy (D), and Jeff Zatkoff (G).  Let’s take a look at each player.

Matt Cullen (C)

Cullen has been a key asset for the Penguins this season.  The veteran pivot has stepped up admirably, as the Pens have been bitten severely by the injury bug up the middle.  As of this post, the team is missing centermen Evgeni Malkin, Eric Fehr and Nick Bonino to injuries.  Cullen has filled the slot vacated by Malkin, playing middle on the second line.  In February, through six games, Cullen has notched three points (2 goals, 1 assist), and his average time on ice (ATOI) has increased to 17:16 per game.

The journeyman center, although filling his role with aplomb this season, is on the back nine of his NHL career at 39 years of age.  If Cullen wants to keep playing, ala Jaromir Jagr, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him sign a one-year extension with the Penguins.  He’s certainly playing above value this season, as his cap hit is just $800,000 according to generalfanager.com.  With the Penguins up against the cap, if they can sign Cullen to a similar contract for next season, it would be a big win for the team.

Kevin Porter (C)

Playing pivot on the third line, while Malkin, Fehr and Bonino are injured, the veteran Porter has plugged a hole.  Over the entire 2015-16 season, Porter has picked up three assists in 33 games.  His statistics show that he has played at a much higher level while in the AHL.  He picked up 9 points (5 goals, 4 assists) in 16 games for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton this season.  Although his cap hit is very affordable at $575,000 for his one year contract, once all the Penguins’ centermen are healthy, and with young players such as Dominik Simon pushing their way on to the roster, this season might be Porter’s final chance to earn a cup with Pittsburgh.

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Ben Lovejoy (D)

Lovejoy, who grew up in the Penguins organization prior to being traded to the Anaheim Ducks, was reacquired by the Pens on March 2, 2015 in a trade with Anaheim for defenseman Simon Depres.  Since his re-acquisition, Lovejoy has had a fairly succesful time with Pittsburgh.  In 54 games this season, Lovejoy has notched eight points (2 goals, 6 assists) with a plus-6 on ice, and 19:10 average time on ice (ATOI).  He’s currently finishing up a three-year contract worth $3.3 million in total.  Given Lovejoy’s success with the team this season, it wouldn’t be surprising if they re-signed the blueliner for another short term contract.

Jeff Zatkoff (G)

The 28 year-old Zatkoff is coming off of a two-year contract worth $1.2 million overall.  He’s clearly the backup goaltender to Marc-Andre Fleury, although he has seen 12 games of ice-time this season.  And he’s played pretty well overall in those 12 games.  His save percentage of .923 is strong, and his goals against average of 2.65 is nothing to sneeze at.  Is Zatkoff content with being a backup goaltender in the NHL?  If so, I’d look for the Pens to re-sign him to another short term contract.  If Zatkoff wants a shot a starting netminder spot, Pittsburgh won’t be the place for him long term.  I’d expect that he re-signs with the Penguins, but you never know.

What do you think, Pens fans?  Who will re-sign with Pittsburgh?