The Pittsburgh Penguins were relatively quiet on the first day of free agency.
However, the Pittsburgh Penguins did make some important moves, and will not be silent all summer.
It was not surprising to see a lot of the Pens’ UFAs sign elsewhere. Nick Bonino, Trevor Daley, Ron Hainsey, and Chris Kunitz all found new teams for the 2017-18 season. While these are not insignificant losses, the Penguins should have no trouble replacing these players.
The Penguins have been widely rumored to be working up a trade for a third-line center. A name commonly thrown out has been Matt Duchene’s, which would be an offensive (and speed) upgrade over Bonino.
The loss of Kunitz means the Penguins will lose some grit and net-front presence. However, the Penguins have feisty Patric Hornqvist for another year, and prospect Zach Aston-Reese plays a similar style as well. Aston-Reese could very well make it to the NHL roster next year in Kunitz’s place.
Some Quiet Signings
The Penguins did have a few signings on July 1st. One signing was of defenseman Matt Hunwick for three years. Hunwick, 32, had 19 points and was a +8 last year with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Penguins also signed recently bought out Antti Niemi for one year at $700,000. Niemi is coming off of a rough season in Dallas, where he shared the net with Kari Lehtonen. Niemi finished last season with a 12-12 record, .892 save percentage, and 3.30 GAA. Despite his stats from last year, Niemi will be a solid—and cheap—backup to Matt Murray.
Perhaps most significantly, the Penguins retained one of their top blueliners. Justin Schultz re-signed for three years and $16.5 million, with an average yearly cap hit of $5.5 million. Schultz finished last season with 51 points in 78 games and was a +27 as he helped the Penguins to their second consecutive Stanley Cup. Schultz has been a solid top-four defenseman and is a great quarterback on the power play. Re-signing him was a good move by the Pens.
Patience is a Virtue
The Penguins didn’t make a lot of big moves on the first day—mostly, the Pens let players go. But GM Jim Rutherford has always been patient, waiting until the end of the offseason or even until the season has begun before making trades. Rutherford himself said “It’s important now not to panic and go after somebody just to say that we got a center.”
Rutherford did make it clear that the Pens were planning on getting a center through trade, however. So while the first day of free agency may have been a mild one for the Pens, the biggest moves are yet to come.