With multiple huge names becoming free agents for the Pittsburgh Penguins this summer, the coming months could turn into the tale of two offseasons.
Number one, and probably the more preferred option, where they re-sign both Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang and keep the core together for a few more seasons.
The second option is that one or both of Malkin and Letang find new homes in the NHL and the Penguins have to find replacements in the roster.
Let’s explore the second path where Malkin and/or Letang depart and see what kind of free agents the Penguins should pursue.
If the Penguins lose Malkin, there is no reason why they shouldn’t take a swing at one of the biggest names to hit the free agent market.
In 2021-22, Johnny Gaudreau had a career year in every aspect of the sport; 40 goals, 75 assists, 115 points, nine game winning goals, and a +64 rating are all career highs.
Gaudreau chose a great time to find the sort of game that put him on the map as one of the top forwards in the NHL.
His 115 points in 2021-22 is higher than his point totals from the previous two seasons combined (49, 58) and also tied for second most in the NHL.
With that kind of output in a contract year, Gaudreau will be demanding a pretty penny, but if Malkin and Letang are out the door the Penguins should utilize their almost $24 million in cap space and swing big.
Gaudreau will turn 29 this summer and if signed to the right deal in Pittsburgh, can be a leader on a post-Sidney Crosby team.
Much like Gaudreau, Nazem Kadri had a career season in the final year of his contract and out performed his last two seasons combined.
From 2019 to 2021, Kadri played in 107 games scoring 68 points (30-38). In 2021-22 in 71 games he put up 28 goals and a career high 59 assists for 87 points.
Since joining the Colorado Avalanche, Kadri has proven to be a deadly postseason performer.
In 26 playoff games with the Avs, he has reached 29 points (14-15).
You may be asking “what about the playoff suspensions?” Well, Kadri has become an expert in changing his style of play.
Kadri used to produce well over 100 hits in a single season, but has lowered that number by about half.
The physical play hasn’t left his game, but Kadri has contained it and found ways to still use his body and not cost his team.
If Malkin hits the road, Kadri might be the perfect replacement for second line center; he can produce at a high level and wouldn’t demand any insane amount of money.
Even if Malkin sticks around, it might be worth taking a shot at Kadri to play on the wing.
What’s one thing Penguins fans keep saying the team is missing from the lineup? Someone more willing to throw the body around.
We already know Kadri can still do that, but Vincent Trocheck enjoys playing with an edge to his game.
In 2021-22 with the Carolina Hurricanes, Trocheck accumulated 185 hits in 81 games, but also had 21 goals and 30 assists for 51 points.
A solid two-way center who can be a scoring threat as well as a pest to play against is exactly what this team needs up front.
There is an extra layer to Trocheck that fans would enjoy; he’s a Pittsburgh native.
Trocheck played for the Pittsburgh Hornets before moving to Detroit at the age of 13 and is an admitted diehard Steelers fan.
More than just a solid addition to the organization on the ice, Trockeck would be a happy homecoming story for the Penguins.
Regardless of what happens with Letang, the Penguins blue line needs a complete overhaul, and his replacement may have to come from within the organization.
Other defensive spots will need to be filled, however, and that’s where Will Butcher steps in.
Butcher wouldn’t become a top-line defender but can still be productive enough in the bottom groupings.
A solid enough puck mover, a change of scenery away from the Buffalo Sabres may be exactly what his play needs.
In his rookie season with the New Jersey Devils, Butcher put up 44 points in 81 games; that’s the kind of play he would need to find in Pittsburgh.
No one is going to be able to replicate exactly what Letang brought to the Penguins, but a whole new group that Butcher can be a part of, should fill the hole nicely.
If the Penguins aren’t able to re-sign their core guys, holes will have to be filled and they should swing for the fences with a splash signing.
Some of these names could be perfect in the Penguins organization.
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