There seems to be so much to get done in Pittsburgh. The offseason is getting busier and busier for the Penguins, who are looking to make significant changes in order to return as a Cup contender - and potentially champions - next spring. While most folks have been focusing on the ongoing trade rumours concerning top forward Phil Kessel, there is a lot more happening off the ice.
There was an important signing on Tuesday that appears to have changed the game when it comes to the Penguins' trade plans. Josh Yohe of The Athletic notes the Penguins’ re-signing of forward Bryan Rust yesterday to a four-year, $14-million contract leaves them with just over $4 million in salary-cap space.
A new plan needs to be set in motion, as general manager Jim Rutherford will likely re-sign center Riley Sheahan and defenseman Jamie Oleksiak, while he is hoping to add another forward and defenseman to his roster. However, it seems like captain Sidney Crosby might be pushing for specific moves in order for his team to sign one player on the free-agent market.
Yohe lists winger Conor Sheary ($3 million annually), defenseman Matt Hunwick ($2.25 million), winger Carl Hagelin ($4 million) and center Derick Brassard ($5 million cap hit, $3.5 million in actual salary) as potential trade candidates for this summer. They might not be the biggest names to land on the trade block, however, Yohe considers trading Kessel or defenseman Kris Letang “quite unlikely to happen at this time." After all, we all heard Rutherford shutting down these ideas during his meeting with reporters on Monday.
Crosby would certainly like to see one of these players on the way out - not because of a tense relationship or anything like the soap opera we have seen with the Ottawa Senators. Only because such a move would allow the Penguins to dump some salary and sign unrestricted free agent defenseman and Crosby's old friend Jack Johnson.
Johnson requested a trade this season from the Columbus Blue Jackets as he looked to move to a team to better his future as a veteran blue liner in the NHL, for his financial situation and his family's needs. The Jackets ended up holding on to the defensive defender and there seems to be little doubt he will sign elsewhere on the opening of free agency on July 1st. The plan might be to offer Johnson a short-term deal in hopes of improving his value and image after sitting out all six of the team’s playoff games. The Penguins are known to be great remedy for defensemen who has been known to struggle. Mackey points out the evolution of players like Justin Schultz and Oleksiak with the Pens, and how it might work as well for a blue liner like Johnson.
Of the trade candidates that the Pens are considering and Crosby might be pushing for, Brassard would likely attract the most interest. There’s a market for quality centers and Brassard might be the next best thing once things settle on John Tavares and Paul Statsny on the UFA market.
Let's see if the Pens - and Crosby - get what they want.