The Pittsburgh Penguins may be done shopping for NHL free agents. Though one phone call from a rival GM could change that, there are still a handful of unsigned players on both sides of the ledger. A few will get raises, and a few may find themselves making pennies on the dollar. A pair of former Penguins are in the former group, and one beloved former Penguins winger is easily in the latter.
It will be a cold cup of coffee with a few disappointed players who must swallow their new reality.
As a side note, we’ll exclude Nazem Kadri from the list. His not-so-secret deal with the New York Islanders, as reported by NYI Hockey Now and others since then, means he’ll be getting a hefty raise from his recent $4.5 million salary.
Biggest Salary Drops
1. Phil Kessel
Kessel will have much less money to flop in the table when he’s got the nuts (Poker terms). His eight-year, $64 million deal signed in Toronto with Brian Burke has finally expired, but not before traveling through the Toronto Maple Leafs, Pittsburgh Penguins, and Arizona Coyotes.
Kessel, 34, could be the biggest fall on the free-agent board. He won’t make anything close to $8 million AAV on his next deal. The RW, who has six 30-goal seasons in his pocket, has not netted more than 20 since playing beside Evgeni Malkin in 2018-19. He had just eight goals last season, and his lack of a 200-foot game or added dimensions means he’s becoming a boutique option.
Worse for the mercurial Kessel is his market niche. Stanley Cup contenders don’t have the salary-cap space to add him, and the have-nots don’t need him.
He might command $2 million to boost a team’s power play, but there isn’t a line or great demand for a light-scoring perimeter winger with an aversion to defense.
2. PK Subban
Sidney Crosby’s basketball (we kid) is nearing the end of a colorful and successful career.
Subban, 33, was okay with the New Jersey Devils last season, but back issues have limited his effectiveness. He will not approach his previous $9 million salary.
There was some talk the Edmonton Oilers could make a run at him. Edmonton remains the favorite for oddsmakers, but Edmonton is among the gaggle of teams at or above the salary cap.
Subban probably fell into the $3 million range after getting just 22 points (5-17-22) in 77 games last season.
3. Danny Dekeyser
The Red Wings defender is part of the table scraps on the market. He made $5 million (AAV) last season and might get less than half somewhere else.
Dekeyser, 30, has been lumped in with Calvin de Haan, Jack Johnson, and Ryan Murray. He’s a defensive defenseman capable of playing big minutes, but not always able to stay healthy.
At this stage of the offseason, “big raise” is probably a subjective term and is light-years away from a guarantee. With some symmetry, the two UFAs who earned the biggest raise were Pittsburgh Penguins. However, it is unknown if either can cash in, perhaps doubling or tripling his previous salary.
1. Evan Rodrigues
The Penguins signed Rodrigues to a one-year, $1 million deal and were rewarded with 19 goals and stellar play in the middle of their lineup. Rodrigues was, for variable periods, the second-line center, first-line RW, second-line LW, third-line center, fourth-line winger, and cotton candy vendor.
He had a disappearing act in the second half after Evgeni Malkin returned to the lineup, but rebounded with a strong finish and playoff series. A team paying attention could snag an absolute bargain at $2 million. Another good season and he should be a well-paid player. He continues to be a perfect fit for the Vegas Golden Knights and former college teammate Jack Eichel.
2. Brian Boyle
The Penguins rescued Boyle from the heap. He sat out the 2020-21 season, not over COVID fears or vaccine indignation, but because no one offered him a contract. The Penguins and GM Ron Hextall liked his performance at the 2021 World Championships and extended a PTO for training camp.
Boyle became an integral part of one of the best PK units in the league, scored 12 goals, and teammates cited him as a great presence.
He made just $750,000 last season. He won’t make millions this season, but a 12-goal scorer who kills penalties, play tough and provide locker-room leadership has value. In a different offseason, he would be worth a salary double last season’s or a bit more. Zach Aston-Reese earned $1.725 million for being a defensive PK whiz.
Boyle will turn 38 in December, so he won’t get a long-term deal, but he should get a raise … even if he doesn’t.
3. Sonny Milano
It’s a little more difficult to find a third player who might get a raise or is deserving of one. The Anaheim Ducks did not qualify Milano, who would have had arbitration rights. He had 34 points in 66 games, including 14 goals and a few of those were highlight-reel tallies.
Milano, 26, had a long road to regular NHL work. He was the 2014 first-round pick (sixth overall) of the Columbus Blue Jackets, but never found a permanent home in the Columbus lineup. He set a career-high in games played (66) and tied his career-high in goals.
In arbitration, he would have won a nice raise. He remains unsigned, and a team looking for offense might be wise to snag the flashy winger who finally broke through. Perhaps he’ll sell a few tickets with a few more “Michigan” alley-oops.
Since he’s still unsigned, a raise on his $1.7 million AAV is unlikely, but earned.