In today’s NHL rumors, how will the Pittsburgh Penguins handle injuries to Evgeni Malkin and Nick Bjugstad? Will the Patrick Marleau signing lead to other veteran free agents, including Brian Boyle, being signed? What are the St. Louis Blues’ expectations for an Alex Pietrangelo extension and why is Roman Josi still without an extension? Plus, is Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin looking to Russia for defense help? And, will the Florida Panthers trade Mark Pysyk in the near future?
Will the Penguins Be Forced to Make a Trade?
The Penguins recently got the bad news that they will be without centers Evgeni Malkin and Nick Bjugstad for at least the next four weeks with the possibility of Malkin sitting out longer. That puts a huge strain on the team’s center depth and may force GM Jim Rutherford to look to the trade market or waivers. According to TSN’s Bob McKenzie on a recent Insider Trading, the Penguins’ injury situation could lead to them dealing one of the nine defensemen currently on the NHL roster.
A couple of the names, like Jack Johnson and Erik Gudbranson, are no strangers to trade rumors, but McKenzie is uncertain if either are the most likely candidate. Neither player has much trade value and both have fairly high cap hits (Johnson at $3.25 million through 2022-23 and Gudbranson at $4 million through 2020-21). The Penguins’ salary cap situation ($100,000 in cap space) makes it so that they can only take on so much money in return.
Now because of those injuries to Bjugstad and Malkin, if it’s possible to move a defenceman and bring back in some short-term help to plug one of those gaps in the middle of the ice, absolutely he would love to do that. But it’s almost got to be dollar-in and dollar-out.
One option, and this comes from Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, is to trade defenseman Juuso Riikola. He has yet to play a game in 2019-20 but did appear in 37 games last season with 5 points. The Finnish blueliner doesn’t have great offensive update, but at only 25, there’s still room for development. Including him in a deal alongside Johnson or Gudbranson could increase the amount of talent they’d receive in return.
But, according to The Athletic’s Rob Rossi, Rutherford is content with maintaining the status quo at the moment. (from ‘Eight pressing questions facing the Penguins after Evgeni Malkin’s injury,’ The Athletic, 10/08/2019) In last night’s 4-1 loss to the Winnipeg Jets, Jared McCann centered the second line in Malkin’s spot while Teddy Blueger handled center duties on the bottom two lines. That solution may work for the time being, but it may not be enough until Malkin and Bjugstad return. Playing in a competitive Metro Division, the Penguins can’t be too patient or they may find themselves in a position they can’t recover from. Perhaps one way they can fix the issue is by looking at the veterans who remain on the free agent market, but only if the Penguins are able to free up cap space first.
Status of Veteran Free Agents
After the San Jose Sharks passed on Patrick Marleau this offseason, an 0-4-0 start to the season led to them circling back and signing the veteran to a league-minimum contract. Marleau, who has played 19 of his 21 seasons as a Shark, will join a team needing offense. It’s unknown how much he’ll help, but his signing could lead to other veterans receiving deals. As McKenzie points out, there are a number of notable free agents still available:
You’ve got Dion Phaneuf, Andrew MacDonald and Griffin Reinhart on the blueline. You’ve got Jason Pominville, Tomas Vanek and Devonte Smith-Pelley up front…
But the most notable name not mentioned is Brian Boyle who reportedly has drawn interest from several teams. The 34-year-old forward split last season between the New Jersey Devils and Nashville Predators and accumulated 18 goals in 73 games. It’s expected that he will be signed soon and he can still bring physicality, penalty killing, and quality leadership to a team looking to bolster its bottom-six.
Perhaps the Penguins will have interest in him with their injuries if they can get him on a one-year deal for $1 million or less. As I mentioned above, they’ll have to free up cap space to do so, but he could replace the elements they lost when Matt Cullen retired over the summer.
Pietrangelo Extension Expectations
One piece of news that continues to develop is the lingering extension talks between the Blues and captain Alex Pietrangelo. After signing Brayden Schenn to an eight-year extension, the Blues are motivated to get Pietrangelo signed as well. However, there appears to be a sticking point in salary expectations. Pietrangelo wants to be paid like one of the league’s best defensemen, which he is, while GM Doug Armstrong wants Pietrangelo to take a hometown discount. According to TSN’s Pierre LeBrun, Armstrong views the Blues similar to the Boston Bruins, a team that has been successful at getting their players to take discounts in order to keep the team together. The list of Bruins includes Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak, the team’s entire first line.
The fact that he looks at a team like the Boston Bruins who have everyone buying in to what everyone can fit their contracts under a cap. He believes the Blues have that type of culture.
Pierre LeBrun on Doug Armstrong
In St. Louis, Armstrong has already signed Schenn, David Perron, and Justin Faulk to lower-than-expected deals and wants Pietrangelo to do the same. According to Friedman, the Blues are using Arizona Coyotes’ defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson’s eight-year, $66-million ($8.25-million cap hit) as a framework for Pietrangelo’s next contract. That cap hit would represent a sizable discount relative to what he could earn on the open market next summer. With the player rumored to be looking for a cap hit of at least $9 million, there’s still a gap that needs to be covered, but with both player and team wanting to get an extension signed, it’s likely to happen.
One sticking point that remains, however, is how a Pietrangelo extension impacts Colton Parayko’s future in St. Louis. His current contract ($5.5-million cap hit) expires after 2021-22 and he’ll be due a significant raise on his next deal. With Faulk already carrying a $6.5-million cap hit, will the Blues have room for Parayko on their blue line?
Josi Still Without an Extension
Another player still without a contract for 2020-21 is Nashville Predators defenseman and captain Roman Josi. Many thought that an extension would have occurred over the summer, however, that never materialized. According to Friedman, the two sides made progress during the offseason but have since hit a snag in negotiations. There are many aspects to Josi’s next contract, including Tennessee having no state income tax. But another aspect is that Josi’s current $4-million cap hit is a gross underpay.
Considering he’s one of the five-to-seven best defensemen in the game, he’s due at least double his current cap hit on his next contract. Rumored to be looking for at least $9 million, like Pietrangelo, he’s also said that he’s willing to take a discount to keep the Predators competitive. Two things are certain: the first is that there’s no denying Josi’s value to the team. Just look at his two goals from last night’s game. And the second is that as the Predators’ best player, he also deserves to be their highest-paid player. Ryan Johansen and Matt Duchene currently hold that title with $8-million cap hits.
Bergevin Looking at Russian Defenseman
According to LeBrun, Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin is going all-in with his pursuit of Russian defenseman Alexandar Romanov, the team’s second-round pick from the 2018 Draft. The 19-year-old blueliner is NHL-ready and is playing for CSKA Moscow of Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League. With Romanov’s KHL contract expiring after this season, LeBrun believes Bergevin has every intention of convincing Romanov to sign with the Canadiens for the 2020-21 season.
Marc Bergevin would like to convince Alex Romanov, who is the top-rated defenceman at the World Jr. Championships as Bob knows last year.
Bergevin spent time with Romanov and his family in Russia in February and the Canadiens brought him to Montreal over the summer. LeBrun reports that Bergevin intends to return to Russia in December to again meet with the player. It won’t be easy, however, as Romanov will receive contract offers from KHL teams, and likely for more money.
But with the Canadiens’ defense an issue and a top-four spot potentially available, will the allure of playing in Montreal be enough to convince Romanov? The Canadiens have had success with Russian defensemen in the recent past (Andrei Markov and Alexei Emelin), so perhaps that connection will also help.
Pysyk’s Future in Florida
According to Friedman, the Panthers are shopping defenseman Mark Pysyk. The 27-year-old made his season debut last night, playing 12:29 and was a minus-2. Friedman points out that the Devils and Vancouver Canucks had interest in Pysyk over the summer but no deal was ever struck. The Panthers currently have a full defense corps after signing Anton Stralman over the summer and don’t have a need for Pysyk. A potential hold up in a trade is his $2.73-million cap hit and the $3.5 million in actual salary he’s owed for this season. He is an unrestricted free agent at season’s end, so he could be a playoff rental for a team looking to bolster its defense, but with so many teams close to the salary cap, a trade won’t be easy.