Show me the money. Perhaps former Pittsburgh Penguins winger Evan Rodrigues scored a career-high 19 goals and 43 points, but he remains on the NHL free agent market. So does Danton Heinen, Phil Kessel, and a handful of other former Pittsburgh Penguins, including Jack Johnson.
NHL owners threw around hundreds of millions of dollars on July 13 with the same care as pork spending in Congress, but the signings have slowed. Big names like Nazem Kadri and John Klingberg remain unsigned, adding a bit of market uncertainty, but that should not affect a couple of players who have worn the Penguins sweater.
Evan Rodrigues has not yet collected that full-time NHL role or big raise he earned last season. Phil Kessel’s monstrous eight-year, $64 million contract also expired.
Pittsburgh Penguins & Former Pens Job Hunting
1. Phil Kessel
That giant contract which the Toronto Maple Leafs generously ate a portion to facilitate the trade of Phil Kessel to the Penguins and acquire Kasperi Kapanen has finally ended. Over the life of the contract, he scored 177 regular season goals and played in every game. His iron man streak is intact, even though he’s delivered just 86 hits in those eight years. Last season, the king of the hot dog troll scored 52 points (8-44-52) for Arizona, and 38 of those points were even strength. He’s got some hockey left.
He’ll take a pay cut. Maybe one-year, $3 million for the largely one-dimensional player?
2. Evan Rodrigues
E-Rod. He persevered when others might have given up. Six years of floating in the ether between the NHL and AHL, a steady diet of press box nachos and emotions. He got his big chance when the Penguins lineup was decimated by injuries at the start of the 2021-22 season, though he earned the chance with his work with the Penguins in the prior season. Head coach Mike Sullivan immediately installed Rodrigues as the No. 2 center, and Rodrigues put up the points. He finished with 19 goals, but he was shooting from everywhere in the final games to get that 20th. He set a season-high with 12 shots against the Montreal Canadiens in November and had two other games with nine shots.
We expected Rodrigues to get close to $3 million on the market, but perhaps he falls close to a multi-year deal in the $2 million range.
3. Danton Heinen
Hey, 18 goals is 18 goals. Heinen finished chances and was not bad on the forecheck, either. He’s a poor man’s sniper but isn’t great on puck retrieval or net-front play. He’s a finisher, and surely someone needs 18 goals? He will be a cheap source of goals.
He probably earned himself another show-me deal worth $2.5? Maybe two years, $5 million?
Ok, maybe we’re poking the bear by including the infamous Derick Brassard on the list. However, Brassard has been a solid utility player for several seasons. He played center and wing, top-six, and bottom-six for Philadelphia and Edmonton last season. He will soon turn 35, and his best is behind him. He’s fallen to less than a .5 points-per-game player, but he’s got one more year left at a bargain bin deal.
Zach Aston Reese
One of the best defensive forwards in the game. Aston-Reese’s biggest issue is himself. He focuses on defense and shuts down his offensive game, which could be 15-goal worthy.
On Feb. 1, Aston-Reese admitted he needed to shoot more but remained focused on defense.
“Since it hasn’t been going in for me, (I’m) just kind of in such a defensive mindset, even in the offensive zone, not really thinking too much about offense,” said Aston-Reese. “(I need to start) putting myself in scoring positions or shooting positions–(I’m) kind of always worrying about defense a little bit too much…”
He’s probably worth a $1 million deal, a pay cut from the $1.75 million he made last season.
Long-haul COVID cost Sutter all of last season. The Vancouver Canuck already settled for a bargain-basement $1.125 million deal with the Canucks. The 33-year-old center will have to show he can return to hockey.
He could be a PTO candidate if he doesn’t sign on somewhere in that $1 million range.
Reviled amongst the Penguins blogosphere and analytics community who were befuddled that NHL teams didn’t heed their advice, that’s now Stanley Cup winner Jack Johnson.
The sturdy, stay-home defenseman played 74 games for the Colorado Avalanche and most playoff games, too. He’s a 6/7 D-man now, but he’ll catch on somewhere for $1 million or so. Colorado might just keep him in the fold after Kadri picks his spot.
Form Pittsburgh Penguins unlikely to get NHL Contracts
He had 20 points in 63 games, split between 47 games with the Washington Capitals and 16 with the Seattle Kraken. Overall, he scored 14 goals. His lack of overall game probably sends him to Europe to cash in. Otherwise, he’s a two-way deal candidate in the NHL.
Another player who raises Penguins fans’ dander. Simon was traded to Anaheim in the Rickard Rakell deal. The Czech national booted him at the Worlds for getting into a fight with a teammate. He apologized and said it was the frustration of a challenging year. Simon makes his linemates better and does a lot of the little things, but he doesn’t score enough points. He had 13 points (3-10-13) in 72 games last season.
The pride of Grand Prairie, AB. He paid his due, and then some, before winning the Stanley Cup with the Penguins in 2017. Rowney fought his way up from the Wheeling Nailers (ECHL). At 33, he’s nearing the end. In 26 games, he had four points with the Detroit Red Wings.
He was never fleet of foot, so he’s another two-way deal, PTO candidates.
The former 40-goal scorer-slash-Evgeni Malkin sidekick has probably come to the end of his career, though we thought that last season, too. Neal, 34, is a goal scorer who has been slowed by injury. He had four points and just two goals in 19 games with the St. Louis Blues. He also played 28 games with the AHL’s Springfield Falcons.
In 896 career games, Neal has 296 career goals. He played in the Stanley Cup Final with the Vegas Golden Knights in 2018.