On day two of my Who’s Out There feature, let’s take a look at defensemen and goalies.
Penguins GM Jim Rutherford stated last week that free-agent Trevor Daley held the key to his off-season plans for the defense. If Daley stuck with the black and gold, JR would sign restricted free agents Brian Dumoulin and Justin Schultz and a depth guy or two call it a day.
If Trevor moved on? All bets were off.
According to a report by Jason Mackey in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the latter scenario will play out come Saturday. Thus, look for JR to swing a trade…or dip into the free agent market…or both.
Fortunately, there are plenty of free-agent options, from big ticket, high-end producers like Kevin Shattenkirk to sturdy all-arounders like his former Capitals teammate Karl Alzner and Calgary’s Michael Stone.
Given his preference for mobile, puck-moving types, it’s difficult to envision JR having interest in Dan Girardi, a character guy who recently was bought out by the Rangers due to age and declining skills. Nor would I expect Shattenkirk, a power-play whiz, or longtime Canadien Andrei Markov to don the black and gold due to inflated price tags.
Veteran Johnny Oduya—closer to the Pens’ mold and similar to Daley in style—is a possibility. However, NHL.com pegs him to return to Chicago. Ditto his puck-moving teammate, Brian Campbell.
Actually, the locals could do worse than re-sign Ron Hainsey, who proved his worth down the homestretch and during the long playoff grind. Though not an All-Star, he’s mobile, durable and handles the puck well, especially in open ice.
He blended well with Dumoulin, too.
New Pens goalie coach Mike Buckley indicated the team will shop for a veteran backup for Matt Murray, a move that would afford top prospect Tristan Jarry another season of steady work at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
With a number of experienced goalies hitting the free-agent market, the club’s timing is good.
A familiar name not on the list? Mike Condon, who briefly backed up Marc-Andre Fleury last season while Murray recovered from a broken hand. Condon signed a three-year contract extension with Ottawa on Wednesday.
According to NHL.com, the most likely goalies to wind up wearing the black and gold are Jonathan Bernier, Chad Johnson and ex-Philly starter Steve Mason.
Johnson, a fifth-round pick of the Pens back in 2006, might be the sleeper in the bunch. His career save percentage of .915 matches that of former Vezina Trophy winner Ryan Miller. He’s got experience as a 1, 1A and backup goalie, which would provide some flexibility between the pipes.
A factor that could help the Pens’ recruiting cause? Murray doesn’t figure to log the same workload as the departed Fleury. When healthy, “Flower” averaged between 60-70 starts per season.
An intriguing option? How about ex-Blackhawk Antti Niemi. He endured a disastrous year behind a watery defense in Dallas. But he’s a former Stanley Cup winner with a strong track record (.913 career save percentage). Look for Niemi to bounce back…at a drastically reduced price.