Penguins Free Agency Day 1: Kessel, Plotnikov, and more

The Penguins made the biggest splash on a busy first day of NHL Free Agency by acquiring Phil Kessel from the Toronto Maple Leafs. Meanwhile, a good amount of other signings happened, and it already leaves the Pens with a different looking roster. Here is a list of all trades and signings that affected the Penguins today:

Kessel Run: First and foremost, the Penguins won the Phil Kessel sweepstakes by pulling off a trade that many are calling a steal. Personally, I’m amazed at how Rutherford pulled it off. Pittsburgh gets Phil Kessel and prospects Tyler Biggs and Tim Erixon in exchange for Kasperi Kapanen, Scott Harrington, Nick Spaling, and a 2016 3rd round draft pick. There are also conditional draft picks: if Pittsburgh makes the playoffs this upcoming season, Toronto will get Pittsburgh’s 2016 1st round pick and Pittsburgh will get Toronto’s 2016 2nd round pick. If the Penguins fail to make the playoffs, Toronto will receive Pittsburgh’s 2017 1st round pick and Pittsburgh will receive Toronto’s 2017 2nd round pick. If the Penguins do not make the playoffs the next two seasons, Toronto will get Pittsburgh’s 2017 second round pick and Pittsburgh will not receive any draft picks. Toronto has also agreed to retain $1.2 million of Kessel’s cap hit through the end of his contract, leaving his cap hit against the Penguins cap at $6.8 million.
My take: I was almost certain, along with many in the hockey world, that Rutherford would have to trade away one of his two young defensemen: Maata or Pouliot. Pittsburgh did give up two players with good upside, especially Kapanen (last year’s 1st round pick), a solid 3rd/4th line player in Spaling, and more draft picks. However they landed an elite goal scorer to play alongside an elite center who can feed him the puck. Kessel has the ability to make a run at the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Award playing next to Crosby or Malkin. Adding him adds scoring and depth to the forward position, while maintaining the young defensive core.

The Great Exodus: Several players that were on the Penguins last season have signed elsewhere or still remain free agents. Among the players that have signed contracts elsewhere are Paul Martin (San Jose), Steve Downie (Arizona), Blake Comeau (Colorado), Taylor Chorney (Washington), Jayson Megna (New York Rangers), and Thomas Greiss (New York Islanders). Maxim Lapierre, Daniel Winnik, and Christian Ehrhoff still remain unsigned.
My take: I expected all who signed contracts today to not return except for maybe Blake Comeau. I know the Penguins wanted him back, but only at the right price. At $2.4 million per year (which is what Colorado signed him at for three years), that was too steep for someone who more than likely would fill a 4th line role. I don’t expect Ehrhoff or Winnik to be back, but I have a feeling if Lapierre doesn’t sign elsewhere in the first few days of free agency, and the price would go down for him, the Penguins would try to bring him back. However, they wouldn’t be very aggressive. They have other targets they are considering. Jim Rutherford said today in a press conference that he is in the market for a 4th line center.

The “Plot” thickens: The Pens landed one of the Russian players they were after this offseason when they signed Sergei Plotnikov to a one-year entry-level contract. The 25-year-old winger has played his entire six-year professional career in the KHL in Russia.
My take: It has been rumored that Malkin wanted another Russian on the team and this signing gives them a possible winger to play alongside Geno. He’s physical, big, and has a decent scoring touch. He was also Malkin’s linemate at the IIHF World Championships earlier this year. This is a low risk signing with it being only one year. It is cheap, and this kid is young and seems to be on the rise based on his KHL career.

Adding depth: The Penguins also signed four players to two-way contracts: forwards Kael Mouillierat and Kevin Porter and defensemen David Warsofsky and Steve Olesky.
My take: These are signings to add depth at the minor league level. Especially since Kapanen and Harrington were traded away as part of the Kessel deal.

All in all, this was a successful day for the Penguins organization. There are some that do not like the Kessel acquisition because of reported laziness and issues in the room, but most of those rumors have been shot down by many insiders close to the Penguins and the Maple Leafs. Sidney Crosby is also excited about the acquisition: “He’s an elite scorer and has a lot of speed. I see him fitting in well with us,” Crosby told Josh Yohe of DK on Pittsburgh Sports. “We’re excited to have him on our team.” The bottom line for the Penguins is that Rutherford wanted to add scoring to this team. Mission accomplished.

Follow me on Twitter @chalicke for continued coverage of the Penguins offseason.

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