|Took this photo last spring when Reid McNeill was on an ATO with WBS during last year's playoff run. He signed an entry-level contract the other day.|
Heading into the summer, the Penguins have a lot of decisions to make. With only Marc-Andre Fleury and Patrick Killeen signed through next season in net, the Pens will need to make a decision with Brad Thiessen. Thiessen is an unrestricted free agent, meaning he is free to sign with any team after July 1st if the Penguins can't agree to terms with him before then. You would have to expect he wants to be Fleury's backup. Scott Munroe is also an NHL unrestricted free agent.
On defense, Matt Niskanen Brian Strait, Robert Bortuzzo, and Alexandre Picard are all restricted free agents that will be looking for NHL jobs next season. Niskanen had a good year in Pittsburgh, and the other three were the core in the AHL that helped the WBS Penguins to the second round of the playoffs.
A lot of what happens with the defense depends on what Pittsburgh does. There's a lot of talk about Paul Martin potentially being moved, but also that Simon Despres and Joe Morrow could make the push to the NHL next season. With six defensemen already signed through next year in Pittsburgh (Martin, Zbynek Michalek, Brooks Orpik, Kris Letang, Ben Lovejoy, Deryk Engelland) there isn't a lot of room for guys like Niskanen, Strait, Bortuzzo, Picard or even Boris Valabik. All of those guys would need to clear waivers before being able to be sent to the minors next year.
Other restricted free agents on defense include Alex Grant, Carl Sneep. Would be very surprised if either didn't receive a qualifying offer for next season.
There are some unrestricted free agents on AHL contracts: Andrew Hotham, Peter Merth, Joey Mormina and Cody Wild. Mormina and Wild could be depth additions to the AHL defense because they would add experience to what looks like a very young core in WBS next season (see after the jump).
Up front, there are a lot of decisions to be made in the off season. Right now, the Penguins have 11 forwards signed through next season at the NHL level.
UFA's include Steve Sullivan, Arron Asham, Richard Park, Jason Williams, Colin McDonald, Ryan Craig and Steve MacIntyre.
RFA's at the forward position are Eric Tangradi, Cal O'Reilly, Keven Veilleux and Casey Pierro-Zabotel. Tangradi and O'Reilly will be looking at NHL jobs. Veilleux shouldn't draw attention since he missed all last season with a knee injury. Zabotel won't be back after the controversy with him, wasn't with the WBS Penguins all season.
So there you have it. A look at all the free agents in the organization (hope I didn't miss anyone). If I missed someone leave me the guy I left off the list in the comments section. What are your thoughts? Who would you like to see back, and who do you think you will see back next season?
After the jump, a look at who the Penguins have at the NHL and AHL levels signed through next season.
Goaltenders (1) - Marc-Andre Fleury
Defensemen (6) - Paul Martin, Zbynek Michalek, Brooks Orpik, Kris Letang, Deryk Engelland, and Ben Lovejoy.
Forwards (12) - Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal, Jordan Staal, Chris Kunitz, Tyler Kennedy, Matt Cooke, Pascal Dupuis, Craig Adams, Dustin Jeffrey, Joe Vitale and Eric Tangradi*.
Goaltenders (1) - Patrick Killeen
Defensemen (4-7) - Simon Despres, Philip Samuelsson, Alex Grant*, Carl Sneep*, Joe Morrow**, Reid McNeill**, Scott Harrington**
Forwards (5-9) - Zach Sill, Brian Gibbons, Paul Thompson, Nick Petersen, Keven Veilleux*, Adam Payerl**, Dominik Uher**, Tom Kuhnhackl**, Beau Bennett**.
* = NHL RFA that should be qualified for next season.
** = incoming rookies that are on entry-level contracts. Not a guarantee they will all be on AHL roster next season hence the 4-7 and 5-9 numbers for the defensemen and forwards, respectively.
So as you can see a lot of players with question marks for next season. 36 NHL contracts handed out and at most 14 spots remain. NHL has a 50-man limit. The rest of the signed players will need to be put on AHL deals.
- Only two goalies signed right now and there could be three more signed before next season starts.
- On defense, Pittsburgh could have moves to make if they think Despres and company are NHL ready and deserve a spot on the NHL roster. At the AHL level, they need one or two veteran defensive defensemen to help out a talented young core that appears to be assembled for 2012-13.
- Forwards appear to be in order for next season. Eric Tangradi should finally make the jump to full-time NHL if re-signed by Pittsburgh. Hope to see Keven Veilleux re-signed and play a full season, still have high hopes for him if he can stay healthy. A lot of new faces in Wilkes-Barre next season!