Penguins In-House Free Agents 2014: Part One - Forwards

Thursday, June 12, 2014
Zach Sill (left) and Harry Zolnierczyk (right) talk to WBS Penguins assistant coach Alain Nasreddine during the team's practice earlier this season. Both Sill and Zolnierczyk are free agents this summer.
Pittsburgh Penguins General Manager Jim Rutherford expressed his concerns about the bottom-six forward core in his first media conference in Pittsburgh upon being hired as the GM and with only seven forwards signed through next season of the core that finished the year in the NHL, Rutherford has plenty of options for what he plans to do to create a more well-rounded unit in 2014-15.

I'll have a separate forwards post with a focus on the WBS Penguins options in free agency in the near future, but for this piece we'll take into account the Pittsburgh Penguins in-house options on the NHL roster as far as forwards go.

Under Contract For 2014-15
NHL Forwards (7) - Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal, Chris Kunitz, Pascal Dupuis, Beau Bennett and Craig Adams. 
AHL Forwards (14) - Josh Archibald, Jean-Sebastien Dea, Andrew Ebbett, Tom Kostopoulos (AHL), Tom Kuhnhackl, Pierre-Luc Leblond, Matia Marcantuoni, Adam Payerl, Bryan Rust, Conor Sheary (AHL), Oskar Sundqvist, Dominik Uher, Scott Wilson and Anton Zlobin.
As you can see, not a very deep position with only 19 forwards signed to NHL contracts right now with 16 more left to be signed or eligible for free agency on July 1st.

Of the guys I have on the AHL forwards list that are signed through next season, look for Adam Payerl to make a push to join the NHL roster out of training camp if the Pens don't bring in too many forwards this summer.

Some rules and dates to remember include the day after the NHL Draft - June 29th - as the deadline for teams to send qualifying offers to their restricted free agents (RFA).

NHL Forwards - Brandon Sutter
AHL Forwards - Jayson Megna and Bobby Farnham
A restricted free agent like forward Brandon Sutter who made more than $1 million last season, needs to receive a qualifying offer of at least one year and at least 100% salary of the previous season from the Penguins in order to prevent Sutter from being able to walk and pursue other teams.

For a player who made less than $660,000 last season - like Bobby Farnham - the qualifying offer has to be at least 110% of his salary the previous season.

For Jayson Megna, who's $925,000 contract last season falls between the 660,000-952,380 mark, the qualifying offer must be at least 105% of his previous salary.

Once the team makes the qualifying offer, the players' rights are retained. The player doesn't have to sign the qualifying offer his team sends him and can wait until after July 1st to sign an offer sheet of another team. If another team did put an offer sheet on a Penguins RFA, the Penguins would have seven days to match the offer and retain the RFA at that price or let the player sign with the other team and receive compensation in the form of draft picks.

Now that I've explained a bit about RFA's and the process they have to go through - and hopefully it cleared things up if you were unsure - let me say that I'd be surprised if all three of the Pens RFA's at forward Sutter, Farnham and Megna - weren't at least sent a qualifying offer to keep the Pens from losing them for nothing on July 1st.

Unrestricted free agents (UFA) are a lot harder to sign and have a lot more negotiating room than RFA's do.
NHL Forwards - Jussi Jokinen, Lee Stempniak, Marcel Goc, Taylor Pyatt, Tanner Glass, Joe Vitale, Brian Gibbons, Chris Conner and Chuck Kobasew. 
AHL Forwards - Zach Sill, Nick Drazenovic, Harry Zolnierczyk, Spencer Machacek, Denver Manderson (AHL contract), Carter Rowney (AHL contract), Christiaan Minella (AHL contract), Cody Sylvester (AHL contract) and Mike Carman (AHL contract).
The guys on the above list are free to walk and sign with other teams after July 1st and are free to accept or deny any contract offer the Pens make them between now and July 1st. If the Pens can't sign them before the end of the month, they let their free agents test the market.

From comments made by Rutherford during his first presser in Pittsburgh, I'd surprised if most if not all of the bottom-six type UFA's at the NHL level won't be brought back. This likely means the end of the road for Marcel Goc, Taylor Pyatt, Tanner Glass, Joe Vitale and Chris Conner in the Penguins organization.

If the Penguins aren't sold on Beau Bennett as a top-six forward, then they might look to keep one of Jussi Jokinen or Lee Stempniak, but probably not both.

Guys like Brian Gibbons, Chuck Kobasew, Harry Zolnierczyk and Zach Sill might have seen their last days in the Penguins organization as well, but that's not to say the Penguins don't want to sign some of these guys, especially in the case of Gibbons and Sill.

Gibbons' high-end speed and tenacity on the penalty kill have to make him an attractive option in the open market. Sill is a prototypical fourth line center who is good in the face-off circle, is physical and reliable in his own end and an energy guy that is a solid option on the PK. A lot to like there as well.

Still, it's not too far gone to think that a guy like Kobasew, who found his scoring touch at the AHL level upon arriving after the trade deadline, or Zolnierczyk,who scored 18 goals in the AHL this season and didn't look out of place in his NHL stint in Pittsburgh, could land a spot in the Pens bottom-six next season. Both have shown they can move well, show some angst and gritty play and create offense.

Nick Drazenovic would like to come back to the Penguins, but could see more attractive offers elsewhere. Drazenovic was also said to have been linked to the KHL as scouts from Zagreb Medvesck watched him in the AHL Playoffs in Binghamton. There's at least interest from one side, but whether Drazenovic wants to stay in North America and pursue an NHL career or hop the pond and try things overseas remains to be seen.

Those on AHL deals last season up front, including Manderson, Rowney, Minella, Sylvester and Carman, look to either re-sign another AHL contract with the WBS Penguins or look for an AHL deal elsewhere.


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