The Pittsburgh Penguins need a second-tier center, either by re-signing Evgeni Malkin in free agency, or they could pull an available center from the NHL’s trading bloc later this summer.
For now, the Penguins don’t have a legitimate second center. Welcome to how the other half lives. Not every team can have a Hall of Fame captain who is in the top five players of all time followed by another center who is another generational talent. Not every team can field a second-row center capable of winning the game, winning the Art Ross, or dominating opponents at will.
A couple of world centers has been a luxury and the envy of the league. With just 22 days left in the NHL’s free-agent frenzy on July 13, the Penguins don’t have Malkin or a replacement under contract. Penguins general manager Ron Hextall is presumably still working, or at least nibbling on a contract, but those talks have been sworn to a level of secrecy rivaled only by KFC’s 11 herbs and spices.
If Malkin finds greener pastures, the consolation price will be for them to hit some or all of their $9.5 million salary cap to find a replacement.
There are a few potential UFA centers who fit the bill, starting with Vincent Trocheck and Nazem Kadri, but what if the Colorado Avalanche re-signs Kadri? What if others throw more money at Trocheck than the penguins think it’s worth?
Both are very possible.
In addition to the “uh oh” moment, the Penguins and Hextall will have to take a cart, likely with a wobbly wheel, and go shopping at the NHL’s trade market. PHN has been testing our colleagues, beating the bush and reading tea leaves to see which centers around the NHL will or could be available.
No, second-tier centers don’t come cheap, so we’ve had to exclude some potential names that would get the most value if they hit the market, like San Jose Sharks center Logan Couture.
Potential Business Targets of the Pittsburgh Penguins
Adam Henrique, ANA
Anaheim is in the midst of a youth movement. Ryan Getzlaf retired. Rookies Trevor Zegras and Troy Terry electrified casual fans with “Michigan” goals. Jamie Drysdale is only 20 years old and will be a star.
However, the team is near the bottom of the standings and Adam Henrique is a 32-year-old center with two years remaining on a contract that carries a $5.8 million AAV. Henrique’s offense seems to be tied to the use of him. He has been a third line center and a first line center in Anaheim. With good ends, Henrique could keep up his pace of .72 points per game this season.
Henrique had 42 points (19-23-42) in 58 games.
He lacks high-level offensive ability, but he’s also responsible defensively. For most of his career, Henrique has also killed penalties. He could be the perfect mix of value and edge.
Jamie Benn, DAL
Benn, 32, made the unusual post-career switch to center from LW last season. He anchored the Dallas Stars’ second line with Tyler Seguin on the right side for much of this season. He had just 46 points in 82 games and had a significant minus-13, but most of the reviews of his game were positive.
He is loved in the locker room and coaches confidence. He brings a power game, size (6-foot-2, 210 pounds) and is generally better down the stretch and in the playoffs. The Penguins could surely use more players capable of elevating their game in the playoffs.
He’s earning $9.5 million (AAV) for three more seasons, so it wouldn’t represent any savings over Malkin’s current contract. However, Dallas needs to make some changes. Despite their bubble in the Stanley Cup Final, they haven’t been a consistent team in the playoffs. Perhaps they would like to spend that money elsewhere.
Kevin Hayes, PHI?
No. Well, at least not yet. This week, new Philadelphia Flyers head coach John Tortorella gave Hayes the kiss of death at his inaugural press conference. Tortorella said that he is looking forward to working with Hayes and that Hayes has more to give. uh oh. That means Hayes will be targeted by Tortorella to remake the team. Sometimes the tactic works. It usually means that the player will be traded next summer (see also Ryan Johansen, Pierre Luc Dubois).
Yanni Gourde, MAR
Tampa Bay didn’t want to give up Gourde, who was an energetic center who ended up in the Sunshine State. However, the expansion draft calls for such things, and Gourde went to Seattle.
Gourde, 30, is just 5-foot-9, but there’s a lot of fighting in that dog. Gourde is a physical player who can skate, score and is defensively responsible. He has been a consistent 20 goal scorer and scored 21 goals this season.
Seattle is nowhere near competitive as general manager Ron Francis decided on the scenic route; they are building from scratch. So a player like Gourde could bring more future pieces for Seattle. He’s not in the NHL’s trade bloc, but a 30-year-old with three years left on his contract is rarely unavailable.
Gourde’s AAV is a little over $5.1 million, so that would be affordable, too. However, the Penguins would likely have to sacrifice a top prospect, maybe even a first-round pick.
Honorable Mention: Jared McCann, but I like Gourde as a more consistent producer in the middle.
JT Miller, VAN
NHL trade rumors have been percolating throughout the season. Miller has one season left at $5.25 million AAV, and it makes sense that the Pittsburgh Penguins covet a fast, scoring center.
Miller, 29, has scored 99 points this season with 32 goals in 80 games. According to president of hockey operations Jim Rutherford, Vancouver plans to offer a QO to RFA Brock Boeser. That will essentially max out Vancouver’s salary cap, and someone has to go.
Things aren’t going too well in Vancouver – head coach Bruce Boudreau is a lame duck, NHL analyst Nick Kypreos called the locker room.”a country club”, and they missed the playoffs.
Miller’s career year belies his typical stats. His previous career best was 72 points in 2019-20. His second-best season before his monster outburst this season was 56 points with the 2016-17 New York Rangers.
So you can’t really call it a 100-point hub…unless you do it again.
Normally, we’d say a trade for Miller is out of the Penguins’ price range. However, perhaps Rutherford and general manager Patrick Allvin have residual love for their former players. Perhaps some combination of a young defenseman, a prospect and an NHL player?
Or, Evgeni Malkin could re-sign and this is debatable. Time is running on all options.