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Penguins and old penguins still looking for a job

Show me the money. Former Pittsburgh Penguins winger Evan Rodrigues may have scored a career-high 19 goals and 43 points, but he remains on the NHL free agent market. The same goes for Danton Heinen, Phil Kessel and a handful of other former Pittsburgh Penguins, including Jack Johnson.

NHL owners threw hundreds of millions of dollars on July 13 with the same care as congressional hog spending, but signings have slowed. Big names like Nazem Kadri and John Klingberg remain unsigned, adding some uncertainty to the market, but that shouldn’t affect a few players who have worn Penguins jerseys.

Evan Rodrigues has yet to get that full-time NHL role or the big raise he got last season. Phil Kessel’s monstrous eight-year, $64 million contract has also expired.

Pittsburgh Penguins and Old Enclosures Job Search

1. Phil Kessel

This giant contract, of which the Toronto Maple Leafs generously ate a part to facilitate the exchange of Phil Kessel with the Penguins and acquire Kasperi Kapanen, has finally come to an end. During the term of the contract, he scored 177 regular season goals and played in every game. His iron man streak is intact, despite only delivering 86 hits in those eight years. Last season, the hot dog troll king scored 52 points (8-44-52) for Arizona, and 38 of those points were tied. He has hockey left.

He will take a pay cut. Maybe a year, $3 million for the largely one-dimensional player?

2. Evan Rodrigues

E-Rod. He persevered when others might have given up. Six years floating in the ether between the NHL and the AHL, a steady diet of press nachos and demotions. He got his big break when the Penguins’ roster was decimated by injuries at the start of the 2021-22 season, although he earned the chance with his work with the Penguins the previous season. Head coach Mike Sullivan immediately installed Rodrigues as the No. 2 center, and Rodrigues racked up the points. He finished with 19 goals, but he shot from everywhere in the last games to get that 20th. He set a season high with 12 shots against the Montreal Canadiens in November and played two more games with nine shots.

We expected Rodrigues to get close to $3 million in the market, but maybe he’s closing in on a multi-year deal in the $2 million range.

3. Danton Heinen

Hey, 18 goals is 18 goals. Heinen finished his chances and wasn’t bad at forechecking either. He’s a poor man’s marksman, but he’s not good at retrieving the puck or playing in net. He’s a finisher, and surely someone needs 18 goals? He will be a cheap source of goals.

He probably earned himself another demo contract worth $2.5? Maybe two years, $5 million?

Derick Brassard

Ok, maybe we’re pushing the bear by including the infamous Derick Brassard on the list. Still, Brassard has been a solid utility player for several seasons. He played center and wing, top-six and bottom-six for Philadelphia and Edmonton last season. He will soon be 35 and his best is behind him. He’s fallen to less than 0.5 points per game, but he still has a year to go.

Zach Aston Reese

One of the best defensive forwards in the game. Aston-Reese’s biggest problem is himself. He focuses on defense and stops his attacking game, which could be worthy of 15 goals.

On February 1, Aston-Reese admitted he needed to shoot more but remained focused on defence.

“Since I didn’t like it, (I’m) just in a defensive mindset, even in the attacking zone, I don’t think too much about offense,” Aston-Reese said. “(I have to start) getting into goal-scoring or shooting positions – (I) always care a bit too much about defence…”

Shoot, Zach!

He’s probably worth a million dollar contract, a pay cut from the $1.75 million he earned last season.

Brandon Sutter

Long-haul COVID cost Sutter all of last season. The Vancouver Canucks have already reached a $1.125 million deal with the Canucks. The 33-year-old center will have to show he can return to hockey.

He could be a candidate for the PTO if he doesn’t sign somewhere in that $1 million range.

Jack Johnson

Reviled among the blogosphere and the Penguins analyst community who were puzzled that NHL teams ignored their advice, now is Stanley Cup winner Jack Johnson.

The tough, stay-at-home defenseman played 74 games with the Colorado Avalanche and most playoff games as well. He’s a 6/7 D-man now, but he’ll make his way somewhere for around $1 million. Colorado may well keep him in the fold after Kadri picks his spot.

Former Pittsburgh Penguins unlikely to get NHL contracts

Daniel Sprong

He had 20 points in 63 games, split between 47 games with the Washington Capitals and 16 with the Seattle Kraken. In total, he scored 14 goals. His lack of overall play probably sends him to Europe to cash in. Otherwise, he’s a candidate for a two-way deal in the NHL.

Dominique Simon

Another player who raises dander from Penguins fans. Simon was traded to Anaheim as part of the Rickard Rakell deal. The Czech national fired him at Worlds for fighting with a teammate. He apologized and said it was the frustration of a difficult year. Simon makes his teammates better and does a lot of little things, but he doesn’t score enough points. He had 13 points (3-10-13) in 72 games last season.

Carter Rowney

The Pride of Grand Prairie, AB. He paid his dues, and more, before winning the Stanley Cup with the Penguins in 2017. Rowney worked his way up from the Wheeling Nailers (ECHL). At 33, he is nearing the end. In 26 games, he had four points with the Detroit Red Wings.

He’s never been light, so it’s another two-way deal, PTO candidates.

James Neel

Evgeni Malkin’s former sidekick, a 40-goal scorer, has probably come to the end of his career, although we think last season as well. Neal, 34, is a goalscorer slowed by injury. He had four points and just two goals in 19 games with the St. Louis Blues. He also played 28 games with the AHL’s Springfield Falcons.

In 896 career games, Neal has scored 296 career goals. He made the Stanley Cup final with the Vegas Golden Knights in 2018.