The free agency period for NHL teams is sometimes a saving grace as there are valuable assets sitting in free agency awaiting a new contract. The type of player a general manager wants from free agency all depends on how much he is willing to spend, as big name players obviously cost the big bucks. Some players will ask for a higher pay than others due to past career accomplishments and this is why many teams overpay. There is no guarantee that this player will continue to play at the same level.
Sometimes, teams do manage to snag a few decent players from free agency. The Pittsburgh Penguins are one of those teams. The Pens have been able to add value to their roster through free agent signings, but some of the players they sign do not live up to expectations. The Penguins have had signings that have helped them capture glory and others that have been complete disasters.
In the end, free agency is supposed to be a low risk investment as all it costs is capital and teams often do not have to give up any young prospects or draft picks in order to acquire a certain desired player, unless that player is a restricted free agent, but the Pens mostly signed unrestricted free agents so this was not an issue for management. The Penguins also benefitted from signing undrafted players. A huge reason for their incredible depth at forward and defence is because of these low-risk signings.
15 Best: Matt Cooke
In July 2008, the Penguins decided to sign agitating forward Matt Cooke for 2 years. With a $1.2 million cap hit, Cooke was given the task of solidifying a bottom-six group and to provide some grit. Surprisingly, Matt did exactly what he was paid to do and more.
In those two seasons, Cooke managed two 30 point seasons netting 13 and 15 goals in each season respectively. He also provided more than 200 hits a season. Matt was turning out to be a good signing and he spent another three seasons after that with the Pens, even hitting 38 points in the 2011-12 season. All in all, Cooke walked away with a Stanley Cup ring and although some of hits were questionable, there is no doubt that his contract was a bargain for the Pens.
14 Worst: Christian Ehrhoff
In the 2014 offseason, the Penguins took a gamble on aging defensemen Christian Ehrhoff. With a one-year deal paying him $4 million, Ehrhoff hopefully would have solidified the top-four defensive pairings. Unfortunately, he did not live up to his contract or expectations.
Ehrhoff was limited to just 49 games and zero playoff appearances. His offensive play was not entirely bad as he did put up 14 points over the course of the season but this was merely not enough to justify his $4 million cap hit. His career was in decline and the Penguins ultimately took a low-risk gamble that did not pay off. In the end, Pens fans were delighted that he was signed short-term because as of right now, Christian is not even playing in the NHL anymore.
13 Best: Robert Lang
Robert Lang’s career with the Penguins started off somewhat odd. He was signed by the Penguins in September of 1997. In the 1997-98, Lang altered between the Boston Bruins and the Pens but ultimately earned himself a spot in the Pens lineup after not working out in Boston. Pittsburgh was in for a huge surprise.
In just his second season in Pittsburgh, Robert scored 21 goals and finished the year with 44 points. He would only get better and better as he became more familiar with the Penguins system. Lang scored a career high 32 goals and 80 points in the 2000-01 season, proving to the hockey world that he was a skilled player. In the end, management scored big with such low-risk investment. Lang proved his worth with the Penguins organization and was well loved by fans and teammates.
12 Worst: Dany Sabourin
In July of 2007, the Penguins were looking to sign a backup goaltender. They did so by adding Dany Sabourin to the roster in that offseason.
Sabourin started off as the backup goalie right away. His play was nothing special and he recorded 10 wins and a .904 save percentage in 24 starts. In the following season, his play declined even more and he only posted 6 wins and a .898 save percentage in 16 starts. Dany was eventually sent to the minors where his play did not get any better and he was still letting in on average three goals per game. The Penguins did not receive much from signing Sabourin in the offseason and they would have been better off saving their money for another player.
11 Best: Ruslan Fedotenko
In July of 2008, Ruslan Fedotenko was signed to a one year deal worth $2.25 million by the Pittsburgh Penguins. Ruslan was no newcomer to the NHL, having won a Stanley Cup with the Tampa Bay Lightning only four years prior. He was looking to continue that success with his new team.
This is exactly what he did. The Pens got 16 goals and 39 points in 65 games out of the Russian forward. His play shined even more when the playoffs arrived. Ruslan’s experience was surely helpful and he helped the Penguins capture their third Stanley Cup by posting 7 goals and 7 assists in the postseason. He spent one more season with the Pens afterwards but couldn’t match his totals from the previous season. All in all, this was a nice addition to the lineup for Pittsburgh and they surely benefited from his services.
10 Worst: Ziggy Palffy
After the 2003-04 season, Zigmund Palffy received a call from the Pittsburgh Penguins and agreed on a 3-year deal worth $13.5 million. This was a huge signing for the Pens as Palffy was a 3-time 40 goal scorer and had approached the three digit point mark a few times during his career.
Zigmund made his debut in the 2005-06 season and he fared quite well. He was scoring at a point-per-game pace alongside Sidney Crosby. Everything seemed to be going well until Palffy suddenly retired from hockey. The retirement was due to an alleged shoulder injury that was bothersome but this left the Penguins without a crucial top-six forward and a contract that seemed meaningless. It also left some fans a little upset especially after they saw he made a comeback in 2007.
9 Best: Blake Comeau
In the 2014 offseason, the Penguins were looking to add a reliable bottom-six forward to their lineup. They eventually came to an agreement with forward Blake Comeau and signed him to a one-year deal.
Comeau actually did quite well on the Penguins. He even saw some time on the top lines with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. He put up 16 goals and 15 assists for a total of 31 points in his only season with the Pens. This was a reminiscence of his first few seasons in the NHL, as his numbers seemed to be catching up to his career high 24 goals set in the 2011-12 season. In the end, there was no harm signing Blake and he played some excellent hockey in Pittsburgh.
8 Worst: Deryk Engelland
The Penguins always kept on eye on young emerging d-men around the league. One of those defenders that caught their attention was Deryk Engelland whom they signed in 2007 after showcasing his efforts in the Calder Cup.
Engelland wouldn’t play his first full season until 2010-11 season. His first two years were decent in Pittsburgh and he showcased some grit by delivering more than 120 hits. Deryk’s play eventually dropped and he started to become a defensive liability on the ice. He was caught many times misplaying the puck or unable to stop an opposing attack. Engelland saw most of his time on the bottom-two pairing and it seemed like he needed a new home. He currently plays for the Calgary Flames where he is benefitting from a huge boost in play and morale.
7 Best: Petr Sykora
In July of 2007, the Penguins signed Czech forward Petr Sykora from free agency. Sykora was on a two-year deal and looked to replicate his success from his three previous teams.
Petr did so exceptionally. In his first season, he netted 28 goals and 63 points. The Penguins felt confident in his skill and abilities, as they were ready for another playoff run in 2009. Indeed, they had a successful playoff run but Sykora’s presence was more felt in the regular season where he posted another 20-goal year. His playoff performance was cut short as he faced injuries and was often a healthy scratch. Sykora still walked away with a Stanley Cup ring and the Penguins still benefitted greatly from his services making him a great addition to the team.
6 Worst: Miroslav Satan
In the 2008 offseason, the Penguins looked to add more firepower to their already potent offense. They signed Czech forward Miroslav Satan on a one-year deal. Satan was past his prime but was still able to put out some average numbers. Unfortunately, his play with the Penguins was just that, average.
Miroslav starred in just 65 games and put up a total of 36 points. This was quite underwhelming as the hockey world saw him put up 50+ points only two years prior. Satan’s play earned him a spot on the waivers and he ended up being assigned to the minors at one point. He was called up when it came time for the 2009 playoff run and he walked away a winner but he only registered one goal through 17 postseason games.
5 Best: Matt Cullen
NHL veterans play a big role on the team and can stimulate young emerging players. General Manager Jim Rutherford brought back a familiar face in 2015, signing Matt Cullen to a one-year deal. Cullen had won a cup under Jim in 2006 and he was ready for more.
Matt did very well playing on the bottom-six for the Pens. At 39 years of age, it was impressive that he put up 16 goals and 32 points by the end of the 2015-16 season. He also added 4 goals in the Pens’ Stanley Cup win in 2016. Cullen proved that he still had gas in the tank and he looked like a good fit in the Penguins lineup. This earned him another contract in the 2016 offseason and Cullen is showing similar results in the current season. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him lift another cup this postseason.
4 Worst: Mark Recchi
Pittsburgh fans were extremely satisfied when Mark Recchi signed a two-year contract in the 2004 offseason. After posting 57 points in 63 games, Recchi wanted to win the Stanley Cup and the Penguins were hovering near the bottom of the standings so he was dealt to the Carolina Hurricanes who were contenders at the time.
In a strange turn of events, Recchi was signed once again in the 2007 offseason by the Pens. He came back with a surge netting 68 points in 82 games. This all seemed great until the next season came along. In the 2007-08 season, Recchi was 39 years old and his production seemed to take a huge hit as he had just 2 goals in the first 19 games of the season. In the end, the Pens decided to waive Recchi and he was claimed by the Atlanta Thrashers.
3 Best: Conor Sheary
One of the biggest surprises of the current season is young forward Conor Sheary. Sheary went undrafted and pursued college hockey. The Pens took notice and eventually signed him to a contract in 2015.
The Penguins clearly do not regret this decision right now. After putting up just 10 points in his rookie year, Conor seemed to ignite chemistry with superstar Sidney Crosby in his sophomore year. He currently has 21 goals and 49 points in 52 games and looks to help his teammates in Pittsburgh to another Stanley Cup win this postseason. Sheary was clearly the needle in the haystack for the Pens and he is becoming a crucial forward for his team. One could only speculate how much more Conor will grow as a player in the near future.
2 Worst: Rob Scuderi (2013)
Rob Scuderi was once the defender that helped the Penguins capture their first Stanley Cup of the 2000s era. His stellar play helped keep opposing players from scoring. Bear in mind, he had just turned 30 when he had accomplished that feat. The real question was why did Ray Shero bring him back 5 years later and give him a huge contract for four years?
Scuderi definitely did not live up to this contract. He was a huge liability on the ice and his play was clearly not the same compared to his first run in Pittsburgh. The Penguins are lucky that current GM Jim Rutherford was able to somehow turn Rob Scuderi into Trevor Daley or Rob would only be remembered for being grossly overpaid. A lesson learned for management.
1 Best: Sergei Gonchar
Sergei Gonchar is one of the best defenders to ever suit up for the Pittsburgh Penguins. After the 2004-05 lockout, the Pens were lucky to lock up Gonchar to five-year $25 million deal. As large as this contract was, it was undeniably worth it.
In his first season as a Penguin, Sergei recorded 12 goals and 58 points. He followed that up by tying his career-high 67 points in the 2006-07 season. His stellar play continued for the duration of his contract, especially in the 2009 Stanley Cup run. Gonchar recorded 3 goals and 11 assists en route to his first Stanley Cup win of his career. The Penguins were lucky to pick up such a skilled offensive defender. Gonchar will be remembered for a great deal of time as one of the best players to ever suit up for Pittsburgh.