Penguins sign Blueger, but expansion draft mysteries remain

Penguins sign Blueger, but expansion draft plans remain unclear
Getty Images

After Wednesday, it’s clear that the Penguins won’t lose Teddy Blueger to the free-agent market. We also now know the terms of Blueger’s next contract, as the Penguins confirmed it’s a two-year deal with a $2.2M AAV.

Logically speaking, signing Blueger indicates that the Penguins plan to protect him during the Seattle Kraken expansion draft. That doesn’t necessarily make it a guarantee, but it would be a strange course of actions to pull a sign-and-expose. That said, if the Penguins still exposed Blueger to the expansion draft, it’s unclear if that $2.2M price tag would scare the Kraken away. (Can you strike fear into a Kraken? Allow me to ask my neighborhood funny-haired pirate.)

Let’s quickly review Blueger, 26, for what he brings to the Penguins. Then we’ll ponder the Penguins’ possible protection plans for that looming Seattle Kraken expansion draft.

Blueger brings the defense for Penguins

If you’ve spent any time in analytics circles, you’ll know that Blueger forms a “darling” line with Zach-Aston Reese and Brandon Tanev.

You’ll need to dig deeper than the simplest counting stats (22 points in each of the last two seasons) to see Blueger’s value.

… Although maybe the Penguins forecast more potential for offense in a heightened role?

Most realistically, the Penguins hope that Blueger continues to excel at limiting the opposition. For a cap-challenged team, $2.2M might feel a little pricey for a supporting cast member. Consider Blueger a high-quality character actor who makes the most of their scenes, though.

With Blueger signed, Penguins face some serious expansion draft protection debates

The Blueger signing only accomplishes so much when it comes to forecasting the Penguins’ expansion draft plans, though.

Again, there’s at least the outside chance that the Penguins would roll the dice and expose Blueger anyway. It just sounds rather unlikely.

Who the Penguins are almost certain to protect

From the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, to Pensburgh, to Evolving Hockey, virtually every outlet indicates that the Penguins will go with the 7 (forwards) – 3 (defensemen) – 1 (goalie) expansion draft protection scheme. The other option would be one goalie plus any combination of eight skaters, with the most likely combo being four forwards and four defensemen.

Let’s look at the locks and near-locks.

Penguins forwards

  • Sidney Crosby is automatically protected because of his no-movement clause.
  • Evgeni Malkin also has a NMC. Both Crosby and Malkin would’ve been protected anyway, naturally.
  • Jake Guentzel‘s quietly one of the best values in hockey. He’s a no-brainer.
  • Bryan Rust is a no-brainer, too.
  • Perhaps Teddy Blueger belongs here after this signing?

So, the Penguins need to choose two other forwards to protect (or three, if they expose Blueger despite signing him).

[NHL Offseason Vibe Check: The Kraken Countdown]

Two Penguins defensemen

  • Like Crosby and Malkin, Kris Letang has an NMC. For the occasional Letang trade rumors, they’d be silly to let him walk for nothing.
  • Assume that Brian Dumoulin isn’t going anywhere, either.

That leaves the Penguins with one other defenseman to choose (barring an unlikely 8-1-1 configuration).

One goalie

  • Would the Penguins expose Tristan Jarry after that brutal Islanders series? They’d either protect Jarry or backup Casey DeSmith.

Who would round out other protected forwards?

It’s pretty fascinating to leaf through the different possibilities regarding who the Penguins might protect for the expansion draft.

We’ve covered Crosby, Malkin, Guentzel, and Rust as four of the seven forwards. The Penguins signing Blueger points heavily toward him being the fifth protected forward.

Here are considerations for who might rank among the other two (or three).

  • Jeff Carter: He was a smash success for the Penguins after a slightly surprising trade deadline move. That impact might make it tough to risk exposing him to the Kraken.

That said, the Penguins might not protect Carter under the assumption the Kraken wouldn’t select him. After all, Carter is 36. Later in his Kings days, he also threatened to retire if traded. Obviously, he relented with the Penguins, but would he reignite that threat if sent to an expansion team? That might be too rich for Seattle’s blood.

  • Jared McCann: The 25-year-old’s been a nice find for the Penguins, and carries a cap hit just under $3M. He’s well-liked, but maybe would be deemed inessential among these tough cuts?
  • Kasperi Kapanen: For a while, it seemed like Kapanen might not pan out. Then he really clicked in Pittsburgh, as the 24-year-old used his speed to really flourish. The Penguins probably don’t want to lose Kapanen for nothing forking over a first-rounder to land Kapanen in August 2020. At least some wonder if Kapanen could be an odd forward out, though.
  • Jason Zucker: Speaking of players the Penguins gave up a lot to trade for, Zucker also cost the Penguins a pretty penny. His $5.5M cap hit through 2022-23 and generally clunky fit might be enough for the Penguins to expose Zucker, even if it might sting.
  • Brandon Tanev: In the list above, there’s a range of ages (Carter to Zucker to Kapanen). The cap hits vary a bit, too. Tanev stands out among these forward choices because of the challenges his contract creates.

The 29-year-old’s been a gem for the Penguins, but a costly jewel. His $3.5M AAV runs through 2024-25, potentially making him a luxury Pittsburgh may deem expendable.

What should the Penguins do?

Let’s say the Penguins indeed make Blueger the fifth protected forward among Crosby, Malkin, Guentzel, and Rust.

Perhaps the Penguins would expose Zucker, Tanev, and Carter to the expansion draft, assuming that the deals would be too rich? (Or maybe they’d want to receive some extra cap space, particularly with Zucker or Tanev?)

Those are tough calls. It’s also not totally clear if the Penguins will protect Mike Matheson or Marcus Pettersson. Maybe they’d even bribe the Kraken to take a problem contract? That would remove some intrigue, though it would possibly come at a steep price.

During the Kraken expansion draft and beyond, it seems like this could be a challenging offseason for the Penguins. Maybe they’ll surprise us with some of their choices and moves?

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Scroll Down For:

    Ducks’ Urho Vaakanainen crashes into boards, leaves on stretcher

    Getty Images
    1 Comment

    ANAHEIM, Calif. — Ducks defenseman Urho Vaakanainen was taken off the Honda Center ice on a stretcher after he crashed into the end boards in the first period of Anaheim’s preseason game against the San Jose Sharks.

    The Finnish defenseman was conscious and alert with full movement in his extremities at UCI Medical Center, the Ducks said.

    The frightening incident occurred midway through the opening period when Vaakanainen smashed into the boards at a dangerous speed behind the Sharks’ net. Vaakanainen appeared to be concentrating on the pass he had just made to Derek Grant, who scored the Ducks’ opening goal on the assist.

    Vaakanainen’s teammates came onto the ice and gathered around him as he was taken away on the stretcher.

    The Ducks acquired the 23-year-old Vaakanainen from Boston last March in the deal that sent longtime Ducks defenseman Hampus Lindholm to the Bruins. After recording two assists in 14 games for the Ducks last season, Vaakanainen is attempting to win a top-six role on Anaheim’s defense this fall.

    Lightning donate $2 million to Hurricane Ian relief efforts

    tampa bay lightning
    Scott Audette/Getty Images
    2 Comments

    TAMPA, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Lightning and team owner Jeff Vinik are donating $2 million toward Hurricane Ian relief efforts.

    The NHL team announced that $1 million each will be donated by the Tampa Bay Lightning Foundation and the Vinik Family Foundation.

    “This is a tragic situation for many families and communities across the state of Florida, but especially so in the southwest region of the state,” Vinik said in a statement released by the team. “In times like these the most important thing we can do is support one another, and we hope this donation will help families recover and rebuild in the months to come.”

    Ian made landfall Wednesday on Florida’s Gulf Coast, south of the Tampa Bay area. The Lightning postponed two home preseason games and moved the club’s training camp to Nashville, Tennessee, during the storm.

    Maple Leafs sign defenseman Rasmus Sandin to 2-year deal

    Rasmus Sandin
    Julian Avram/Getty Images
    2 Comments

    TORONTO — Rasmus Sandin has signed a two-year, $2.8 million contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the club announced on Thursday.

    The 22-year-old from Sweden was the 29th overall selection in the 2018 draft. Sandin had 16 points in 51 games with Toronto last season. He’s played in 88 career regular-season games, with six goals and 22 assists, and has one goal in five playoff games.

    “Got a great set of tools,” fellow defenseman Jake Muzzin said. “With experience, I think they’re only going to get better.”

    The signing comes as the Leafs’ blueliners been hit hard by injuries. Muzzin has been dealing with a back issue, and Timothy Liljegren recently had surgery for a hernia.

    Toronto then lost Jamie Benn (groin) and Carl Dahlstrom (shoulder) in Wednesday’s 3-0 preseason victory over the Montreal Canadiens, pressing forwards Calle Jarnkrok and Alexander Kerfoot into defensive roles for two periods.

    Back with Wild, Fleury welcomes big workload as clear No. 1

    marc-andre fleury
    David Berding/Getty Images
    2 Comments

    ST. PAUL, Minn. — With his ever-present smile, tireless approach and long list of accomplishments in the net, Marc-Andre Fleury has always embraced a heavy workload.

    The Minnesota Wild sure haven’t shied away from leaning hard on their new – and 37-year-old – goalie. After arriving in a deadline-day trade in March and re-signing with the Wild in July, the guy everyone calls “Flower” is still fully abloom as he begins his 19th season in the NHL.

    “They say, `You play,’ I play, unless maybe I’m hurt or something,” Fleury said. “But other than that, I like playing.”

    Wild general manager Bill Guerin initially planned to bring back both Fleury and Cam Talbot, who made the All-Star team and went 13-0-3 in his last 16 regular season starts before being benched in favor of Fleury for the first-round playoff series against St. Louis. The Wild lost in six games, after Talbot got the cold start in the elimination game and gave up four goals on 26 shots.

    Guerin changed his mind, though, after signing Fleury to a two-year, $7 million contract. Realizing Talbot’s frustration from the lack of postseason action, he didn’t want to risk any tension or discontent. Talbot was traded to Ottawa for Filip Gustavsson, who will be the No. 2 goalie while top prospect Jesper Wallstedt gets more development in the AHL.

    Gustavsson has only 23 career regular-season starts, nearly 200 fewer than Talbot, so it’s a good bet that Fleury will get the majority of the games.

    “I was ready to share the load with him, but things didn’t work out and happy to be having the chance to play maybe a bit more. It’s fun to play. It’s more fun than sitting on the bench,” said Fleury, who went 28-23-5 in 56 combined starts for Chicago and Minnesota last season with a 2.90 goals against average and a .908 save percentage.

    The Wild reconvened for training camp last week, beginning their quest to recapture the mojo they enjoyed last season while setting franchise records for points (113), wins (53) and goals (305). The only team that finished ahead of them in the Western Conference was Colorado, which went on to win the Stanley Cup, but they never met the Avs in the playoffs because the Blues got to them first.

    There’s a strong chemistry in place, at least, to build upon.

    “We still have a lot of guys here who were here last year. We’re just trying to make it even better, just trying to listen to everybody,” center Joel Eriksson Ek said. “We want to set a standard and a way for how hard this team’s going to work.”

    The Wild start the regular season by hosting the New York Rangers on Oct. 13.

    COMINGS AND GOINGS

    The most significant roster move of the summer amongst the skaters was the inevitable salary-cap-driven trade of second-leading scorer Kevin Fiala to Los Angeles. Fiala had a career-high 33 goals and 52 assists last season. Guerin otherwise dabbled mostly in two-way contracts in free agency for depth. Former Anaheim center Sam Steel signed with Minnesota last month, one day after defenseman Dimitry Kulikov was dealt to the Ducks.

    MORE POWER

    The Wild were done in during the playoffs by abysmal special teams. They went just 4 for 24 on the power play against the Blues, and head coach Dean Evason had the team working on that on the first day on the ice. The penalty kill that lagged last season was a focus of the second practice.

    “It has to get better, no question,” Evason said.

    BLUE LINE SHUFFLE

    Captain Jared Spurgeon has been placed with Jonas Brodin on the first pair on defense, and Jake Middleton has joined Matt Dumba on the second unit. Dumba and Brodin are close friends who’ve been paired together for several seasons.

    “Dumbs is a shooter too,” said Middleton, who re-signed for three years and $7.35 million. “It’s pretty exciting. I can get some cookies passing him the puck. That’d be a big plus. I think it’ll work well. He loves hitting guys too. He plays a gritty game as well so I think we’ll be a good combo.”

    UP FRONT

    With Jordan Greenway recovering from offseason surgeries, Tyson Jost will get the first chance to skate with Eriksson Ek and Marcus Foligno. The departure of Fiala has opened at least one spot for a rookie to make the team, with 2020 first-round draft pick Marco Rossi in line for it.

    ON THE SLATE

    This is the first time in eight years the Wild will play their regular-season opener at home. After three more games at Xcel Energy Center, they don’t hit the road until a five-game trip that starts Oct. 22 at Boston. The Wild have a season-long nine-game homestand from Feb. 9-21.