Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Ron Hextall was busy trying to upgrade his roster before the trade deadline. It’s ‘win now’ mode as the team added forward Jeff Carter and actively spoke with several teams about acquiring talent. With the deadline now passed, more decisions are ahead as the team has several pending unrestricted free agents who will either re-sign or walk during the offseason.
It’s worth considering the odds of each pending unrestricted free agent (UFA) being offered a contract extension. Cody Ceci, Colton Sceviour, Evan Rodrigues and fan-favorite Frederick Gaudreau are all on the last year of their deal. Management also has the expansion draft for the Seattle Kraken to consider and it will be Hextall’s first offseason at the helm. Penguins fans are in for an entertaining summer and it starts with the UFAs and who will stay and who will be leaving.
Contract Extension Odds: 100%. Before the season started, I would have said the odds of Ceci staying in Pittsburgh long-term were 50/50. However, the 27-year-old has been a pleasant surprise. You have to give former GM Jim Rutherford some credit for taking a flyer on a player coming off a bad season.
This season, Ceci has12 points in 39 games and leads the team at plus-15. Who would have guessed that four months ago? The Ottawa native is playing just over 18 minutes a night for the Pens and provides them with a wonderful option on the right side of the bottom-pair behind Kris Letang and John Marino.
He still has room to improve, and now that it appears he’s found a home, Hextall should reward him with a contract extension. It’s not going to come without risk considering how bad he played as early as last season for the Toronto Maple Leafs, but he’s played well this season and deserves a slight raise and some job security.
Prediction: Ceci signs a three-year contract extension worth $6 million total.
Contract Extension Odds: 10%. Sceviour was acquired as a throw-in in the Patric Hörnqvist trade with the Florida Panthers, and this season has been a throw-away. It hasn’t worked out for the 31-year-old in Pittsburgh, and it’s going to take a miracle down the stretch for management to consider bringing the rugged winger back to the team.
The former fourth-round pick of the Dallas Stars has been waived twice this season and has still managed to appear in 32 games, recording five goals and three assists. He’s not on the roster to score; he’s supposed to play tough, battle in the dirty areas and hit everything that moves. You’d think Hextall and president of hockey operations Brian Burke would want to keep his playing style around, but it’s going to take a solid performance in the playoffs for Sceviour to be offered an extension.
Can we please talk about Colton Sceviour recording two goals in the first six minutes of the game? pic.twitter.com/L8uFlOR4BP— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) April 11, 2021
The only thing Sceviour has going for him is that the Penguins don’t have a ton of depth in their bottom-six. He’s played better recently, after another trip through waivers, and has scored three goals in his last two games. If the veteran forward wants to stay in Pittsburgh for his next contract, he must play himself onto the playoff roster and prove to management he can be relied upon as a solid two-way player.
Prediction: Sceviour is not offered a contract extension.
Contract Extension Odds: 20%. The 27-year-old forward has a leg up on Sceviour because he’s younger and can play either on the wing or down the middle. Rodrigues has scored five goals in 26 games this season, which is on pace for a career year. At 5-foot-11, some question if he has the ability to muck it up and bang and crash on the fourth line. Burke and Hextall usually favor bigger forwards, as with their first acquisition for the 6-foot-4 Carter, so this could come down to who else is available on the open market.
Evan Rodrigues: “It’s just getting back to the basics, simplifying the game, and letting it come to us.” pic.twitter.com/39pERR6HPS— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) April 7, 2021
As Rodrigues told the media recently, it’s about getting back to the “basics.” Hextall and Burke expect their bottom-six forwards to play hard, physical, and to keep it simple. If he can provide these elements, along with some secondary scoring from the third or fourth line and add some versatility to play on the wing or at center, Rodrigues will be given an invitation to stick around for a couple more seasons.
Prediction: Rodrigues signs a one-year contract extension for $950,000.
Contract Extension Odds: 2%. Again we have a slightly undersized player who doesn’t fit the mold that Hextall and Burke covet. Gaudreau has filled in for the Penguins this season and appeared in 13 games, recording four points. His minutes have mostly come on the fourth line, and the one thing he’s shown is the ability to win faceoffs. His 53.6% faceoff winning percentage is the best of his career, and he’ll need to become a faceoff wizard if he wants to re-sign with the organization.
The 27-year-old undrafted center has yet to make his mark in the NHL and has only appeared in 97 games over four seasons between the Nashville Predators and Pittsburgh. Gaudreau will want to bottle up his three-goal performance in eight playoff games in 2017 and show through his work ethic and defensively sound play that he’s capable of helping the Penguins win. It’s going to be an uphill climb and will likely come down to who head coach Mike Sullivan trusts on the team’s fourth-line once everyone is healthy.
Prediction: Gaudreau signs a two-way contract extension.
This offseason will give Hextall and Burke a second crack at putting their fingerprints all over the Penguins’ roster. Limited cap space will hinder their spending, but as we examined their four pending free agents, management should take care of a few of their own before moving on to what else the market has to offer.