Although Sunday’s NHL Draft and the usual trade market that surrounds it will occupy the Pittsburgh Penguins’ hockey operations department this week, general manager Ray Shero and his staff have other decisions to make.
Next Monday is the deadline for teams to extend qualifying offers to their restricted free agents, lest they become available to the other 29 NHL clubs. For the Penguins, their group of RFAs includes forwards Tyler Kennedy and Dustin Jeffrey, defenseman Robert Bortuzzo and goalie Eric Hartzell.
Following Monday’s trade that brought former Philadelphia and Anaheim forward Harry Zolnierczyk into the fold, the Penguins have five RFAs who could easily find themselves on the 2013-14 opening night NHL roster if retained. It stands to reason that Pittsburgh will keep Jeffrey, Bortuzzo, Hartzell and possibly Zolnierczyk, if only because each of them would command less than $1 million each, per the collective bargaining agreement.
However, the Penguins’ call on Kennedy will be quite interesting. As Mike Colligan of The Hockey Writers notes, Kennedy wasn’t given a qualifying offer two years ago, but still re-signed with Pittsburgh for two years and $4 million prior to the opening of the free-agency period.
This time around could be different. Following a reasonable 11-goal, 33-point effort in 2011-12, the soon-to-be 27-year-old center/winger fell off that pace in 2013, scoring just 11 points in 46 games. Kennedy was also a healthy scratch for six of the Penguins’ 15 playoff games this spring, although he was largely effective when he did suit up.
If Kennedy has fallen out of favor with coach Dan Bylsma, it would make little sense for the Penguins to open their coffers for another $2 million per year. According to the CBA, the Pens have to at least match Kennedy’s previous salary to retain him through the RFA renewal procedure.
Of course, Pittsburgh could repeat its 2011 tactic and hope to work out a deal prior to the free agency period, which begins July 5. Or the Pens can let Kennedy hit the open market and try to re-sign him then, if they still want to keep No. 48 in black and Vegas gold.
Kennedy is unlikely to crack the Penguins’ top two forward lines, with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Chris Kunitz and James Neal already occupying four of the six spots. Pending unrestricted free agent Pascal Dupuis is likely to at least consider returning to Pittsburgh, and Bylsma has expressed confidence that Beau Bennett be a top-six forward next season.
It’s tough to justify paying a bottom-six forward $2 million or more, but the Penguins did it for the past two years. Maybe they’re willing to do it again, although I wouldn’t count on it if I were Kennedy.