When he addressed the media a few hours after the NHL’s free agency period opened at 12 p.m. EST on Tuesday, Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford was openly satisfied with how the afternoon had gone for Pittsburgh.
“We had a really good day today,” Rutherford said.
While there were a number of notable departures, as many players from last year’s Penguins team signed elsewhere – including Jussi Jokinen, Matt Niskanen, Brooks Orpik, Deryk Engelland, Tanner Glass, and Joe Vitale – Rutherford made a few key additions (including signing coveted free-agent defenseman Christian Ehrhoff) to Pittsburgh's roster once noon hit.
Here’s a look at today’s signings, with comments from Rutherford.
Ehrhoff became arguably the most sought-after defenseman on the market when he and the Buffalo Sabres parted ways on Sunday after three seasons together. And just a few short minutes after free agency began on Tuesday, Ehrhoff went off the market when the Penguins signed him to a one-year, $4 million contract. Acquiring Ehrhoff is a huge coup for the Penguins, not only because the veteran defenseman will help fill the void left by Niskanen and Orpik, but also because his style fits perfectly with the way Pittsburgh wants to play. Ehrhoff, 31, is a top-four, big-minute offensive defenseman who’s an excellent skater and has a heavy shot. He has tremendous puck-moving ability and will be able to get it to Pittsburgh’s star players like Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin with aplomb. Ehrhoff can play in all situations, including the power play and penalty kill. And he’s hungry to win, as Ehrhoff hasn't been to the playoffs for three years. All in all, a fantastic signing for the Penguins.Rutherford’s take:
“Ehrhoff is a player that can play in all situations. He can play a lot of minutes; 23-24 minutes a game. He can play right or left defense, power play, penalty kill. He’s in great shape, he’s a great team guy and he can really skate. With the kind of team we have, the up-tempo game, having a guy back there that can skate with the puck is important.”
Position: ForwardHeight: 6-1
Hometown: Meadow Lake, Saskatchewan
Comeau, who signed a one-year, $700,000 deal with the Penguins on Tuesday, will be a welcome addition to Pittsburgh’s bottom-six, especially considering some of the departures. He’s versatile, as Comeau can play the right or left side on the third and fourth lines. He’s got size, at 6-foot-1 and 202 pounds. And despite being a bigger guy, Comeau can skate. Those are all tremendous assets for the role the Penguins will want him to fill. Comeau, 28, also brings experience as he's an established NHLer, having played in 422 career regular-season games with the NY Islanders, Calgary and Columbus. He spent last season with the Blue Jackets, registering five goals, 11 assists and 16 points and establishing a career high with 197 hits before playing all six of Columbus' first-round playoff games against Pittsburgh.Rutherford's take:
“He’s a guy that can play both wings, he can play on the third or fourth line, he skates real well, he’s got size and I like that addition.”
Position: GoaltenderHeight: 6-1
Hometown: Fussen, Germany
During each of his last two seasons in Carolina, Rutherford was forced to rotate three goaltenders because of injuries. He understands perhaps better than anyone the importance of having depth at the goaltending position, and that’s what he added to the Penguins with the signing of Thomas Greiss. That means the Penguins now have three goaltenders signed to one-way deals. Rutherford said Greiss and Jeff Zatkoff will compete for the No. 2 spot behind Marc-Andre Fleury starting at training camp.
Greiss, 28, played last season with the Arizona Coyotes, appearing in a career-high 25 games and going 10-8-5 with a 2.29 goals-against average, .920 save percentage and two shutouts. He started 10 straight games to end the season because of an injury to starter Mike Smith, and helped keep the Coyotes in the playoff race until the bitter end (they missed the eighth and final spot to Dallas by two points). Before going to Phoenix, Greiss spent the previous three-plus years with San Jose and has participated in two Olympics (2006, ’10) with his native Germany. Rutherford's take:
“We also wanted to add more depth at goaltending. Thomas Greiss was a guy that I’ve liked for a long time and he’ll certainly be able to give us more depth at that position. We have a No. 1 goalie, obviously. And then the other two guys will fight for the No. 2 spot at camp. We’ll just have to see how that plays out. But we want to keep all three goalies (in the organization). That was the purpose of this, to get us more depth in the organization of guys who have NHL experience.”
The Penguins re-signed forward Marcel Goc to a one-year contract with an average annual value of $1.2 million. Goc, 30, joined the Penguins in a trade from the Florida Panthers at the trade deadline in March. He played in 12 regular-season games with Pittsburgh, winning 57.3 percent of his draws with the team and collecting two assists. Goc appeared in nine postseason games with Pittsburgh, leading the team with a 58.5-percent faceoff success rate.
In addition to his tremendous work in the circle, Goc makes the Penguins enviably deep at the center position and adds versatility to the roster, as his ability to play anywhere in the bottom-six was crucial for the Penguins last year. Goc was arguably the main reason the Penguins were able to keep Crosby and Malkin on a line together throughout the playoffs, as he was able to handle third-line center duties.
* The Penguins also signed defenseman Taylor Chorney and re-signed forward Nick Drazenovic. Both are two-way deals. Chorney, 27, played with the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League (AHL) in 2013-14 and served as team captain. Chorney has played parts of four NHL seasons with St. Louis and Edmonton, collecting seven points (1G-6A) in 61 games. Drazenovic, 27, played the majority of the 2013-14 regular-season with Pittsburgh’s top minor-league affiliate, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League (AHL). He also suited up for one regular-season game with Pittsburgh on Jan. 15 vs. Washington.