Believe it or not, but there was a point last season when Evan Rodrigues was almost singlehandedly keeping the Penguins afloat.
It sounds crazy, I know. But it’s true. Rodrigues’ evolution from a bottom-six depth piece to a legitimate top-six centre was one of the more unforeseen developments of the 2021-22 campaign, which makes the fact that he’s still on the open market somewhat surprising.
The guy is too good to be unsigned. Where could he end up?
Let’s take a look at the three best landing spots for Rodrigues and determine what each team might have to do to get him.
2022-23 Cap Space: $1,010,834
In two or three years, the Kraken are going to boast one of the most fearsome duos down the middle in Shane Wright and Matty Beniers — each of whom projects to be, at the very least, impact top-six centres.
Unfortunately, we are currently living in the present day, which means that the Kraken are slated to head into next season with two rookies holding down their top-six, as well as Alexander Wennberg waiting behind them.
That’s fine, sure. But it’s a dicey proposition.
Throwing your prospects directly into the deep end can occasionally work out, as it did with the likes of Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews — two generational talents. But doing so can also backfire spectacularly, gutting the kids’ confidence and stunting their development before they even had the chance to begin it.
Enter: Rodrigues, whose presence could act as an effective safeguard for Wright and Beniers as they acclimate to the NHL, and whose versatility allows him to play the wing if needed.
With roughly $1 million in cap space remaining, the Kraken would need to move some money out in order to make a Rodrigues signing happen. Even with training camp approaching and roster spots filling up, Rodrigues has the leverage to command at least $2.5-$3 million in AAV on his next deal. And despite Brandon Tanev’s $3.5 million being eligible for LTIR, the guy won’t be out forever, meaning the Kraken would still need to find space midseason in order to remain compliant when he returns.
Freeing up around $2 million in wiggle room isn’t the end of the world, however. And if Seattle can do it, Rodrigues would help them tremendously.
2022-23 Cap Space: $3,910,000
Nazem Kadri is gone, taking with him a good chunk of the Avs’ centre depth.
Sure, Colorado’s forward corps is still fantastic, headlined by superstars and some of the NHL’s best workhorses, but their depth down the middle outside of the top line is somewhat lacking, consisting of J.T. Compher, Alex Newhook, Darren Helm, and Andrew Cogliano — all adequate players in their own right but obviously not on the same level as Kadri.
Neither is Rodrigues, of course. But his ability to toggle between the top and bottom-six gives the club a safeguard in the event Compher is not yet ready for the full-time 2C role, while also allowing Newhook to feast on lower-level matchups on the third or fourth-line.
The best part is, the Avs have the cap space to do it. With nearly $4 million in available funds, Joe Sakic & Co. could simply lock Rodrigues in at market value right now and worry about where the money for Nathan MacKinnon’s extension will come from later. They’re in win-now mode, clearly. Who cares about the future when you’re ready to dominate the present?
2022-23 Cap Space: $7,940,119
Despite their vastly improved roster, the Senators lack a true 2C to slot in behind Josh Norris. No disrespect to Mathieu Joseph and Dylan Gambrell, of course, but both players are best suited for the bottom-six where they can take advantage of the weaker opposing matchups. And while Tim Stutzle could throw his hat in the ring, the kid is just 20 years old and still finding his footing in the NHL.
Similar to his potential fit in Seattle, Rodrigues projects as a terrific stop-gap for Ottawa’s young centres, filling in on the second line to shelter them from the increased responsibility accompanied by the role while also having the versatility to slide over the wing or down to the third line in the event Stutzle proves ready for the job.
And with nearly $7 million in cap space heading into September, the Senators could pull the trigger today if they wanted to. Frankly, I’m surprised they haven’t already done it.
After re-working their top-six into a legitimately formidable group, Rodrigues seems like a worthwhile final piece of the puzzle.