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With Nick Bonino out of picture, Penguins close to making trade for center

Jonathan Bombulie
| Friday, June 30, 2017, 10:42 a.m.
The Penguins' Nick Bonino wins a face-off against the Blue Jackets' Sam Gagner in the first period Tuesday, April 18, 2017 at Nationwide Arena.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Penguins' Nick Bonino wins a face-off against the Blue Jackets' Sam Gagner in the first period Tuesday, April 18, 2017 at Nationwide Arena.
Penguins center Nick Bonino (13) and Senators center Tommy Wingels (57) go back and forth in the third period of game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals in the NHL Playoffs on Sunday May 21, 2017 at PPG Paints Arena.
Christian Tyler Randolph | Tribune-Review
Penguins center Nick Bonino (13) and Senators center Tommy Wingels (57) go back and forth in the third period of game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals in the NHL Playoffs on Sunday May 21, 2017 at PPG Paints Arena.
Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford has some tough decisions to make this summer.
Getty Images
Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford has some tough decisions to make this summer.

Looking to fill the soft spot on his roster at the center position, Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford has reviewed his options and come to a conclusion.

Bringing back Nick Bonino hasn't turned out to be viable. Teams in search of championship pedigree will throw piles of money his way when the free-agent signing period begins at noon Saturday.

“I've stayed in touch with the agent to kind of stay in the loop, just to see where he felt this was going,” Rutherford said. “It would appear that he will go to another team.”

Finding a replacement in free agency isn't an attractive route. The few high-end players available also will receive princely salaries.

“Not based on what the cost is at this point in time,” Rutherford said. “That could change, but as we speak, based on what the cost is, probably not.”

The best option is a trade, and Rutherford said Friday morning he was close to completing a deal to add a replacement for Bonino on the third line.

“It's like all trades,” Rutherford said. “You don't know if it's going to happen or when it's going to happen, but there's been enough conversation here over the last week that something could happen.”

Bonino, 29, has been an integral part of the Penguins lineup over the past two championships seasons, anchoring the third line and playing a key role on the penalty kill.

Rutherford said his plans at the position won't necessarily stop with replacing Bonino.

“That's a place where I feel it's important to have strength,” Rutherford said. “We're obviously stronger than any other team in hockey with (Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin). Now we have to make sure we keep that strength in the third and fourth hole.

“We got very comfortable with Carter Rowney. He's a very smart player. We're comfortable there. We will look to add one, maybe two centers at some point between now and the start of the season.”

Replacing Bonino will represent the most significant change to the roster the Penguins have made since winning the franchise's fourth Stanley Cup championship 13 months ago. Last offseason, they lost only defenseman Ben Lovejoy, winger Beau Bennett and goalie Jeff Zatkoff.

Rutherford said that freshening-up process is at least partially by design.

“(Coach Mike Sullivan) and I, we've talked about this, and we feel changing the roster more this year than last year makes sense,” Rutherford said. “So that's probably what's going to happen.”

There likely will be a shake-up on the team's defense corps as well, as Rutherford said he expects Trevor Daley and Ron Hainsey to also leave via free agency.

One of those vacancies will be filled by the return of Kris Letang from April neck surgery. The other likely will be filled by a free-agent addition Saturday.

“Chad (Ruhwedel) came along very nicely. We're comfortable there. (Derrick) Pouliot finished the season real strong. We feel he's going to come in and play,” Rutherford said. “But I think going in, looking at that free-agent market, I think adding an experienced defenseman would make sense and that's what we're going to try to do.”

Rutherford said the Penguins also plan to add a veteran goalie to back up Matt Murray, leaving 22-year-old Tristan Jarry to continue his development in the AHL for at least part of next season.

A sportsnet.ca report has linked the Penguins to former Dallas goalie Antti Niemi.

“My preference is to add a veteran goalie on a one-year contract, get whatever is necessary out of that goalie, 30 to 40 games, whatever is necessary to have two healthy and rested goalies going into the playoffs,” Rutherford said. “Jarry is ready to play games here in the NHL. It's just a matter of trying to keep the proper development going and see where that goes, even during the course of the season.”

Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jbombulie@tribweb.com or via Twitter at @BombulieTrib.

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