Penguins' pursuit of Vladimir Tarasenko, Steve Mears leaves and schedule release

The Penguins aren’t in the market for many big names these days because of their salary cap situation and the team’s commitment to building for the future.

They wouldn’t mind adding one, though.

Vladimir Tarasenko, fresh off winning a championship with the Florida Panthers, is an unrestricted free agent. The Penguins are interested in his services.

Of course, they aren’t alone.

Still, the Penguins, who have precious little money under the salary cap, did have contact with Tarasenko on each of the first two days of the free agency period. It’s believed that other teams have made larger offers to Tarasenko, but the Penguins were hopeful that playing with Sidney Crosby and countryman Evgeni Malkin might enhance the 32-year-old forward to make a pit stop in Pittsburgh.

Kyle Dubas is very mindful of the future and isn’t going to dish out any long-term deals in free agency, which is something that might prevent Tarasenko from joining the Penguins. Still, Dubas is searching for a winger to play on the top line with Crosby.

Tarasenko has scored 293 goals in 751 games during a career that has seen him win the Stanley Cup with the St. Louis Blues and the Panthers. His game appears to be regressing — he has scored 23 and 18 goals, respectively, during the past two seasons after peaking at 40 during the 2015-16 season — but Tarasenko is still a top-six forward, something the Penguins covet.

One team source said that the Penguins were not optimistic that they could land Tarasenko but that there is real interest in acquiring his services.

As things currently stand, the Penguins’ top six consists of Crosby, Malkin, Bryan Rust, Michael Bunting, Rickard Rakell and Drew O’Connor.

The Penguins are thrilled with how O’Connor progressed last season, but would ultimately love to build a third line around him. Finding another winger for Crosby’s line is necessary for that to happen.

The Penguins signed Sebastian Aho — not that one — to a two-year deal worth $775,000 annually.

Aho, 28, has played his entire career with the New York Islanders. He has produced 50 points in 190 career games and figures to provide the Penguins with some reasonable depth on their blue line, projecting as a No. 6 or No. 7 defenseman. Aho played in 129 games during the past two seasons in New York.

Mears leaves town 

Steve Mears is the new TV voice of the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Mears, who replaced Paul Steigerwald as the Penguins’ TV play-by-play person in 2017, was removed from the TV booth in 2023. The Penguins used him as their radio play-by-play voice during the 2023-24 season, but it was never a secret that Mears preferred to work on television.

The Blue Jackets granted him his wish.

Josh Getzoff remains as the Penguins’ play-by-play voice on television. The Penguins used a rotating trio of Phil Bourque, Colby Armstrong and Mike Rupp last season. The plan for the upcoming season remains unclear.

The Penguins could go the simulcast route, broadcasting the TV crew on the radio. If not, they’ll be hiring a new radio play-by-play voice. Steigerwald still works in the organization and would be a candidate.

Schedule release

The NHL released its schedule for the 2024-25 season on Tuesday.

Here are some Penguins’ schedule highlights:

• The Penguins open and close the season at home against two of their rivals, as their season opener will see them open at home against the Rangers on Oct. 9. They’ll conclude the season at home against Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals on April 17. Ovechkin needs 42 goals to break Wayne Gretzky’s all-time goal record, so if he has a resurgence this season, there’s an outside chance history could be in play that night.

• Marc-Andre Fleury makes what likely will be his final appearance in Pittsburgh on Oct. 29 when the Minnesota Wild visit PPG Paints Arena. Get your tickets quickly for that one.

• What sticks more than anything on this schedule is the road trip the Penguins have in January. The seven-game trip is one of the longer road ventures in franchise history. It will take the Penguins to Buffalo, Washington, Los Angeles, Anaheim, Seattle, San Jose and Utah from Jan. 17-29.

• That trip concludes in Utah, which will mark the first time the Penguins have played in Salt Lake City.

• Though they are a divisional opponent, the Penguins only play once this season against the Blue Jackets in Columbus.

• The season opener marks the only time that the Rangers play in Pittsburgh this season.

• The Penguins host the Flyers on Dec. 23 and Feb. 27.

• The annual Thanksgiving Eve game is slated for Nov. 27 when the Penguins host the Vancouver Canucks.

• The NHL gave the Penguins 10 Saturday home games, six of which will be played at 7 p.m. They also have six home games on Sundays and four on Fridays, giving them a busier-than-usual home schedule on weekends.

• The Penguins have nine home games in November and eight in March, their two busiest months at PPG Paints Arena.

• The Stanley Cup champion Florida Panthers play once in Pittsburgh, on Dec. 3.

• Connor McDavid and the Oilers visit Pittsburgh on Jan. 9.

• The Penguins are off from Feb. 9-21 because of the Four Nations Faceoff.

(Photo of Vladimir Tarasenko: Bob DeChiara / USA Today)

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