Pittsburgh Penguins: Latest Trade Rumors, Free Agent News, Post-Draft Buzz

Steve Silverman@@profootballboyFeatured ColumnistJune 22, 2012

Pittsburgh Penguins: Latest Trade Rumors, Free Agent News, Post-Draft Buzz

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    The Pittsburgh Penguins are front and center in the hockey world as they host the 2012 NHL Draft this weekend. The Penguins are a widely respected organization and they appeared to be an attractive choice to win the Stanley Cup when the playoffs got underway in April.

    However, despite the aspirations of general manager Ray Shero and head coach Dan Bylsma, the plans were scuttled as they were eliminated harshly by the Philadelphia Flyers in the first round of the playoffs.

    As the offseason gets underway in earnest with the draft and free agency right around the corner, the Penguins are in need of some good news. Center Jordan Staal, one of the team's mainstays after Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, turned down a 10-year contract extension with the Penguins. That shocking development led to a draft day trade to the Carolina Hurricanes.

    Even though Staal is now an ex-Penguin, Pittsburgh should be one of the stronger teams in the Eastern Conference. The core of the team will be strong -- as long as Crosby is healthy -- and it will be up to Shero to fine-tune in free agency and add compelling new talent in the draft. 

Jordan Staal May Be Carolina Dreamin'

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    Let's make this clear: Jordan Staal was not a free agent. He had one year left on his when he told the Penguins he was not interested in signing an extension "at this time."

    Ray Shero knew exactly what that meant. When a player turns down a $60 million deal in the manner that Staal did, it meant that he was simply not going to sign a new deal with the Penguins. It was not a matter of timing. Staal wanted to move on.

    Instead of hanging on to him for one more season and then letting him walk away as a free-agent, Shero traded Staal to the Carolina Hurricanes where he will join brother Eric Staal. Younger brother Jared is also in the Carolina organization.

    Shero and Carolina GM Jim Rutherford completed the deal shortly before the start of the draft. Carolina sent the No. 8 pick in the draft, Brandon Sutter and defenseman Brian Dumoulin to the Penguins. Pittsburgh used that pick to select Derrick Pouliot, a defenseman who has excellent offensive skills and has been compared to Penguins defenseman Kris Letang.

New Backup Goalie in Town

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    It was simply the most debilitating of playoff series for the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Philadelphia Flyers dominated them, winning the series in 6 games and giving up 30 goals in the process.

    Obviously, it was not a good series for Marc-Andre Fleury, who probably got a skin irritation on the back of his neck because of the frequency that the red light was turned on. Fleury, who is generally considered to be one of the better goalies in the game, struggled mightily against the Flyers.

    One of the reasons he was not in top form may have been fatigue. Fleury played 67 regular-season games and that tired him out. The Penguins don't want that to happen again, so they acquired Tomas Vokoun from the Capitals to give him relief.

    Penguins general manager Ray Shero hopes that Vokoun performs better than Brent Johnson, whom the team did not have confidence in going forward. Vokoun had a 2.51 goals against average last season and played in 48 games. If he can play in 30-to-35 games during the upcoming season, Fleury should be much fresher for the playoffs. 

    Vokoun, who was scheduled to become a free agent on July 1, signed a two-year, $4 million deal with the Penguins.

Returning Free Agents

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    The Penguins don't figure to be spending a lot of money on free-agent acquisition during the offseason. They have key decisions to make on forwards Steve Sullivan and Arron Asham. Both are free agents and both made contributions last year.

    Sullivan is a solid, hustling player who always brings energy to the ice. He also was a factor on the power play where he scored 5 of his 17 goals. Asham is an old-school tough guy. He is not afraid to charge in and assert himself and take on the other team's enforcer. He will also score a key goal from time to time.

    It seems likely that the Penguins will make a decent offer to retain Sullivan but it's a bit more dicey for Asham. He was suspended for four games in the playoffs and that's what may keep the team from bringing him back.

Trade Front

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    The Penguins would like to get stronger on defense during the offseason, and they took the first step to improve in that area by trading a player who struggled there last season.

    The Penguins traded defenseman Zbynek Michalek to the Phoenix Coyotes, a team he had played five years for before coming to Pittsburgh. Michalek had 2 goals and 11 assists for the Penguins last year.

    The Penguins received defenseman Harrison Ruopp, goalie Marc Cheverie, and a third-round pick for Michalek.

    It seems quite likely that Ray Shero will also try to move defenseman Paul Martin, who struggled throughout most of the season. Martin makes a lot of mistakes on the defensive end and the team often paired him with No. 1 defenseman Kris Letang so they could have someone on the ice who could erase his mistakes. That's quite a handicap for coach Dan Bylsma and that's not how the Penguins want to game-plan in the future.

    Shero is hoping to acquire a big and physical stay-at-home type to solidify the defense.

Sid the Kid

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    After being out for more than a year following a concussion in the 2011 Winter Classic against the Washington Capitals, Sidney Crosby is enjoying an uneventful offseason.

    That means he is healthy and is not suffering headaches or any of the other problems that dogged him well into the 2011-12 season. Crosby is working out regularly and hopes to be in top shape throughout the 2012-13 season.

    Crosby has not had a full summer of offseason workouts since 2007. In 2008 and 2009, the Penguins got to the Stanley Cup Finals (winning in '09) and that made for a short summer. After leading Canada to the gold medal in the 2010 Olympics, Crosby was fatigued and did not go at it full bore in the offseason. Concussion issues prevented him from working out last year.

    CBS Sports indicates that the Penguins are pursuing a long-term contract extension with Crosby.

Setting the Stage for Parise .. and Perhaps Suter?

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    The Penguins were big movers and shakers on draft weekend. By trading Jordan Staal and Zbynek Michalek, they have put themselves in a position to make a serious push for Zach Parise of the New Jersey Devils at the start of free agency.

    Parise said less than 48 hours after the Devils' season ended that he had no interest in signing with the New York Rangers. He said that he was most interested in staying put with the Devils, but he did not commit to coming back to New Jersey. The Penguins could have $10-15 million in cap space available, and that would allow them to make a sizable offer to Parise.

    Parise is a hard working and talented forward with explosive qualities. He has scored 30 or more goals in 5-of-6 seasons and the only reason he failed to do it in 2010-11 is that his season was shattered by injuries.

    While it's just speculation at this point, the prospect of Parise on the same line with Sid Crosby would make the Penguins a nightmare for opposing goalies.

    The Penguins also have an interest in Nashville defenseman Ryan Suter and could pursue him through free agency. If GM Ray Shero is able to add Parise and Suter, the Penguins would almost certainly have the inside track on the favorite's position in the Eastern Conference.