Ray Shero barely had time to celebrate a Pittsburgh Penguins Stanley Cup victory when his attention turned to the familiar question in the world of unrestricted free agents, giving proper credit to the band The Clash: “…should he stay or should he go”?
Shero, and general managers for the most part, don’t get much credit. The media only notices them when they pull off a head scratching trade or pick a draft day bust. However the Pittsburgh media has rained nothing short of glorious praise on Shero’s decisions over the last three seasons.
This off-season, his decisions were made easier by veteran players willing to take a pay cut to remain with a winner.
Since free agency began on Wednesday, veteran forwards Bill Guerin, Ruslan Fedotenko and Craig Adams all chose to accept a lower paycheck when they could have tested the market elsewhere.
Guerin took the biggest hit to his wallet with a $2 million dollar salary, which is more than one half of what he made last year.
When it came to negotiations, Guerin said of Shero “We went back and forth a couple of times, but it was easy. It was good dealing with Ray.”
Adams is $50,000 dollars lighter for the next two seasons, and Fedotenko is back for another year, down almost three quarters of a million from his $2.5 million salary of a season ago.
A willingness to take a pay cut in the NHL reflects the national economy. Players are taking less rather than testing a greener pasture that may not bear what may be expected.
Defencemen Rob Scuderi and Hal Gill and goalie Mathieu Garon are the exceptions.
Scuderi is now a member L.A. Kings with a three-year deal worth $13.6 million. Gill is off to the Canadiens, and Garon signed a two-year contract to back up Columbus goalie Steve Mason for more money.
What will GM Ray Shero do to replace Scuderi and Gill, the Pens top shutdown pairing in the playoffs last year and the blue liners on the ice in the final seconds of Game Seven of the Stanley Cup Finals?
He told the media on Friday that he would expect more from Alex Goligoski and Kris Letang. Goligoski signed a three-year extension with the team two weeks ago.
The other defensemen locked up are veteran Sergei Gonchar, Mark Eaton, and Brooks Orpik. Shero said that he would be “looking for someone who can compliment those five. But we have a little bit more expectations for the younger players to improve”.
With plans to extend the contracts of Gonchar and Letang at some point this year, neither of whom figures to sign for less than $3 million annually, the Penguins lacked cap space to pay market value for Scuderi. The Pens are thought to have offered him a five-year deal worth $10 million total.
The Penguins have committed $53,843,000 worth of cap space for the 2009-10 season. Fedotenko's signing on Friday leaves the Penguins $2,957,000 shy of the $56.8 million salary cap.
Shero said yesterday he will try to fill out the defense corps with a free agent, but nothing was imminent.
Pittsburgh native Nate Guenin is now a member of the Penguins, a defenceman who played with Flyers affiliate Philadelphia Phantoms last year.
It was not immediately known if Guenin is viewed as a potential replacement for the newly departed Rob Scuderi, or if the Penguins will look at more established defensemen such as Jay McKee.
The Penguins also signed center Mike Rupp, who played 79 games serving 150 penalty minutes last year for New Jersey. The 6’4” 230-pounder would allow Max Talbot to move to winger on Evgeni Malkin’s line and will most likely make current team fighter Eric Godard trade bait.
There are four free agents still looking for homes in the 2009-10 season from the Cup-winning team, including Miroslav Satan, Philippe Boucher, Mike Zigomanis and Petr Sykora.
The team is also shopping for a goalie to back up Marc-Andre Fleury, although they think John Curry with their AHL affiliate Wilkes-Barre/Scranton could handle that job. The Penguins retained Curry's rights by making him a qualifying offer before Wednesday’s deadline.
And what of a 2009 draft class filled with defencemen? Among them are first round pick Simon Despres (6’4” 215lbs); Philip Samuelsson in the second round, former Penguin tough guy Ulf’s son (6’3” 198lbs); and fifth-round choices Viktor Ekbom (6’2” 194lbs) and Alex Velischek (6’0” 200lbs). All of them are expected to play for college teams in the upcoming season.
Although there is little change to the player roster in 2009-10, the Penguins are making some moves in the front office.
Assistant coach Tom Fitzgerald, who joined Dan Bylsma's staff after the team fired Michel Therrien in mid-February, will take the newly created role of Assistant to the General Manager.
He will oversee the development of all prospects in the system and working with players at the AHL level. The move is a result of Fitzgerald’s wishes to return to the front office while his wife and four children remain in Boston.
Head coach Bylsma said his list of candidates to replace Fitzgerald is a short one.
Former Penguins general manager Ed Johnston, who had served as senior advisor, will also move into a new role. The man who drafted Mario Lemieux in 1984 will see less emphasis on hockey operations and more on community and alumni relations.
Ray Shero has to be pleased with his off-season negotiations skills.
With sixteen of the 20 players in the lineup for Game Seven returning next season and a move to a new arena in October of 2010, the Penguins are set for opportunities at more Stanley Cups in the near future.
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