12:01 p.m. on July 1st signals the beginning of the free agent flurry, where names and numbers will be thrown around like confetti at a carnival.
When free agency opens, it is truly a magical time of year. Teams who once had no offense can land the best goal scorers in the league. Defenses with more leaks than BP can transform into something resembling Fort Knox overnight.
Possibilities are endless for teams with virtually unlimited cap space and no expectations, but what does it mean for the Pittsburgh Penguins?
Last season’s Stanley Cup winners were knocked out in the second round of the playoffs this past year. Goal scoring didn’t seem to be a huge problem, but the team certainly felt the loss of Rob Scuderi and Hal Gill in the postseason. With only three defensemen under contact for next season, the stage is set to revive this porous defense through the magic of the free agent market.
But with a maximum of $12 million to spend, and a top-six winger also on the wish list, where does GM Ray Shero turn to right the ship and send the Pens back to the Cup Finals?
I know this isn’t going to be easy. It will definitely test Shero’s intestinal fortitude.
Gonchar is holding out for either three years at $5 million or two years at $6 million. Given the NHL’s 35-and-over rule (the length and number count against the cap, even if the player retires), it insults your better judgment to sign an injury-prone defenseman, but he’s necessary.
If we all forgive (and forget) his seeming lack of interest in Game 7 against Montreal, and that matador defense he played on the shorthanded goal, Gonchar had a decent season. Even missing 20 games, he put up a 50 point season. And let’s face it, the power play would be even worse without him.
What no one is ready to admit in Pittsburgh is that the team really does need him. Granted, it needs a focused, engaged Gonchar. It’s a gamble, but a necessary one.
Please give the old man what he wants, and we can move on to the next order of business.
We all saw what Philly pulled just two weeks ago. They gave up highly valued prospect Ryan Parent just to talk to Hamhuis, only to find out he didn’t have anything to say. Just about everyone across the league was left scratching their heads, and Nashville drove away like they stole something because, well, they basically did.
The following week, Pittsburgh traded a third-round pick to Philly for the same negotiating rights. Yes, you read that correctly. Pittsburgh and Philadelphia actually did something amicably.
Now, Pittsburgh is close to doing the same thing Philly did, but with one fewer draft pick.
Ray Shero’s dream is to get a defense similar to what he had when the team won the Cup in 2009. Since Scuderi and Gill left, the defense hasn’t been the same. Keeping Gonchar and bringing in Hamhuis gives the team everything it lost, and then some.
Yes, there are cap implications, but they can both fit and there’s still room to do more shopping. Not much, but there are bargains to be found.
Now, the Gonchar and Hamhuis signings will determine whether only one or both need to be brought back. But to fill out a top-six defensive corps, one of these players needs to be there. If both Gonchar and Hamhuis are brought in, then choose between Eaton and Leopold. If Shero is only able to sign one top-flight defenseman, then both Eaton and Leopold need to be brought back.
Personally, I’d like to see Leopold brought back over Eaton. Leopold seemed to have a better all-around game and was much better in starting the counter-attack from his own end. He even managed the second power play unit well. Eaton is certainly a serviceable defenseman, but if forced to choose, I’m picking Jordan Leopold.
Neither will prove to be a huge cap hit, and I’m sure hometown discounts can be discussed.
One could argue he was the linchpin to the 2009 Stanley Cup run. His vast experience and knowledge, coupled with his laid-back, wise-cracking locker room demeanor put the younger Pens at ease when they should have been jittery.
Bringing him back for one more run at the Cup not only gives him another shot at glory, but gives the team a solid winger, something they sorely lack. He has been something of a security blanket for Sidney Crosby: Someone he trusts will make the right decisions with the puck, allowing him the freedom to move into open areas. It also doesn’t hurt that Guerin still has a cannon of a shot.
No doubt Guerin will give a massive hometown discount to come back and play for the Penguins next season. A solid one-year, $1 million offer will do the trick.
When news broke that Ottawa was buying Jonathan Cheechoo out of his contract and making him a free agent, I was a little surprised. Yes, his play the last few seasons has been uninspired, and he hasn’t come anywhere near his point totals from 2005-06, but he’s only 29. The talent couldn’t have just gotten up and left him.
If the Penguins are able to sign both Hamhuis and Gonchar, they’re going to be pretty darn close to the salary cap. If they hope to provide any sort of wing help for Crosby or Malkin, this may be their best shot.
Not only will this provide a change of scenery for Cheechoo, but after being bought out of his contract, he’ll no doubt come cheap, desperate to prove the doubters wrong.
Let’s not forget, this man scored 56 goals just four years ago. He did his best work alongside Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau. Landing next to Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin could be just the jolt he needs to find that productivity again.