Sergei Gonchar signed with the Ottawa Senators on July 1 around 12:30 EST, ending a five-year stint with the Penguins. Thirty minutes later, rumors arose that defensemen Paul Martin was extremely close to signing a deal with the Penguins, and expressed heavy interest in the team since last season. However around 1:15, the Penguins rumors were turned to another high-profile defensemen who was somewhat under the radar.
Enter Milan Michalek. Michalek ended up signing for five years, $4M a season. Almost thirty minutes after Michalek signed, ESPN first broke the tension between Martin and the Penguins and announced that he signed a five year, $25M deal ($5M a season).
The Penguins were obviously the talk of free agency with these moves. They not only solidifed their defensive core for the next five years, but managed to get pretty good deals out of players who could've made more money elsewhere. Michalek was positioned to make anywhere from $3.5M - $4.5M a season, and Martin was rumored to make $5.5M - $6.5M a season.
First of all, let's review the players that the Penguins have got:
Paul Martin: Martin in a short-term description, is a much better version of Jordan Leopold. He's a fantastic skater, he's got good speed, he moves the puck well, and he plays great defense. Martin was characterized as a player who can play in shut-down situations, and I agree with that. I wouldn't go as so far to call Martin a "shut-down defensemen" but I do belive he's a mobile defensemen, he plays great defense, he's capable of playing big minutes and moves the puck very well. He did a pretty good job of shutting Malkin and Crosby down in New Jersey, we'll see if he can replicate that now that he's their teammate. (Martin is 29 years old)
Milan Michalek: Michalek is a shut-down defensemen, but also provides the ability to move the puck soundly and calmly out of his own zone. I would label Michalek as a "Rob Scuderi-type" shut-down defensemen, because he's not flashy nor is he overtly physical in shutting a player down. But he has a great hockey sense and knows how to handle forwards, he's got great positioning, he's an excellent skater, and he knows how to use his body to his advantage. I personally think he's a much better version of Scuderi too, he's more physical, he blocks more shots, he's better postionally, he's a better skater, he's faster, and most importantly he can move the puck much better than Scuderi. He's a right-handed shot and is capable of playing on the PP. He was a leader on a young Phoenix Coyote team, we'll see if he can replicate that in Pittsburgh. (Michalek is 27-years-old)
The Penguins bolster their defense with these two moves, and now have one of the best defenses in the Eastern Conference and one of the better defenses in the NHL. The only teams I would put above Pittsburgh in terms of defense are: Philadelphia, New Jersey, Chicago and Detroit. That's a huge improvement over the sub-par defensive squad we had last year.
This was definitely some great work by Ray Shero and his staff, I'm looking forward to next season. Could you imagine a shutdown pairing of Michalek and Martin? I could, and I think it will turn out very well.