Pittsburgh Penguins: Exploring Their Free-Agent Shopping List for the Offseason
As the Vancouver Canucks and Boston Bruins begin the series that will crown this season's Stanley Cup Champions, the rest of the league turns part of their attention to free agency. NHL free agency starts July 1, and each team is already making a list and checking it twice.
The Pittsburgh Penguins face many difficult choices as it relates to their own free agents with 10 unrestricted free agent forwards and two restricted free agent forwards. Stanley Cup winning hero Max Talbot is on the list, as are many of the forwards that play a role on the third and fourth lines.
According to "The Sporting News", Pens GM Ray Shero has confirmed that neither Alexei Kovalev nor Mike Comrie will be offered contracts. You can scratch two players off the unrestricted list, then. According to their story, Shero has also not ruled out any of the other players on the internal list.
But what of external candidates? The free agency period of 2011 is exactly what the sports talk show doctors ordered. There is certain to be no shortage of speculation about who the Penguins want to and can add.
If you use the numbers set forth by capgeek.com, the Penguins have just shy of $56,000,000 committed to eight forwards, seven defenseman, and two goalies for the 2011-12 season. At a minimum, they'll need to find four forwards to fill out the roster.
Shortly before the NHL Entry Draft held June 24 and 25, the figures for the upcoming season's salary cap will be announced. The 2010-11 season cap ceiling was at $59,400,000. Forbes.com reports that "NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly told the Sports Lawyers Association the he expects the salary cap to rise to between $60,500,000 and $63,500,000."
This would give the Penguins around $4,000,000 and $7,000,000 to spend. While not highly likely, a trade also cannot be ruled out though. As usual, we can also expect some draft day deals to alter the course of free agency.
What will the Penguins do? Let's take a look at the 12 guys they should be targeting.
Pittsburgh Penguins Target #1: Tyler Kennedy, Restricted FA Sharpshooter
With the lack of funds the Penguins have available under the next cap, it is crucial to sign restricted free-agent Tyler Kennedy to a team-friendly deal. Kennedy came in to his own this past season, emerging when many of the team's star forwards were injured.
Aside from the fact that he is a restricted free-agent, Kennedy is likely eager to establish his career here in Pittsburgh. TK topped out at 21 goals last season, and the team broadcast's on Root Sports reported that an on-ice chat with Coach Dan Bylsma after practice gave him the confidence to elevate his game.
Even though a contract likely won't make Sidney Crosby blush, it will be consistent money in the NHL for multiple years. All the Penguins ask in return is the hustle he has shown since day one and the consistency he displayed last season.
Another upside from Kennedy's point of view is that his role is not limited. While he likely will fit in on a third line with Matt Cooke and Mark Letestu, Bylsma is not afraid to shake his lineup from top to bottom. Playing with a healthy Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin is not out of the question for TK.
GM Ray Shero will likely give him the contract that makes it all possible.
Pittsburgh Penguins Target #2: Nikita Filatov, Columbus' Enigma and Trade Bait
While Columbus' Nikita Filatov is not a free-agent, many sources report that the Blue Jackets would be willing to trade the enigmatic left winger for a mid-level draft pick. GM Ray Shero could do worse than sending a draft pick to the Western Conference neighbors.
Many teams have concern that after a disappointing season of zero goals in 23 games, Filatov could be headed back to the KHL if he starts 2011-12 poorly. According to a May 26th Tweet by Puck Daddy's Dmitry Chesnokov (@dchesnokov), Filatov told, "Sports Daily that he is determined to make it in the #NHL w/ #CBJ".
Whether or not the Blue Jackets want to continue that experiment is another story. There will surely be interest in a guy with so much potential to be a prolific goal scorer in the NHL. This would also re-unite Evgeni Malkin with a Russian influence, after losing such connections from Sergei Gonchar and Russian-speaking Ruslan Fedotenko and Peter Sykora the past few seasons.
Filatov's cap hit would be about $2,200,000 if he maxed out his performance bonuses. Something tells me if the Penguins acquired him and he met his goals, everybody involved would be thrilled.
Pittsburgh Penguins Target #3: Mike Rupp, Muckin' and Grindin'
Mike Rupp is another player that has played for the Penguins the past few seasons. But, he now approaches unrestricted free agency. GM Ray Shero has shown a tendency to value gritty guys that have the ability to play tough hockey and kill penalties.
"Rupper" fits the bill on both counts. He has also been excellent in the community working with different charitable organizations. His contributions have been too numerous to list, but a prime example was his trip with Max Talbot and former Major League Baseball player Sean Casey to Haiti. The trio worked through the Pittsburgh Pirates with local orphanages.
Feel-good stories aside, Rupp also brings some serious nastiness on the ice. At 6'5" 230 lbs., he brings size, strength, and a willingness to mix it up in all areas of the game. In his two season with Penguins, Mike netted 22 goals and 244 PIMs.
Shero likely would not have to dig extremely deep to retain the services of Mike Rupp. From the organization's standpoint, they know what they would get and are likely to be happy to have it if the price is right. The only thing that could stop the Pens from resigning Rupp would be getting to July 1 and another team paying dearly for the intangibles the forward can bring.
Pittsburgh Penguins Target #4: Ville Leino Is the Winger the Penguins Need
Okay, you have hung in there through the first few slides and are thinking to yourself, "This is all too low risk. We want Marian Hossa back. We want flash.". The Penguins cannot promise you that during free agency, but it is time to throw you a bone for target #4.
It is not likely the Penguins can or will make a run at any top tier free-agents. A guy like Philadelphia's Ville Leino is a perfect fit, though. With 19 goals last season, he proved that he can fill the net.
Leino will be due a raise on his last deal of $800,000. He will be 28 years old when the next season starts. More important than any of this, he may be ripe for the picking.
The Flyers do not appear to have much cap space now. As the cap raises, they will get some relief. They likely will have to focus on their goaltending monster though, so a winger like Leino may be able to taken away.
That would go over nicely with the Penguins fanbase I think: adding a scoring winger and doing so at the expense of the Flyers. Maybe it can't happen, but this is free agency. We can dream a little bit!
Pittsburgh Penguins Target #5: Pascal Dupuis, Penalty Killing Madman
After the Penguins defeated the Detroit Red Wings to claim the franchise's third Stanley Cup, Pascal Dupuis wanted to make the moment even more special. While the memories would last his lifetime, that was not good enough for "Duper", so he went and got a tattoo with the Penguins logo and Stanley Cup on his back.
Dupuis is another of the Penguins' forwards that stares down the barrel of free agency. If he makes it to July 1 without a contract, he will likely be gone. Surely some team will see the value in his speed and penalty-killing abilities.
In a perfect world, Dupuis would be allowed to thrive in a third line role. The salary cap era NHL is far from perfect. Dupuis has spent a large portion of time playing wing for Sidney Crosby. Despite having some flaws in his offensive game, he has managed to be a near 20 goal scorer the past two seasons.
Another selling point for Pascal is that, by all accounts, he is good in the room. The HBO "24/7" series for the Winter Classic showed a glimpse at a dedicated family man who also knows how to keep things loose at the rink. Who can forget his classic greeting of "F*** you, Geno." to teammate Evgeni Malkin as "Duper" arrived at practice?
Much like Rupp, the decision to stay in Pittsburgh will likely lie solely with Dupuis and his willingness to take less money to stay here. If he is unwilling, he will head into free agency and likely gain his last big payday in the NHL.
Pittsburgh Penguins Target #6: Alex Tanguay, Washed Up or Recharging His Tank?
Over the past three or four seasons, Alex Tanguay is a name that any fan who listens to the rumors on a regular basis has heard.
If you make a run at signing Alex Tanguay, what exactly are you getting? He will turn 32 next season, not over the hill by any stretch. One wonders though if he is at the crossroads of his career where he starts to see a decline in productivity or if he will continue to be the sniper he has a reputation of being.
GM Ray Shero is sure to answer those questions if he is to make an offer to the free agent winger. On paper, it seems like a potential good fit. He was a $1,700,000 cap hit last season.
The Pens would likely plug him in on a top line with Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz. Would Tanguay take a step up from sub-20 goal guy to the 25-30 range in such a situation? It is certainly open for debate, but Shero should give it some serious thought.
Pittsburgh Penguins Target #7: Craig Adams, the Hardest Working Annonymous NHLer
Chances are you do not know who Craig Adams is unless you are a super-fan of hockey. Heck, there are people that avidly watch Pens games that likely are not aware of the value he brings to the team.
Adams is a fourth liner. As such, his minutes vary. Some nights he may only see a few. On special occasions, he may top out near 10 minutes. The beauty of a guy like Adams is that he is able to overcome this lack of predictable playing time and just simply bring his game regardless of his time on the ice.
If you believe you need a guy like this on your hockey team, chances are you understand the sport. Here are some bonus attributes Craig Adams brings to the table. He is able to effectively kill penalties, he leads Penguin forwards with 64 blocked shots (reg. season) and he was third among the team's forwards in hits behind the previously mentioned Mike Rupp and the notorious Matt Cooke.
Do you like those features in a hockey player? If not then here's one last sell on the guy: as an added bonus, his cap hit last season was $550,000. Adams will not be making that little next season, but there is also no reason to expect him to command a huge deal.
Craig Adams is a signable player and that is why he shows up late on this list. One piece of advice to Mr. Shero though, do not wait too long or another team may realize they want the bargain you have had the past two seasons.
Pittsburgh Penguins Target #8: Matt Bradley, Rugged Player Wasted with Capitals
If the Penguins are unable to retain a guy like Mike Rupp, a reasonable alternative would be to make a run at signing Matt Bradley. They play different styles, but Bradley has size at 6'3" 201 lbs. and is well-equipped for the dirty work role he would required to play here.
Bradley played for the Penguins earlier in his career, during the abysmal 2003-04 season. His -27 that season likely does not give him anything close to warm and fuzzy feelings about wearing the flightless bird on his chest again. Having played for the Caps the past six seasons, Bradley is well aware that it is a different era in Pittsburgh.
It remains unknown if the early exit from the playoffs will lead to a roster shakeup in DC. If it does and Bradley is sent on his way, he could be an excellent fit for the Penguins and their need to keep a gritty element in their lineup night in and night out.
Pittsburgh Penguins Target #9: Max Talbot, Disposable Hero or Worth a Deal?
Max Talbot will likely never have to buy another drink in the city of Pittsburgh for the rest of his life. This is not only because he may have played his last game here, but because of his efforts in Game 7 of the 2009 Stanley Cup Finals.
With two goals, Talbot put up the scoring needed to secure a 2-1 victory over the defending champion Detroit Red Wings, who beat the Penguins the year earlier, in Pittsburgh no less. Most Pens fans felt an incredible sense of satisfaction in getting revenge after Talbot helped push the team to its third Stanley Cup.
In the years since, the Penguins have found themselves exiting the playoffs much earlier than they would like. Talbot remains a fan favorite, but many in the local media believe that he is not well-liked by the front office or coaching staff. Part of the reason is described by local sports DJ Mark Madden (paraphrasing): that they don't know whether he is a grit player that plays over his abilities or a skill type player that greatly underachieves.
One thing is for certain, while offensive consistency is not Talbot's strong suit, hard work and defense both are. Talbot plays a key role in the Penguins penalty killing. Much like the other future free-agents, if GM Ray Shero does not lock Talbot up prior to July 1, he will likely be offered more money to go elsewhere than the Penguins can or will be willing to afford.
Pittsburgh Penguins Target #10: Ben Eager, Misunderstood or Sideshow Miscreant?
Most Penguins fans have a distinct memory of Ben Eager. To be honest, the details may have slipped from our collective memory. What we do remember is Eager was suited up for the hated Flyers. He was on one of those shifts where he was stirring up muck everywhere he went. Then Gary Roberts took him to task and showed him what the "old NHL" was all about.
For a longtime fan, it is okay to admit that you are bristling at the very thought of this guy wearing a Penguins uniform. Hear this out though. If, as expected, Eric Goddard does not return and Mike Rupp signs elsewhere. Perhaps even Arron Asham does not return. All of the sudden the team would be drastically less tough to play against.
Are you comfortable with a game on Long Island with only Deryk Engelland and Matt Cooke as the muscle? There are plenty of chances for games to get out of hand and last season proved that the Penguins still need a "deterrent" factor in their lineup certain nights.
In the right situation, signing Eager would help the Penguins keep other teams honest when it comes to how they do their business against the skill players. He is a team player when it comes to standing up for his guys.
Ray Shero has shown a tendency to place value on guys like Eager, though his sideshow antics may be too much for the team coming off a season where Matt Cooke became synonymous with "lengthy suspension."
Pittsburgh Penguins Target #11: Arron Asham, Injury Plagued or Playoff Leader?
The story of Arron Asham's 2010-11 season was a roller coaster ride. He missed time due to upper-body injuries, including a concussion. But something clicked for him in the playoffs.
Granted, it was a short, seven game sample, but Asham was one of the few Penguins with life each and every shift. He scored three goals to lead the team, but it was not enough to keep them from falling to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Asham had a very reasonable cap hit of $700,000 last season. If he is willing to take another run with Penguins for a similar price, his playoff performance justifies taking the chance.
GM Ray Shero will likely consider many other options before he gets around to Asham, but that does not rule him out. With the reshuffling of the lineup that will likely occur, Arron could become the next fan favorite in Pittsburgh for his gritty play and timely goals.
Pittsburgh Penguins Target #12: Dustin Jeffrey, King of the EZ-Pass
If Dustin Jeffrey learned anything during the 2010-11 season, it would have to be how to navigate from the western part of the state (Pittsburgh) to the eastern part of the state (Wilkes-Barre/Scranton). Such is the life of a man on a two-way contract in hockey.
Jeffrey suffered an injury late in the season that cut his season down just as it seemed that he would be remaining with the NHL club for the rest of the year. In his 25 games, he netted seven goals.
In compiling this list, we have looked at all types of players from potential scorers to gritty tough-guys to two-way guys like Jeffrey. While Dustin is a restricted free-agent not likely to crack the top 50 to 100 most important names on an offseason agenda, he is important to the Penguins' future because of his cap-friendly value.