Pittsburgh Penguins: Should They Bargain or Go Bold in Free Agency?
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NHL free agency begins July 1, and the Pittsburgh Penguins have a clear idea of where they need to spend money this year: forwards, most notably on the wings. This is evident because the Penguins have a full compliment of defensemen and goalies under contract for the 2011-12 season.
The question facing Pens GM Ray Shero is whether to go bargain shopping or try and make a bold splash in the free agency period. History suggests that he will choose the bargain route, but I know you didn't come to BleacherReport.com to just read what you already know!
This article will take a look at some "bargain" guys and some "bold" guys, weighing the pros and cons of each. So let's take a look at two players from each side of the argument and assign the chance of him signing in Pittsburgh and his potential impact here.
For the benefit of the article, we can assume that the salary cap is going to go up to $63.5 million. That would mean the Penguins have a little more than $7 million in open room. Since we're going all the way on this one, there also is the possibility of clearing cap space via trade.
Now, on to the slides!!
Pittsburgh Penguins: Bold Free Agent Center No. 1
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Brad Richards is out there ... waiting for an offer from an NHL on Day 1 of free agency. It will have to be big money and likely cover multiple years in to the future.
Statistically, the 2010-11 season was a down year for Richards. There also may be concerns going forward for any team due to the missed time from a concussion.
Pro: Richards is a gifted playmaker when surrounded by like minds, as he would be in Pittsburgh.
Con: Signing him would end the free agency period for the Penguins and force them to trade for space to fill out the roster.
Brad Richards' potential impact with Penguins: Since Richards is a centerman by trade, it could likely form a line of him, Evgeni Malkin and James Neal—with whom he is familiar with from Dallas. That would allow Jordan Staal to resume his role as third line defensive center extraordinaire.
Chance Brad Richards signs in Pittsburgh: Low. The Penguins will have a Sidney Crosby extension to worry about in the near future (assuming his health remains intact), and a decision on keeping Malkin around that time as well. To add a multi-year, high value cap hit, they would likely need to move a significant moneymaker first to feel comfortable with their ability to still field a competent group for the rest of the roster.
Pittsburgh Penguins: Bargain Free Agent Center No. 1
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Marcel Goc is a complementary piece to the puzzle of building a team. That alone would define him as a "bargain" potential.
Consider the fact that he is coming off a season-ending shoulder injury, and you have the perfect recipe for a guy that will sign cheap and have something to prove.
Pro: Goc could find his play lifted with players such as Tyler Kennedy (if the restricted free agent re-signs) and Matt Cooke.
Con: There is always the "unknown" of how a player will respond when returning from a serious injury.
Marcel Goc's potential impact with Penguins: Fill out the third or fourth line. Adding timely goals would be a bonus since he would be looked upon to control tempo and maintain defensive responsibility.
Chance Marcel Goc signs in Pittsburgh: Low to Medium. Shero will not likely be targeting Goc, but he is very familiar with the Nashville organization. Having a player go through time with their team is considered a positive sign.
Pittsburgh Penguins: Bold Free Agent Center No. 2
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If a roster shakeup is in the cards for the Washington Capitals, a player like Brooks Laich may either be viewed as expendable or make the choice to move on.
Laich is a rugged-style forward that can also put up points. He would be a perfect addition to any team. Because of that, he figures to make a decent amount on his next contract.
Pro: In a matter of games, Laich would win the Pens fanbase over. He is a true "hockey player's hockey player."
Con: There are no concerns beyond his potential cap hit.
Brooks Laich's potential impact with Penguins: He would become the second Brooks on the team, and much like Orpik, would be a steady force for the team both on the ice and in the room.
Chance Brooks Laich signs in Pittsburgh: Low to Medium. While the Pens would likely target a player like Laich, Washington GM George McPhee could not possibly be foolish enough to let him go. Could he!?
Pittsburgh Penguins: Bargain Free Agent Center No. 2
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Zenon Konopka is an old-fashioned brawler. The Penguins found this out firsthand in a few of their brawl-fests this past season.
If you sign Konopka, you know exactly what you are getting. He is not putting his name to contract to score goals or fit particularly well within your system. When he hits the ice, he brings hell with him. Plain and simple.
Pro: What you see is what you get. Konopka will gladly keep opponents in line for looking at Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin the wrong way.
Con: Konopka said after the mid-February brawl with the Penguins that he was going to "take the poster off (his) bedroom door" of Penguins owner Mario Lemieux. The remarks were made in jest as a shot at Lemieux' remarks on the game, but what if he can't find that poster again?
Zenon Konopka's potential impact with Penguins: With Eric Goddard almost certainly leaving and the potential for Mike Rupp and Arron Asham to follow, the team will need some physical forwards. Konopka fills that role in a hurry.
Chance Zenon Konopka signs in Pittsburgh:. Medium. While Shero will still attempt to fill a physical void lost for certain nights, it will probably be with either Rupp or Asham.
Pittsburgh Penguins: Bold Left Winger No. 1
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Simon Gagne has had two consecutive seasons where he scored 17 goals and 23 assists. If it was not for the fact that both were injury-riddled, you could commend him for consistency.
Gagne is capable of being a top-six forward when healthy. Three seasons ago, he scored 34 goals with Philadelphia in 79 games. If he can stay in the lineup, his team should get a return on investment.
Pro: When Penguins fans wish for wingers for Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin, this is the mold they dream of.
Con: Has missed a quarter of the past two seasons due to injury.
Simon Gagne's potential impact with Penguins: If he and Crosby stay healthy together, they fill the net a lot. Gagne could be a 40-goal scorer with Crosby, contingent on both players staying in the lineup.
Chance Simon Gagne signs in Pittsburgh:. Low. If the Penguins take a run at a high-priced wing, it will not be for an injury-prone guy.
Pittsburgh Penguins: Bargain Left Winger No. 1
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Pascal Dupuis is still going to be a bargain on his next contract, even if he gets the type of raise he expects. Pittsburgh fans know his worth goes beyond his penalty killing and pranks.
Dupuis has maxed out on his chances here since being acquire in the Marian Hossa trade on February 27, 2008. This has made him extremely popular with the fans. While "Duper's" game is not perfect, respect is given for his hard work.
Pro: There is no need to guess what you will get out of Dupuis. He is clear in his role with this team and excels at it.
Con: Even if he is not re-signed by July 1, he is still likely to come back ... the price would just be higher.
Pascal Dupuis's potential impact with Penguins: Dupuis has shown his impact with the Pens already, having chemistry with teammates both on the ice and in the locker room.
Chance Pascal Dupuis signs in Pittsburgh:. Medium to High.While there may be more money waiting for him in another city, Dupuis and his family are comfortable in Pittsburgh. On a team with multiple stars, he is still one of most beloved and recognizable players on the team. He will likely value that over the uncertainty of a new situation.
Pittsburgh Penguins: Bold Left Winger No. 2
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Erik Cole has a fairly established history of putting pucks in the net. That is a key feature needed from a winger if the Penguins are going to go bold.
Cole will turn 32 after the start of the 2011-12 season. He has scored 184 goals and won a Stanley Cup with the 2005-06 Carolina Hurricanes.
Pro: Cole has been a steady goal scorer throughout his career. Players typically do not forget the natural ability to be in the right place at the right time.
Con: Is probably a little older than the Penguins would like, plus there is bad blood with Brooks Orpik for a questionable hit that left Cole with a broken neck.
Erik Cole's potential impact with Penguins: If all goes well, Cole would likely be a 25-goal scorer with the team and have an opportunity to toggle back and forth between the first and second lines.
Chance Erik Cole signs in Pittsburgh:. Medium. If the price was right, Shero would probably make a deal. Cole's destination will be a team more in need of a veteran presence if his price climbs.
Pittsburgh Penguins: Bargain Left Winger No. 2
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Ben Eager. If you read my previous article on Penguins free agency, you are no doubt asking: "what is it with this guy and Ben Eager?" Again, I only ask that the possibility be heard out.
If Eric Goddard, Mike Rupp and Arron Asham all leave this summer, the team will need some capable pugilists. Eager fits the bill, having accumulated 741 career penalty minutes.
Pro: The guy knows how to fight and is young enough to sign on to fill the role for a few seasons.
Con: There may not be enough room in the circus tent for Matt Cooke and him. The team is trying to propose league legislation to hold team's accountable for repeat offender suspension. Signing Eager would not help their pocketbooks if that is approved.
Ben Eager's potential impact with Penguins: Pittsburgh has embraced Jarkko Ruutu and Matt Cooke, so Eager would be one of those guys that we love because he is on our team.
Chance Ben Eager signs in Pittsburgh:. Low. To keep a physical aspect to the roster, Shero will likely stick with Rupp, Asham or both.
Pittsburgh Penguins: Bold Right Winger No. 1
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Michael Ryder has not put up big numbers since his first season with Boston. That could change with a contract in Pittsburgh.
In Pittsburgh, Ryder would be less restricted than he was in the Boston system. He would also spend time on lines with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. It also would not hurt his numbers to help out on the occasional power play.
Pro: Has the tools necessary to thrive in the right situation.
Con: Ryder will be looking for multiple years and big money. Could be risky given his past few seasons worth of performances.
Michael Ryder's potential impact with Penguins: Ryder could either emerge as a force in the NHL, or just blend in and do what he's done the past few seasons. Tough to say which way it would go.
Chance Michael Ryder signs in Pittsburgh:. Low. His contract would put the Penguins up near the new cap in a hurry, with a few roster spots needing to be filled out.
Pittsburgh Penguins: Bargain Right Winger No. 1
Mike Rupp has played with the Penguins for the past two seasons. He competed in 81 games each of those seasons, proving a durability while chipping in the occasional goal and scrap.
Rupp gets himself dirty each shift. Without guys like him in your lineup, your team has the possibility of being too soft.
Pro: Has been a great fit for the team on the ice, in the room and with his various community service initiatives.
Con: There are no cons to re-signing Mike Rupp.
Mike Rupp's potential impact with Penguins: Rupp will fight hard, skate hard and play hard each and every shift. His work sets a tone in the building that the Pittsburgh Penguins will be the team that establishes and controls the tone of the hockey game.
Chance Mike Rupp signs in Pittsburgh:. High. There is no reason to believe that a deal will not happen based on the interest from both sides.
Pittsburgh Penguins: Bold Right Winger No. 2
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Mike Knuble has done pretty well for himself in his career against the Penguins. More often than not, he scores against the flightless bird. It only makes sense to snatch him up.
Knuble will turn 38 years old July 4. By then, he should know where he will be playing in 2011-12. He has scored 20 or more goals the past eight seasons.
Pro: Combines grit with scoring ability.
Con: No real con aside from his age and potential cap hit.
Mike Knuble's potential impact with Penguins: Knuble is basically a Ryan Malone-type player, but a bit nastier.
Chance Mike Knuble signs in Pittsburgh:. Low. Knuble will look to max out what may be his final deal in the NHL. A team with unestablished youth may be the perfect fit for him.
Pittsburgh Penguins: Bargain Right Winger No. 2
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Craig Adams is a player that often goes unnoticed, even among Penguins fans. He plays a simple, no nonsense game that is perfect for a fourth liner.
There is no need to look up stats when considering Adams' worth. You define Adams success by black eyes, bumps and bruises. He willingly accepts this role and does so at a bargain rate.
Pro: Does things you cannot teach and that most players are hesitant to do.
Con: There is no con to re-signing Craig Adams.
Craig Adams' potential impact with Penguins: Hits, blocked shots and penalty killing. A selfless teammate.
Chance Craig Adams signs in Pittsburgh:. High. While it is fun to dream of all the potential bold moves the Penguins could make this offseason, we know it is nothing more than fantasy. Ray Shero will not be looking to make a splash in free agency, but as long as Craig Adams puts pen to paper, it does not seem like such a bad thing.