NHL Free Agency: 5 Bargains for Pittsburgh Penguins

James ConleyContributor IIIJune 13, 2011

NHL Free Agency: 5 Bargains for Pittsburgh Penguins

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    DETROIT - OCTOBER 30:  Patrick Eaves #17 of the Detroit Red Wings skates in a game against the Nashville Predators on October 30,2010 at the Joe Louis Arena in Detroit , Michigan. The Wings defeated the Predators 5-2. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images
    Claus Andersen/Getty Images

    The Pittsburgh Penguins have no money.

    After breaking the piggy bank to upgrade the defense last summer and with the large existing contracts of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Marc-Andre Fleury, Jordan Staal and Brooks Orpik, the Penguins have next to nothing left to acquire new talent this summer.

    Even if the cap expands to the reported $62-63 million, they still won't be able to retain each of their own players with expiring contracts. Craig Adams and Nick Johnson have been signed, but Mike Rupp, Pascal Dupuis and Max Talbot each appear to be on their way out.

    Replacing them with the kinds of role players needed to win in the playoffs is an underrated talent, and Ray Shero has made a trademark of doing so expertly in his time with Mario's club.

    While the team will likely have to dip into Wilkes-Barre Scranton for talent and will want to re-sign some of the youngsters who impressed last year, there are still a few value pieces who can be had even with Pittsburgh's limited cap space.

    Here are five bargain free agents to keep on the Pens' radar this summer—that is, if Ray Shero survives July 1 with any cash left in hand.

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C David Desharnais, MON

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    PITTSBURGH, PA - MARCH 12:  David Desharnais #58 of the Montreal Canadiens skates with the puck against the Pittsburgh Penguins on March 12, 2011 at CONSOL Energy Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
    Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

    Desharnais enjoyed his first full-time stint with the Montreal Canadiens last season, posting eight goals and 14 assists in 43 games played after being called up December 31.

    The speedy center scored his first goal less than two weeks into his call-up, against the Pittsburgh Penguins on January 12.

    Desharnais was a force in the developmental leagues, posting 106 points in 68 games with the ECHL's Cincinnati Cyclones in in 2007-08 and leading the AHL's Hamilton Bulldogs with 78 points in 2009-10.

    He made just $550,000 dollars last season on a two-way deal and is a restricted free agent this summer.

    Montreal currently has just over $41 million in committed money as of today, but have a bevy of free agents to re-sign or replace.

    Desharnais figures to be an easy signing on his first professional deal, and his speed is ideal for Montreal's rope-a-dope offense. Should he fall by the wayside, his speed and scoring touch would be welcome additions to Pittsburgh's third or fourth line.

C Tomas Kopecky, CHI

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    DETROIT, MI - JANUARY 22:  Tomas Kopecky #82 of the Chicago Black Hawks breaks away in front of a checking Jan Mursak #39 of the Detroit Red Wings in a game on January 22, 2011 at the Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, Michigan. The Hawks defeated the Wings 4-1.
    Claus Andersen/Getty Images

    Ray Shero has always tried to acquire role players with postseason experience.

    Craig Adams and Mike Rupp are two Shero acquisitions who came aboard with Stanley Cup victories to their credits, and they served admirably in whichever roles the team threw at them.

    That versatility is what landed Adams a new contract last week. Talks with Rupp haven't yet gone smoothly, but the team has prioritized him. Playoff experience is absolutely crucial for role players, whose jobs are magnified in a playoff setting.

    In five seasons with the Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks, Tomas Kopecky has more than enough big-game experience to play a role part on Pittsburgh's lower two lines.

    The 29-year-old won Cups with Detroit in 2007-08 and Chicago in 2009-10 and brings an offensive touch. Kopecky netted 15 goals and 27 assists last season with the Blackhawks. His minus-13 rating raises eyebrows, but Pittsburgh is a much more defensively sound club than Chicago, whose blue line took a beating in 2010 free agency.

    Kopecky carried a 1.2 million dollar cap hit last year with Chicago, which currently has over $54 million committed to just 16 signed players. The Penguins have $56 million committed to 19 players, and are in the market for forwards and forwards alone.

    If a deal with Tyler Kennedy falls through, Kopecky's name could cause whispers in Penguins' circles. Given Chicago's cap situation, he may hit the market in July.

RW Joel Ward, NSH

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    NASHVILLE, TN - MAY 05:  Joel Ward #29 of the Nashville Predators is congratulated by teammates after scoring a goal against the Vancouver Canucks in Game Four of the Western Conference Semifinals at Bridgestone Arena on May 5, 2011 in Nashville, Tennesse
    Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

    Joel Ward is a man.

    Pittsburgh has lacked a gritty, nasty, net-front presence since Ryan Malone left town in 2008. Joel Ward fills the Malone mold, and could fill that void on the Pens' roster.

    The 6'1", 218-lb. right winger landed just 29 points for the offensively-challenged Nashville Predators last season, but enjoyed a productive postseason, landing seven goals and six assists in 12 playoff games this spring.

    Ward carries a cap hit of $1.5 million. Matching that might be out of the Penguins' price range, but Ward brings monster physicality and relatively soft hands. He could prove to be a huge value, if his playoff performance is indicative of things to come.

    Nashville is in position to sign anybody they wish for as much as that player wants, with just over $40 million committed to 17 players. It's unlikely that they won't be able to retain Ward.

    If he hits the market, his size and toughness will make him an attractive value.

RW Patrick Eaves, DET

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    SAN JOSE, CA - APRIL 29:  Patrick Eaves #17 of the Detroit Red Wings in action against the San Jose Sharks in Game One of the Western Conference Semifinals during the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at HP Pavilion on April 29, 2011 in San Jose, California.
    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    More of the postseason experience Ray Shero loves.

    Eaves spent the last two seasons with the Detroit Red Wings, posting 42 points and a minus-two rating in 128 games played.

    Eaves has never been much of a scorer, but the Penguins aren't in the market for pricey snipers. Eaves spent time learning under one of the league's best coaches in Mike Babcock. Jack Adams candidate Dan Bylsma likely wouldn't have much trouble assimilating him into the lineup.

    Eaves brings a cap hit of just $750,000. The Red Wings have room to work with now that Brian Rafalski has retired and Nicklas Lidstrom's retirement status is still up in the air, but their focus will obviously be on defense and perhaps finding a backup goaltender for Jimmy Howard.

    If the Pens can steal him away, Eaves should fit nicely as fourth liner.

RW Jannik Hansen, VAN

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    BOSTON, MA - JUNE 06:  Jannik Hansen #36 of the Vancouver Canucks skates against the Boston Bruins during Game Three of the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Final at TD Garden on June 6, 2011 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
    Elsa/Getty Images

    Part of reaching the Stanley Cup finals means putting a team's players—all of them—on a very big stage.

    That also means each player with an expiring contract is going to garner a lot of attention in free agency, many of them ready to cash in when their value is perceived to be at its highest.

    Just ask the Chicago Blackhawks.

    The Canucks will be in this position in a few weeks, and their off-season focus will be on defense. Four of their starting defensemen will be due pay raises (Kevin Bieksa, Sami Salo, Andrew Alberts, Christian Ehrhoff), and it's unlikely that the team will keep more than half of them.

    GM Mike Gillis was able to attract low-priced veterans at this year's trade deadline, and will likely follow suit in filling out his third and fourth lines for the coming season.

    With their focus on defense and his value improved by the team's Cup run, right winger Jannik Hansen may find himself ready to cash in on free agency.

    The 25 year old landed nine goals and 20 assists in 82 games this season, and eight more points this postseason. Most impressive is his plus-minus—a plus-13 in the regular season and plus-six in the playoffs.

    Hansen made just $825,000 last year. Given his low scoring totals, he likely won't make much in arbitration and his offer sheet doesn't figure to be a deal-breaker.

    If the Penguins become so involved as to chase a restricted free agent, Hansen becomes an attractive and likely signable target.