Picking and Choosing: Who Should Stay and Go for the Pittsburgh Penguins?

Amber AlexanderContributor IJune 8, 2010

DETROIT - JUNE 12: (L-R) Jordan Staal #11, Chris Kunitz #14 and Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrate with the Stanley Cup after defeating the Detroit Red Wings by a score of 2-1 to win Game Seven and the 2009 NHL Stanley Cup Finals at Joe Louis Arena on June 12, 2009 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

In a salary cap world, it’s pretty much impossible to keep a team together for more than a year. The Penguins early exit of the playoffs has put pressure on the administration to get a team together to win another cup, and another, and another.

Let’s take a look at the players with contracts up.


·         Sergei Gonchar (at 35 made $5.5 million in 2010)

·         Bill Guerin (at 39 made $2 million in 2010)

·         Matt Cooke (at 31 made $1.2 million in 2010)

·         Ruslan Fedotenko (at 31 made $2.25 million in 2010)

·         Mark Eaton (at 33 made $2 million in 2010)

·         Jay McKee (at 32 made $800,000 in 2010)

·         Alexei Ponikarovsky (at 30 he made $2.11 million in 2010)

·         Jordan Leopold (at 29 he made $1.75 million in 2010)


·         Chris Connor

·         Nick Johnson

·         Ben Lovejoy

The biggest name on that list is, of course, Sergei Gonchar.  Gonchar is looking for a multi- year deal worth the same he is making now, around $5 million.  Ray Shero is known for not doing a lot of multi-year deals for a reason; he isn’t going to commit to a lot of years for a player who could end up a bust.  He’s definitely not going to start a new strategy with Gonchar.  As important as Gonch is, if he doesn’t take what Shero is offering him, he’s played his last game as a Penguin. I, like many Penguin fans, feel like Gonchar should come back and finish his career with his mentee, Evgeni Malkin, and the Pittsburgh Penguins.  He is a veteran who keeps a calm demeanor on the ice that helps his teammates as well as a mentor to Evgeni Malkin since Geno’s arrival to Pittsburgh.  That being said, Gonchar has been injured a lot and has looked stale at times, for example during the playoffs.  Do we need him? For the power play and veteran role, yes. But we can’t commit a lot against the Cap to take a chance on him.

Moving past Gonch, a very important signing to me is that of Matt Cooke.  Role players have stood out in big games like the playoffs, especially this year (Dustin Byfuglien ring a bell?). Cooke exceeded what was expected of him this year.  Penalty kill was a big part of his game as well as irritating opponents and drawing penalties.  Cooke also scored goals at the right moments and hit just about anything in hockey gear, as well as a couple of refs.  He’s part of what is said to be the best 3rd line in the NHL. He’s a needed player. Pens need to sign him to 2 to 3 year deal worth a “hometown” discount of $1.8 to $2 million. He’s worth more to another team but has shown he wants to stay in Pittsburgh. Unlike Gonchar, Cooke looks to take a hometown discount to stay.

Now to the crowd favorite, Billy Guerin. It’s amazing what this guy has done since he came from the New York Islanders last year. He has shown exactly what a veteran is supposed to do by standing up for teammates and being a voice in the locker room. I want him back. Some people say it’s stupid to bring him back but he was the best winger this year on a line with his good friend, Sidney Crosby.  He produced and made $2 million this year. Do I see him making another $2 million? No. He took a hometown discount to play another year with the Penguins and I see him taking another hometown discount to play his final year in a Penguin uniform. If Pens don’t want him back, which I doubt, then I see him retiring this summer. 

Mark Eaton is the only defenseman who has been with the Penguins for a while. He is another person that I see hopefully staying with the Penguins. The way that he reads plays is something special. He can see where a play develops and breaks it apart.  He has shown weakness, just like every other defensive player but if we all remember correctly, he was once the only healthy defensemen a short while ago and took it on his stick to show the leadership on the ice.   I do think he will benefit a still youthful team. He is great in the locker room and has chemistry with Kris Letang.  Another 2 year deal worth $2 million for Mark Eaton.

Jay McKee made $800,000 this year and even though he sat out as the extra defenseman, I see him staying because of his shot blocking. He would still be considered the extra defenseman unless he gets his speed and offensive ability going.   Look for McKee to come out of the gate next year earning a spot on roster. With the Pens organization having such young defensemen, I see McKee as the underdog looking to take back his territory. No more than $800,000 or a little above for a year or two.

Jordan Leopold’s name has come up as taking Mark Eaton’s spot. Leopold has more offensive ability but I don’t see him making as big of an impact as Mark Eaton. He is known for dealing with concussions and we all balled our fists watching Andy Sutton lay a huge hit that knocked Leopold out for awhile. But I know everyone is wishing Sutton would have been in a Pens uniform this season.   We need a big defenseman; it might be time to part way with Leopold to get that cap room.

Ruslan Fedotenko and Alexei Ponikarovsky need to go. Evgeni Malkin has played with sluggish wingers for a while and it’s time for Shero and administration to dig deep to find an under-rated pair of wingers for Geno.  Even if they look into the Wikes Barres group, they could find a good replacement for Ruslan and Poni.   Shero has shown that he might keep Poni and hope for him to have a better season, now that he will start fresh, and since I am a huge Shero supporter, I want to believe him. But then again, it’s time for Geno to become a priority and is in need for some help.

It’s no debate of what the Penguins need in order to win another cup next year: better defense and wingers.

This year, I didn’t see a lot of the physical game that the Penguins were known for in 2009. Opponents started to actually back off the puck when they saw a Penguin player coming towards them on the ice in 2009. This year, Pens got hit… a lot.  It’s time to get that physical aspect back into the lineup.

A big “Pronger” like defenseman that will punish opponents is needed. I’m not saying go sign Chris Pronger… definitely not.  We need a big player, who can skate, and hit the opponents off the ice. If only there was that perfect player. But there are plenty of big players that can hit.

Andy Sutton again comes to mind. He’s a Hal Gill look-a-like but with more physically. Hal Gill showed the Pens that he is capable of taking big players away from the puck in the Montreal series.  We all know Gill was smiling to himself somewhere after beating the Pens, rightfully so.

Finally, the wingers.  Shero’s philosophy on three down the middle centers, who all are amazing players is a perfect strategy. Now he just has to figure out how to get wingers at a cheap price that can bring a level that balances out our 3 top centers in Crosby, Malkin and Staal.  If Staal’s line with Tyler Kennedy and Matt Cooke can produce like they did during the regular season, nothing will change with that line. Now it’s up to Shero to get a couple of scoring wingers that will go on BOTH Crosby and Malkin’s line.

Here’s my take on some wingers that Shero needs to look at:

Today I get up and get ready for work. When I get to work I check twitter to see that Ray Whitney is looking at free agency. My day became a good day at 8 in the morning. Whitney is someone that the Pens need. He has the leadership qualities as well as the scoring. I see him on the left of Sidney Crosby in a heart beat. His age will lower his costs and he wants to go to a club that has a chance to win… Welcome to Pittsburgh, Ray Whitney. (I like the sound of that)

Alexander Frolov: he had 70 points while making only $4 million dollars. He is in Los Angeles where the team is developing but talks with Frolov aren’t moving right.  Shero probably wouldn’t go past $4.5 million to Frolov but who wouldn’t want to play on a line with Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby?  Another thing: He’s Russian.

Raffi Torres was being looked at by the Penguins at trade deadline. He was passed up and taken by Buffalo. He is a left winger who would excel in the fast pace system of Dan Bylsma.

A 4th line winger could be found in Taylor Pyatt. He’s had a hard year after losing his fiancée. I see him enjoying the 4th line with Mike Rupp and Craig Adams.   I’m still hoping to see Talbot play with Geno this season after resting his injuries but Pyatt would be a good fit on that 4th line.

Now for the fun part.

For the defense:

Of course the first name I want is Andy Sutton. I’m a fan of the hitting. It gets teams scared and the Penguins in 2009 are completely different from the Penguins in 2010.

We need to get our physically back.

Sutton is a mean man. But he is loyal. He will stick up for any teammate but he also crushes his opponents.

The only thing holding me back is the fact that he’s making $3.5 million. That’s a lot for someone about to be 35 and looking for long term deal.

Willie Mitchell is another name that pops in my head.   At 32 he has dealt with injury and injury and we all remember the hit Evgeni Malkin put on him to end his season. Hopefully there is no bad blood but this is hockey.

Mitchell is known for his hit on Jonathan Toews that put the captain out for an extended time.

His paycheck is a little high for my liking so if he becomes a Pen, it’s for cheaper.

Ah, now my favorite shot blocker.

Anton Volchenkov .

Volchenkov was hell in the playoffs against the Penguins. Now we need him. We have good penalty kill at times, but with him, we would be off the charts.

I don’t see him going back to Ottawa. I would love to see him in a Penguins jersey.

No one thought this years Cup finals would be any other team besides Pittsburgh vs Chicago. That’s how it is supposed to be.

The fact that it is the Flyers, makes your stomach go into knots. The rivalry between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia is more than just hatred.

The first game in the new arena is against none other than the Flyers. This upcoming year is going to be full of firsts.

First year at Consol

First game against Flyers

And of course, the first Winter Classic in Pittsburgh against none other than Alexander Ovechkin.

So who has the countdown until the first game?


The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.