|2008 - Robert Scuderi||81||1||15||16||23||18||0||0||0||0||51||2.0|
Perhaps the Penguins most important free agent had just one goal on the season and is usually lucky to get one shot on goal a game. But Rob Scuderi's game isn't about filling the net, it's about keeping the puck out of his own net. And if he's got to do this:
The progression of Rob Scuderi as a hockey player has been a steady as it's been impressive. The long journey began back in 1998 where PIttsburgh drafted Scuderi in the 5th round. In that draft the Penguins also selected the following immortal names before they called on Scuderi. You had Milan "Play the puck off the back of the net to yourself" Kraft [207 NHL games, 41 goals, 41 assists] in the first round, Alex Zevakhin [0 games, 0g, 0a] in the second round, David Cameron in the 3rd round [who only played 12 ECHL games in his career], and goalie Scott Myers [who didn't even make it to the ECHL level]. But, of course, every other NHL team had 133 chances to select Scuderi.
From 1998-2001 Scuderi played four seasons at Boston College. Even there at the college Scuderi would be over-shadowed by teammates like Brian Gionta, Chuck Kobasew, Krys Kalanos, Marty Reasoner, Mike Mottau, Bobby Allen and a future teammate in Brooks Orpik. But Scuderi kept playing and kept improving, a little more each year.
When his college eligibility was up, Scuderi joined Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in the AHL, where he'd spend practically the next four seasons. At that level Bobby Scuds was an after-thought at one point or another to fellow blueliners like Orpik, Peter Ratchuk, Ross Lupaschuk and Ryan Whitney that the Pens were banking on developing into NHL'ers a little more urgently than him.
Coming out of the lockout, Scuderi was positioned to join the NHL out of training camp. However in his first ten games Scuds was pointless and had a +/- of -6 and was sent back to the AHL for 13 games. In those thirteen games Scuderi went 0g, 8a and a +11, proving he mastered the level and earned his confidence back and earned a return to the NHL. However the 2005-06 season wouldn't end well with 0 goals, 4 assists and a -18 +/- rating. At this point most Penguins fans thought (perhaps correctly) that Scuderi was the worst defenseman playing in the NHL.
Coincendence alert: Scuderi started to turn the corner right in harmony with the Penguins for the 2006-07 season. The 1 goal and 11 assists won't blow anyone away, but Scuderi posted a plus/minus of +3, a 21 point improvement and the Penguins made the playoffs for the first time.
In 2007-08 Scuderi was tied for 55th with 110 blocked shots (though he did miss 11 games with a broken foot). By this time the slow, steady improvement had boosted Scuderi -- just two years removed from being "the worst defenseman in the league" -- into a solid Top 4 and penalty killing defensemen on a team making it two games away from winning the Stanley Cup.
This year Scuderi ranked 12th in the NHL with 164 blocked shots. Steady improvement continues, getting up to a +23. Plus, dating back to late in the 2007-08 regular season (including playoffs), Scuderi has only taken 13 minor penalties in his past 134 games, quite commendable for any defenseman.
And now he's a free agent, and with the opportunity to go anywhere. With the job he did on Jeff Carter -- 46 goals in the regular season, just 1 in the playoffs (while on Philly ice when the Pens couldn't match Scuds against him). Alex Ovechkin ran rough-shot over the Penguins, but he only scored 2 goals in 7 games at even strength against Scuderi (that wasn't the result of a terrible Marc-Andre Fleury mishandle). Eric Staal got one goal in 4 games and Marian Hossa got zippy. Johan Franzen scored 11 goals in 14 games until the Penguins series, then he scored 2 in 7. Shutdown D.
So what's the price to retain Scuderi? We all know that Pittsburgh's cap number is dwindling. And even though Scuderi blocks shots, doesn't take penalties but plays excellent positional D, he's going to be in demand. Jeff Finger took a similiar path (4 years of college, 3.5 seasons of AHL as a defensemen) and only played 96 NHL games with Colorado before Toronto swooped in and gave him $3.5 million dollars a season for four years. It only takes one team with an inflated value to set the market for Scuderi. Just one GM enamored with him to escalate the whole market.
Can Pittsburgh fit it? Who knows. It'll probably take a tough decisions -- including probably having to let the most of forwards like like Petr Sykora, Bill Guerin and Ruslan Fedotenko go with no replacement in sight.
So far Pittsburgh's defense seems to be:
(Lovejoy in reserves)
If the Penguins make a serious effort to retain Scuderi, the level-headed son of a cop from Long Island, ought to be interested:
"All of the guys who have left here weren't happy about leaving. I definitely want to stay."
Saying the right things (though we believe him) and actually putting your name to the paper are two different things, so let's see what the Penguins do if they step to the plate.