This week the Penguins are holding their scouting meetings and these conversations will map out a lot of different scenarios for how the team will look for next season and beyond.
Last season, Pittsburgh had a ton of defensemen about to the hit free agent market and we all know that they shuffled out Sergei Gonchar, Jordan Leopold, Mark Eaton and brought in Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek. And held Dan Hamhuis' rights for a brief period, a costly but ultimately effective measure.
Heading into this July 1, the Pens have the opposite situation with nine impending free agents. General Manager Ray Shero has already announced that two - Mike Comrie and Alex Kovalev - will not be offered contracts to return. It seems Shero has at least casually tested the water with most the other free agents to be, including a sit down meeting with Craig Adams that was "cordial" but did not end with a contract extension.
After this week's scouting meetings are over, Shero will have to act on the plans made to see if any of the FA's can be retained for a deal that makes sense for team and player. Shero has been active in the past trading player's rights just before July 1, he acquired Hamhuis and sent away Gary Roberts and Ryan Malone in 2008, and that could again be the case this year:
General manager Ray Shero will look at ″available options via trade″ for any of the Penguins' impending unrestricted and restricted free agents who haven't been re-signed by the NHL Entry Draft at Minnesota later this month.
With due respect, NHL teams probably aren't going to be interested in a Chris Conner or Eric Godard's rights a few days early. Pascal Dupuis, Tyler Kennedy and Max Talbot would be the biggest possibilities to catch interest.
A month shy of his 25th birthday, Kennedy put up career highs last year in goals (21), assists (24), points (45). Beyond Chris Kunitz and Sidney Crosby he was the highest scoring forward on the team and earned just $725,000 last season.
Kennedy has earned and is seeking a huge raise. He has arbitration rights, which means his reps could go into a session and argue his case for why he deserves a pay day. The Pens can make their case too, and more importantly, they can also choose to walk away from the arbiter's salary decision. That would immediately make TK an unrestricted free agent and give Pittsburgh zero compensation should he then sign with another team. Shero knows this is a possibility:
"In some cases you won't go to arbitration with a player, you'll trade the players because of the comparables. The way the system is, you don't see a lot of arbitration cases. I've told Tyler that, and had a few conversations about that with the agent. A lot of times you won't qualify the players because you don't believe the comparable fit with your cap situation. I've told him I want to have him back, but I say that and I wanted (Hal) Gill and (Rob) Scuderi back, too."
That last line is haunting, because it's true. The Penguins have wanted to retain players in the past, but have watched them sail away in free agency. Of course Shero also turned around and signed Martin and Michalek the next summer, both of which could be considered all-around upgrades over Scuderi and Gill. So it's not just about "wanting" to keep a player, it's wanting to keep a player at a price that makes sense for the team.
It's been pretty calm in Penguins land recently, with only false Jaromir Jagr mania going around lately, but that's about to change. The draft is less than three weeks away and free agency a week after that. The wheels are about to be set in motion and pretty soon we're going to see how Shero plans to build next year's Penguins and what it means for guys like Kennedy, Talbot, Dupuis and Adams.