adies and gentlemen, start your twitters...NHL free agency opens at 12 noon today, with a bunch of signings expected shortly thereafter.
Goodbye to old friends:
Pittsburgh Penguins to hit the UFA market
Brooks Orpik - the longest tenured current Penguin will be moving on after 14 years in the organization. There are rumors that ex-Penguin assistant Todd Reirden (who took the same job with the Washington Capitals) is trying to woo Orpik to DC. That is a wonderful idea and I hope they pair him with Mike Green. It would be a goalie's dream come true. Regardless of where he ends up, Orpik won a Stanley Cup as a Penguin as a first pairing defenseman, and will have a part in franchise lore.
Matt Niskanen - probably could be the richest man today, as the premiere free agent on the market. He's looking for seven years on his contract, and I have a nagging suspicion his salary is going to start with a "6"...Congrats to him for reviving his career in Pittsburgh, and being a major steadying force on an injury ravage blueline last season.
Jussi Jokinen - given his history with Jim Rutherford, it's no surprise that he will hit the open market and probably won't be back. $4 million per year seems pretty steep for a guy the wrong side of 30 and one who's a support player at best (and has fallen out of favor in every city he's been in sooner or later).
Lee Stempniak - another rental that gets turned back in after a few months. The Pens might not draft great, but they will never have young guys come out of no where and make the NHL lineup, when they keep trading picks for guys like Stempniak.
Marcel Goc - see above.
Deryk Engelland - hopefully will get a chance to play everyday and a pay raise too. Good for him.
Brian Gibbons - one of the more intriguing follows, in my opinion, because it is conceivable he'll be back (unlike many on this list). But at what price? And what's the role for a really fast but really small player who doesn't produce enough offensively and probably isn't going to withstand a season in the NHL in a checking role?
Joe Vitale - adios!
Tanner Glass - the only good thing about the lockout was limited Tanner Glass's first season as a Penguin from 82 games to just 48.
Tomas Vokoun - he doesn't want to retire, and I wouldn't want to retire either if my job was to play hockey for a living. Hoping good health and happiness for him and maybe another year in a different market (preferably out West so the Pens don't have to face him much).
And some potential new faces!
The Pens only have 7 NHL caliber forwards signed (well, 6 and Craig Adams) so they could be active today. From the Trib and Post-Gazette write-ups, we'll cherry pick a few that we would think are worth keeping an eye on, because the Pens may have some interest in them.
• RW Blake Comeau ($1 million) — He has a good shot and offensive instincts, although he tends to run hot-and-cold as a goal-scorer. Comeau got a career-high 24 for the New York Islanders three seasons ago.
• LW Leo Komarov ($2 million, in Russia) — Spending a winter in the Kontinental Hockey League after playing for Toronto didn’t hurt his market value. Komarov has a knack for infuriating opponents and could be one of the most in-demand blue-collar forwards.
• LW Derek MacKenzie ($1 million) — Reputed to be a great team guy and reliable in the defensive zone, but is smallish (5-11, 181) and hasn’t been much of an offensive force in the NHL.
• LW Benoit Pouliot ($1.3 million) — After having his intensity questioned for much of his time in the league, Pouliot was outstanding for New York during the playoffs, scoring key goals that are a good bet to be rewarded in the contract he receives. He definitely appears to be on the Penguins’ radar, providing he wouldn’t break their budget.
• C Daniel Winnik ($1.8 million) — Can play all three forward positions and is sound defensively, although he sometimes doesn’t play as big as he is (6-2, 207).
Merry Christmas in July, hockey fans!