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Best (and worst) Free Agent signings by the Pittsburgh Penguins from 2000-09

Yesterday we took a look at the draft picks, and by popular requests, here's a look at free agency hits and misses.

Free agency has been a tool that Pittsburgh hasn't used much.  In the early part of the decade they couldn't afford the spending sprees that drunken GM's went on (like Bobby Holik's $45 million over 5 seasons back in 2002).  Then when the salary cap was in effect, they could only afford to add bit pieces and stay under the cap.

Still, we have some guys to review and question -- either how they got the money they did or how the Penguins got such a steal!  Yours, after the jump



#5 - Mark Recchi (signed in summer 2004, two year contract, signed in 2006, signed in summer 2007 one year deal with $1.75 million cap hit)

The term wasn't bad, but the player didn't mesh.  Recchi played exclusively with Sidney Crosby, and it didn't seem like he had enough gas in the tank to keep up.  Recchi was traded and won the Cup with Carolina in between his stints in Pittsburgh this decade, but by the start of the 2007-08 season he had only 8 points (and 2 goals) in the first 19 games and the Pens waived him. 

#4 - Miroslav Satan (signed in summer 2008, one year contract $3.5 million cap hit)

Satan was another player that didn't work out.  Though he wasn't terrible with 17 goals in 65 games, that isn't exactly awful, but who envisioned the team waiving him and having him play out 10 games in the minors to stay under the salary cap?  Not the ideal situation for either party, though credit Satan's class of never complaining throughout the whole ordeal.

#3 - Dany Sabourin (signed in summer 2007, two year contract with a $512,000 cap hit per season)

Signed back from the Vancouver organization to be a reliable backup, Dany Sabourin was more of just a backup.  His presence and contract kept Ty Conklin in the minors in '07 and Sabourin faired so rough the Pens decided to trade him away in '09 after he gave up 3+ goals in eight of nine appearances (some of them in relief). 

#2 - John LeClair (signed in summer 2005, two year contract with a $1.8 million cap hit per season)

A part of Craig Patrick's post-lockout re-tool, the 36 year old winger was added to the Penguins.  While he had a decent first season with 51 points in 73 games, LeClair was in full decline.  He'd only score 2 goals (and 7 points) in the first 21 games of the 2006-07 before it was over.  LeClair was waived, placed re-entry waivers, then unconditonally released by Pittsburgh and that was the sad end to a once stellar career.

#1 - Zigmund Palffy (signed in summer 2005, three year contract with a $4.5 million cap hit per season)

Palffy broke the number 1 rule, so he ends up at #1.  He literally quit on the team, walking into the GM's office on an off-day and announcing "retirement".  Shockingly, he's played in Slovakian league the past two seasons.  Palffy had 42 points in 42 games with the Pens and seemed to be a decent fit with Crosby and the Pens.  Whether he didn't like then-new coach Michel Therrien's defensive systems, or the losses in Pittsburgh or just felt tired of dealing with NHL level physical abuse, he quit and he's the goat of goats.  (The NHL allowed his salary to come off the books upon his "retirement", if you were wondering).



# 7 - Mike Rupp (signed in summer 2009, two year deal for $825,000 cap hit per year)

Ray Shero made an under the radar signing that set off alarms here, but now we see why.  Rupp's been a great teammate, wiling to fight if someone's been wronged.  But he's also shown an undiscovered scoring touch, scoring 9 goals in his first 32 games in a Pens jersey, when he'd only scored 27 goals in his whole 325 game career prior.

#6 - Matt Cooke (signed in summer 2008, two year deal for $1,200,000 cap hit per year)

Faced with the dilemma of having their resident sand-paper, gritty penalty killing forward demanding a three year contract, the Penguins let 33 year old Jarkko Ruutu go to Ottawa and brought in a very similiar player in 30 year old Matt Cooke.  Cooke formed a bond with Tyler Kennedy and Jordan Staal, kills penalties well, and can pitch in limited offensive help.

#5 - Jay McKee (signed in summer 2009, one year deal for $800,000 cap hit)

McKee was looking to raise his profile around the league after being bought out by the St. Louis Blues.  That gave him some money, so he didn't need a lot from his new team.  The Penguins were needing a defensive replacement for departed players in Rob Scuderi and Hal Gill.  Win meet win.  And when everyone wins, the Penguins win.

#4 - Ty Conklin (signed in summer 2007, one year deal for $500,000 cap hit)

Conklin was signed as pure depth; he'd start the year in the AHL and only make his way up when Marc-Andre Fleury fell to injury.  But when Conklin was in, the Penguins season was in the balance.  Conklin went 18-8-5 with a 2.51 GAA and near-league leading .923 save percentage.  He breathed life into the Pens season and once Fleury was back they took it within two games of winning it all.

#3 - Mark Eaton (signed in summer of 2006, $1.6 million cap hit per year; signed summer 2008, $2 million cap hit)

One of Shero's first moves in becoming GM of Pittsburgh was signing over a guy he knew from Nashville.  Eaton hasn't disappointed, so long as he's been healthy, being a valued part of the Penguins' Stanley Cup winning team.  He ranks this high on the list for his years of service, as well as being signed to reasonable contracts twice.

#2 - Petr Sykora (signed in summer 2007; $2.625 million cap hit per year)

Sykora chipped in 53 goals in two regular seasons, including 28 PP markers, and six more in the playoffs.  Who could forget the 3 OT game to force a Game Six versus Detroit in the Stanley Cup final in '08.  He was signed to score goals, and that's what he did, up to the point it was obvious he didn't mesh into Dan Bylsma's aggressive, skating heavy system.

#1 - Sergei Gonchar (signed in summer 2005; $5 million cap hit per year)

Amazingly, this was considered one of the worst contracts in it's infancy, as Gonchar had a difficult time adjusting to his new team and the unorganized system employed by former coach Ed Olczyk.  But once he settled in and the team grew around him, Gonchar blossomed from an offensive-defenseman into a well-rounded #1 guy and leader of a Stanley Cup winning team.


So there you have it.  Mind you, these weren't nearly all the signings, and I didn't consider re-signings (like bringing back Gary Roberts or Brooks Orpik) even though that possibly could be considered in-bounds.  There's more good than bad, because, well I think the Penguins have managed free agency pretty well.  It's not a staple of their team building philosophy, but that's by design.  For the most part, free agency was used to augment the existing roster with bits and pieces.  The one year it wasn't (2005), it's probably no coincidence that 2 of the 3 most noteworthy contracts are in the "bad" column.