Five days into free agency most of the big free agent names have been snatched up. Despite being named losers by some so far in free agency, the Penguins figure to have only lost two players from their Stanley Cup winning roster. And with the natural improvement of the Penguins players 25 years old or younger: Jordan Staal, Kris Letang, Sidney Crosby, Tyler Kennedy, Evgeni Malkin, Alex Goligoski, Marc-Andre Fleury and Maxime Talbot to say nothing of their minor league prospects), it's conceivable the Penguins could be a better and more confident team next year than they have been in the past.
The two major free agent defections, Rob Scuderi (LA) and Hal Gill (MTL) do leave a void in the Penguins roster. They formed a formidible defensive pair and combined to kill more than 5 and a half minutes a game in penalties.
According to nhlscap.com, the Penguins have $2.9 million in cap space -- some of which they'll want to keep in order to make some trade deadline pickups, but they should have some money to dedicate to replacing some of Gill and Scuderi's penalty-kill load. Here's some good candidates still available:
#77 / St. Louis Blues
Sep 08, 1977
|2008 - Jay McKee||69||1||7||8||11||44||0||0||1||0||43||2.3|
Jay McKee was bought out by the St. Louis Blues and will receive $1.3 million dollars from them this season, which means that perhaps the next contract he signs can be more about the situation and getting his reputation back amongst NHL general managers. And what better situation could McKee have then to come to Pittsburgh, get a chance to be a 5/6 defenseman that kills penalties (which McKee did last season 3:18 minutes a night last season) and play on a winning team.
It seems like it could be a great fit for the player to take a one or two year contract and could be beneficial for the Penguins to get a defender with something to prove. McKee's positional style of defense is similiar to that of a Rob Scuderi or Hal Gill -- McKee was credited with 68 hits and 185 blocked shots (1st on his team) compare that to 61 hits and 164 blocked shots for Scuderi and 78 hits, 112 blocked shots for Gill.
#44 / Defenseman / Florida Panthers
Jan 14, 1979
|2008 - Nick Boynton||68||5||16||21||7||91||0||0||1||0||104||4.8|
Nick Boynton is not a fun player to play against, several times he got under Crosby's skin during the season. Boynton is more of an offensive player than a guy like Scuderi or Gill, but he can play a little on the PK and be a solid 3rd pairing guy. He'd add size and a measure of physicality to the blueline and is a right handed shot.
Boynton is coming off a contract that paid him $2.95 million, so if he's looking for that kind of money again he won't be a Penguin. A few days into free agency it doesn't seem like he's had that many takers, so maybe if he has to take less money then he's accustomed to -- why not make it with the defending Stanley Cup champion? For a guy who's been on rebuilding teams for most of his career, the promise of a deep playoff run could be more enticing than just the dollars and cents.
#47 / Defenseman / Minnesota Wild
Oct 13, 1980
|2008 - Marc-Andre Bergeron||72||14||18||32||5||30||7||0||3||0||140||10.0|
Clearly Marc-Andre Bergeron would be a much more offensive option from the blueline amongst the remaining candidates of free agents. Bergeron's style might fit well in the agressive, puck-moving attack Dan Bylsma employs, which often asks defensemen to pinch in and hold the puck at the blueline. Bergeron also only had 21 giveaways (and 11 takeaways) in his 72 games, perhaps he handles the puck a little better than his reputation.
Then again, the Penguins already have Sergei Gonchar, Kris Letang and Alex Goligoski. Do they need another 5'10 left handed shooting offensive defenseman who's not going to be able to contribute much physically or on the penalty kill?
#65 / Defenseman / Pittsburgh Penguins
Feb 20, 1984
|2008 - Ben Lovejoy||2||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||1||0.0|
There's always the option under your nose too, that Ben Lovejoy is ready to assume a regular position in the NHL. at 24 years old, Lovejoy now has two years of professional experience under his belt and was a fantastic league leading +42 in the AHL this past season. Lovejoy brings a Scuderi like skillset of "doing the little things right" and being in the right place at the right time. Hard details to quantify, but important to any team to have.
There's risks though, rookie blueliners always go through a trial by fire and are prone to make mistakes. It's only natural and happens to every player. The Penguins already have Goligoski as a relatively young NHL defenseman. Also, there's the matter of depth; injuries happen every season and the Penguins are a little thin in the ranks after the defections of Gill and Scuderi. Even though we don't want to, imagine if a guy like Gonchar or Eaton (both who've missed significant time in recent years) went down with injury....The Penguins would be in bad shape with any long-term injury to a defenseman if they don't make another addition.
So what do you think Pensburghers? Obviously money is a huge issue, and when you work with agents we fans can't be quite sure what the demands are. Ray Shero's shown he's not going to over-pay or handcuff his team with a bad FA contract so the deal is going to have to make sense for the players and the team if a free agent is added.