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So who gets to be a Penguin next year?

Example of a free agent in the wild.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
Example of a free agent in the wild. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
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Free agency is both an exciting and a strenuous time for fans.  It has all the same characteristics of the trading deadline, with the added knowledge that the team will change, not just that it might.  For me, that induces hand wringing about potentially watching some of my favorites walk out the door, never to return.

But enough about my psychological issues--it's about the crest on the front, not the name on the back, right?  So what should the Penguins' lineup look like to start next season?

Jump with me.

Forwards who, barring trades, are under contract and returning:

Chris Kunitz Sidney Crosby ?
Pascal Dupuis Evgeni Malkin ?
? Jordan Staal Tyler Kennedy
Craig Adams Maxime Talbot Michael Rupp

(For the sake of argument, I'm assuming Healthy Scratch Godard here.)  And defensemen:

Brooks Orpik Kris Letang
Alex Goligoski ?
? ?

So, we've got some holes here to plug--3 forwards, 3 starting defenseme

n, and a 7th defenseman.  We know that much already; there've been approximately 237 stories and FanPosts about this so far since the ignominious playoff exit.  So, with Bettman expecting the cap to stay about the same next season, and Hooks estimating $11.828M of cap space to play with, what should the Penguins do to fill the holes, assuming there aren't any big trades?

The second and third lines might be the easy moves.  If you bring up Mark Letestu ($500k) and Eric Tangradi ($875k) to fill those two holes, you've just spent a cheap $1.375M to fill two forward holes.  That's taking a bit of a risk that both players are ready when they break camp, but it's almost a risk this team has to take if they're not going to dump salary.  We're now down to $10.453M remaining with five holes to fill.

Let's add another body from Wilkes-Barre, the second-guessing fan's favorite defenseman, Ben Lovejoy.  Problem:  he's a restricted free agent.  The Penguins will have to send him a qualifying offer of at least $550k in order to keep his rights.  I'm guessing, considering his NHL inexperience, that he'll sign that contract if they offer it to him.  Plug him into one of those pairings, and we're down to $9.903M.

There are still bargains to be had on defense as well.  How about Mike Mottau, just for Kelly?

2009 - Mike Mottau 79 2 16 18 4 41 0 0 0 0 74 2.7

He's a stay at home defenseman with 5.9 DGVT this season who made less than $800k.  Sign him to a two-year deal at $1M per year, plug him in.  Down to $8.903M with two more defensemen and a forward to go.

Let's splurge a little on the next defenseman.  There's someone I have in mind...

2009 - Henrik Tallinder 82 4 16 20 13 32 0 0 0 0 53 7.5

Another stay at home guy, Henrik Tallinder made just over $2.5M this season.  See if you can land him for a $3M for a couple seasons' cap hit and get another 6.4 DGVT to call your own.  Down to $5.903M, and now you need a replacement for Healthy Scratch Jay McKee.  You're not looking for a world beater here, and honestly unless you run into injury problems this player isn't going to see a lot of time.  You just need someone who won't embarrass himself out there.  Guess what?  Deryk Engelland is just your man, and he'll be making just $500k next year.  $5.403M left.

So what top-six winger can we buy with five million and change?

Well, I don't think you'd have to spend that much, to be honest, to pick up someone who could score 30 or more with Pittsburgh.  Finding himself again after a trade to a better team, a man just entering his age-27 season, someone I think would look awfully good on Sid's wing without completely breaking the bank and hamstringing the Penguins' budget for (several) years to come?

2009 - Lee Stempniak 80 28 20 48 0 26 9 1 2 0 212 13.2

Why did I just hear Fleet Fox and PopRocks shooting themselves in the head?

This leaves you with, in my estimation:

Chris Kunitz Sidney Crosby Lee Stempniak
Pascal Dupuis Evgeni Malkin Eric Tangradi
Mark Letestu Jordan Staal Tyler Kennedy
Craig Adams Maxime Talbot Michael Rupp


Brooks Orpik Kris Letang
Alex Goligoski Henrik Tallinder
Mike Mottau Ben Lovejoy

What do you think?  Reasonable or no?