NHL free agency is now less than a week away and it’s the biggest moment of the NHL offseason. Once the initial wave of free agent signings passes, news slows down and we settle in for a long summer before training camps begin in September.
Free agency provides teams a chance to improve their rosters in a hurry with the right acquisitions. Since Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin have been around, the free agent pool has provided the Penguins with some important support to its two most important pieces.
Contract: 5 years/$25 million
Stats with Penguins: 322 games played —54 goals, 205 assists, 259 points, Stanley Cup
Signing Sergei Gonchar was a watershed moment for the Pittsburgh Penguins franchise coming out of the lockout that wiped out the 2004-05 season. Gonchar put pen to paper just days after the Penguins drafted Sidney Crosby No. 1 overall and sent a clear signal that the team was serious about winning and winning soon.
Though he technically joined the Penguins before the Crosby/Malkin era officially began, Gonchar was a cornerstone of the franchise’s success in the early years of the two super stars. Gonchar gave the Penguins a legitimate No. 1 defenseman and helped pave the way for Kris Letang to take over that role when he left.
Contract: 2 years/$5 million
Stats with Penguins: 157 games played —53 goals, 56 assists, 109 points, Stanley Cup
Already a Stanley Cup champion when he joined the Penguins in 2007, Sykora was another piece of what ended up becoming a Stanley Cup puzzle. Though injury prevented him from playing much of the 2009 Stanley Cup run, Sykora still donned a jersey and skates to celebrate with his teammates in Detroit.
His time in Pittsburgh was wildly successful both from a team and individual standpoint. Two Final trips and a title stand out obviously, but Sykora hit numerous career milestone while wearing black and gold. He scored his first career hat trick with the Penguins after year of coming so close and will best be remembered for calling his shot in Game 5 of the 2008 Final to win the game in triple overtime.
Contract: 1 year/$2.25 million (resigned in 2009 for one year)
Stats with Penguins: 145 games played —27 goals, 42 assists, 69 points, Stanley Cup
Like Sykora above, Fedotenko came to Pittsburgh a Stanley Cup champion and left with another to his name. He made a name for himself a few years prior in Tampa Bay where he scored both Lightning goals in Game 7 to defeat the Flames to win the Stanley Cup.
During the 2009 Stanley Cup run in Pittsburgh, Fedotenko scored seven goals and equaled his playoff career high 14 points set back in 2004. During his first regular season with the Penguins, Fedotenko recorded 39 points in 85 games, just two points off his career high in 15 less games played. From a points per game perspective, 2008-09 was the best season of his career and he played a huge role in the Penguins winning the Cup.
Contract: 2 years/$1.85 million (resigned as RFA in 2017 for three years)
Stats with Penguins: 192 games played —49 goals, 48 assists, 97 points, Stanley Cup (2x)
Of the players on this list, Sheary is the only one of was not an established name before joining the Penguins in 2015. Sheary spent the previous season on a minor league deal with the Penguins AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Even after signing his NHL deal, Sheary began the 2015-16 season in the minors. His eventual callup was a driving factor in the team’s turnaround.
Sheary only recorded 10 points in 44 games his first season, but he played well enough and smart enough to find himself skating alongside Sidney Crosby on the top line when the playoffs began. His overtime winner put the Penguins up 2-0 on the Sharks in 2016 then he followed it by playing a major role in the Penguins repeat effort the next season.
Contract: 1 year/$800,000 (resigned in 2016 & 2018 on one year deals)
Stats with Penguins: 225 games played —36 goals, 47 assists, 83 points, Stanley Cup (2x)
When Jim Rutherford brought the veteran Cullen into the fold in 2015, it was certainly wasn’t a ground shaking signing by any means. In terms of free agent signings it came later in the summer and was mostly a cheap depth move with little risk. That little bit of risk paid off in a big way as Cullen used his experience and leadership skills to help lead the Penguins to consecutive Stanley Cups.
Most of Cullen’s ice time in Pittsburgh came on the fourth line where he was an anchor on that unit along with plenty of time on the penalty kill. He was an exceptional face-off man, clicking at over 50% in each of his three seasons with the team including a 55.7% mark in 2015-16. For a player approaching 40 years old when he arrived, Cullen left an indelible mark on the Penguins franchise.
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