Tomorrow at 12 noon, all hell will break loose. Well, not really, but the "free agent frenzy" of teams rushing out to out-bid each other for services of unrestricted players will begin.
For the Penguins there's more unknown than perhaps any other team. They're supposedly the front runners for both Marian Hossa and Brooks Orpik who will both stick their feet in the pool to see how warm the water is. If there’s one thing you should know, it’s the paraphrase of an old H.L Mencken quote: “no top free agent ever went broke underestimating the restraint of NHL general managers”.
As it stands now:
The question marks on the 4th line could be filled with young players from the minors (like Ryan Stone, Tim Brent, Jonathan Filewich, etc) or could be veteran UFAs, whether the Pens can coax back guys like Georges Laraque, Jarkko Ruutu, Adam Hall, Pascal Dupuis or sign new faces to play the bit roles. This shouldn’t be that hard to fill out.
Obviously the glaring need is for skill wings to compliment Crosby and Malkin.
The defense seems decent enough but the glaring hole is toughness. Gill is physical but no others play that game effectively. We’d be shocked to see the Pens try to sign a top defenseman (other than Orpik), since their needs are so much more for skill forwards. It seems like they may be content to go forward with these players (and maybe prospect Alex Goligoski)
By our count the Penguins have spent $33.8 million dollars already accounted for next season which covers 13 players (Crosby, Malkin, Staal, Sykora, Talbot, Kennedy, Gill, Gonchar, Whitney, Scuderi, Letang, Sydor and Sabourin). So the Pens have up to about $23 million (since ownership has authorized them to spend up to the salary cap) to fill out the roster. It should be noted, of course, that Marc-Andre Fleury will either get an award through arbitration or be signed before-hand, so that needs to be taken into mind as well.
After this season the Penguins have four impending UFA’s of note (Sykora, Gill, Scuderi and Sydor). Their contracts will take only $7.22 million off the books, and that following year is when the new contracts for Malkin and Staal, so the front office must keep in mind to buy in a little bit of wiggle room.
Top free agents like the long-term 6-8 year deals, but that’s not what fits the Pens salary plans. They need to target players who will accept shorter deals like Sykora and Sydor did. That might mean they might miss out on a guy who can’t get the most money possible (Marian Hossa?) but it does show there are some skilled players (like Sykora) that they can bring into the fold.
As we identified there are several great targets if the Pens can’t bring back Hossa.
-Rolston (consistent 30 goal guy with a good all-around game)
-Huselius (imagine him with Crosby)
-Stillman (proven veteran presence and a consistent scorer)
-Naslund (completing the career circle)
Price will always be the decider on if it’s a good deal or not, but if the Pens came out of free agency with two out of those four targets we’d feel pretty good about the complexion of the forward lines on paper.
Buckle up boys and girls, it's going to be a wild ride.