Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Sunny side of free agency...

The Penguins have more unrestricted free agents of consquence than any other NHL team this summer. Since you're probably interested in hockey by your reading of this blog, this is not a news-flash. Players will be departing, and that will draw a lot of attention. After all, we've cheered for these guys, followed their career paths for years and some will be finding new places to play.

But in their place will come others. Ray Shero has had some success in bringing in vets on short-term contracts (Petr Sykora, Gary Roberts) and some ones he'd probably like back (Mark Recchi, Darryl Sydor). Who's this year's candidates?

We're anticipating, as of this moment, the Pens need three skill players to fill out their top six forwards. We're only counting on Sykora, Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby to be the top forwards this fall. If Ryan Malone or Marian Hossa re-signed that would be awesome, but let's even think of them as goners for the time being. The Penguins have about $27 million committed to 11 roster players for next season. They'll want to leave wiggle room for deals for Marc-Andre Fleury and big contracts that will kick in the following season (Malkin and Jordan Staal), which is why they can't just appease guys like Malone and Hossa with longterm contracts today.

Keep in mind the below named aren't a list of players that will end up in Pittsburgh, just a little exercise to keep our minds off of the subtractions and look to new additions...

So here's some skilled forwards set to be unrestricted free agents that would look good lining up on Crosby or Malkin's wings next fall.....But then again, who wouldn't look good on those two's wings?

  • Cory Stillman (OTT, $1.75 million)-- Ottawa has alot of money locked up in a few players (Spezza, Heatley, Fisher, Alfeddsson) and still needs deals for Meszaros and Vermette. Stillman scored 24 goals and had 41 assists between Carolina and Ottawa last season and has two Stanley Cup rings. At age 34 he's veteran but not too over-the-hill. He's a pretty reliable bet to have about a 25 goal/45 assist season.
  • Brian Rolston (MIN, $2.432 milion)--Rolston's scored 30+ goals in all three seasons since the lockout. Even at age 35 he's an extremely fast skater, is defensively orientated and probably has one of the top ten slapshots in the league. He's got the wheels, hands and hockey sense to keep up with Crosby.
  • Ladislav Nagy (LA, $3.75 million)-- The Penguins are going to have to be almost like the Oakland A's in finding talent; sometimes it has to come with a defiency or two. Nagy has knocks against him: he's doesn't seem to give his maximum effort every night, he's not a playoff performer and this will now be the third team not too devastated to see him leave. Nagy does have a ton of skill and age 29 he's a lot younger than most other UFAs.
  • Vinny Prospal (PHI, $1.9 million)-- Prospal is a very consistent and steady offensive player. This past season was his best too in terms of goal scoring with 33 between stints in Tampa and Philly. Prospal seemed to run out of gas when he played the Pens, but was a diference maker in series before it.
  • Kristian Huselius (CGY, $1.4 million)-- Huselius seemed to be forever in the dog house in Calgary but look at his average season over the past two years (29.5 goals and 42 assists) and it's hard not to be impressed by the numbers. He rode shotgun with Jarome Iginla, so playing on a line with a star wouldn't be anything new.

If the Penguins lost Malone and or Hossa but were able to reload with a name or two off the above list for a reasonable rate and term, it might not be the end of the world.

Of course, there's still a lot to play out, the real "fun" of speculation, signings and shock hasn't begun yet. But just remember, for every loss there's going to have to be a replacement to fill the ranks. How Shero finds them will obviously go a long way's in determining the mentality and set-up of the team for this season and the years to come.

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