Defending a Championship on a Budget

Penguins GM Ray Shero had a little more on his mind over the Fourth of July weekend then fireworks and hot dogs. He was busy trying to put the Penguins Stanley Cup puzzle back together, even though several of the important pieces are missing.

With the departures of Hal Gill and Rob Scuderi, the Penguins now need to fill those holes on the blue-line. In a perfect world, Shero goes into the free agent market and plucks out a couple of new defensemen. All done...pass the relish. But this is a salary cap world and nothing is that easy anymore. So now he has to squeeze enough new quality players under the $56.8 million cap. And with not much room left, the choices are limited. With the signing of Ruslan Fedotenko, the Penguins are down to about $2.9 million left under the cap and that is not much for a top pair defenseman these days. so when you can't go out and hire new talent, the only choice is to promote from within.

There is no way to replace Scuderi and Gill with new players, so it is time for Brooks Orpik, Mark Eaton, and Kris Letang to step forward and join Sergei Gonchar as the top defensemen on the team. They've been with the company long enough and have performed wonderfully. They are definitely ready for the new responsibilities.

So that leaves space for two or three more blue-liners needed. And that means it is time for some of the young guys to move up to the home office. Alex Goligoski is at the top of that list. He played 45 games with the Penguins last year and was only forced back to the minors because of roster limitations. That not being a problem anymore, the number five defenseman spot is his to lose.

The last two spots currently look like they will go to Ben Lovejoy and Nate Guenin who were both full time minor leaguers last year. Lovejoy has been in the Pens system and is next in line to make the jump as long as he can prove he is ready. A Sewickley native, Guenin played in the Flyers system last year and hopes to be the next hometown player to have great success in Pittsburgh.

But why would Ray Shero take such a risk on two defensemen with very little NHL experience? Well that's where the remaining cap money comes into play. If these guys perform how they are expected, the the Penguins save some salary and have a little breathing room under the cap in case they need it later because of injuries. If they can't get it done, then Shero has some money to make a trade for someone that can. If last year showed us anything, it is the you can test your players early in the season, as long as they come together and play as a unit when it counts. And if anyone can make a mid season deal to bring the team what it may be missing, it is Ray Shero.

And just so you know that Ray is also thinking towards the future, over the holiday weekend, the Penguins also added two more minor leaguers. Winger Chris Conner split time between the NHL and the AHL last year and defenseman Chris Lee will fill one of the spots emptied in Wilkes-Barre.


Burgundy said...

Great article! It's absolutely try - winning a championship is the inevitable acknowledgement your team won't stay together, 100%.

As you point out, the Pens can backfill places 5 and 6 on their D.

Problem is, when teams start playing well, you quickly empty out the farm clubs. Really liked this blog.

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