Pittsburgh Penguins Free Agency Update

For Penguins General Manager Ray Shero, time is quickly becoming the enemy. With less than 24 hours remaining until the NHL's free agency begins, the Pens find themselves with gaping roster holes, and the quickly approaching reality than many of the familiar faces in black and gold may be finding themselves in other uniforms this season. Let's break the Pittsburgh roster situation down by player and find out what's in store for the Pens. :

Sergei Gonchar : It seems fitting to say that Gonchar's five years in a Penguins uniform have been as vital as any players' career in the post-lockout era in regards to offensive defenseman. #55's presence on the powerplay and breakout have been almost unrivaled across the NHL with the exception of Detroit blueliner Nicklas Lidstrom. Unfortunately for Penguins fans, Gonchar's time in the 'burgh will come to an untimely end soon. Some reports have suggested that Gonchar may be willing to accept a two year deal or a three year deal at less money to remain in Pittsburgh. In fact, Gonchar's agent, J.P. Barry, has refused to accept less than a three year deal, worth 5 million dollars per year. Ray Shero wants to avoid signing Gonchar to a three year deal, which would allow Sergei Gonchar to collect a CBA-enabled salary bonus (This bonus involves a player over the age of 35 being signed to a three year or longer contract. Read all the fine print here). Prior to the draft, many speculated that Gonchar would consider waiving his no-movement clause in order to create a win-win scenario for both parties. While that obvious did not come to fruition, it could occur this afternoon. When asked about the possibility of trading Gonchar's rights, J.P. Barry told media, "That's Ray's decision. Not mine". While I wouldn't expect a trade to occur today, the chances of it are certainly increased since yesterday, or the day before. I fully expect Gonchar to hit the open market tomorrow afternoon and sign a contract worth more at least six million a year for at least three seasons.

Bill Guerin : Another player who, despite only being in Pittsburgh for a little over a year, that has risen to iconic status among Pens fans is Bill Guerin. Guerin, who will turn 40 within the calendar year, has stated that he wants to play one more season. The other thing that he's expressed is a refusal to accept less money per season. Guerin made two million dollars last season and feels he can receive a one year deal close to that on the open market. Guerin struggled at the end of the season to keep up with Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz and found himself not only being demoted from Crosby's line, but also looking like a player that was out of place on the top two lines for a Stanley Cup contender. Unless Guerin is willing to have a drastic change of heart in the next 24 hours, he will be finishing his career elsewhere.

Dan Hamhuis : Most hockey fans in Pennsylvania, regardless of which team they cheer for, rose an eyebrow when the Penguins and Flyers made a deal last friday night to send Dan Hamhuis's rights to Pittsburgh. While Hamhuis has stated that he's "intrigued by playing in Pittsburgh", it's unlikely that he'll be signed before testing the open market. Many have speculated that Hamhuis has a strong desire to play for the Vancouver Canucks, but it's also likely that the Penguins will be in the mix as well. Bolstering the Pittsburgh blueline will be a priority for Ray Shero in free agency and Hamhuis will certainly be a name to watch for. It's unlikely, however, that he will sign before free agency begins.

Jordan Leopold : Leopold's short career in Pittsburgh has been a quiet one to date, despite Shero giving up a second round pick in this year's 2010 entry draft for him. With Gonchar and Hamhuis likely to test the market, Shero has contacted Leopold's camp about signing before free agency begins. With defensive-minded blueliners coming at a premium price on the open market, Shero's inability to get a deal done with Sergei Gonchar or Dan Hamhuis may force Shero's hand in signing Leopold quickly. Of all the expiring contracts within the next day, Leopold is the most likely to resign with the Pens before testing the open market.

Mark Eaton : Eaton's 2009 season in Pittsburgh was very much like Leopold's - quiet. Despite Mark Eaton's substantial time with the Penguins, very little substantial contract talks have occurred between Ray Shero and Mark Eaton. Eaton's agent, Stephen Bartlett, told Pittsburgh media that the talks were "nothing major, just ongoing discussions". Eaton, like Leopold, may be a player that Shero has to sign more out of "need" than "want."

Pittsburgh Penguins from the 2009-10 season that have already declared UFA status : Alexei Ponikarovsky, Jay McKee, Ruslan Fedotenko.

Stay tuned to Pens Universe throughout the entire free agency period for updates. Also follow me on Twitter at @joedepto and @penshotstove for up to the minute free agency updates.

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