Pittsburgh Penguins Offseason Update

The Pittsburgh Penguins have had one of the more active and productive off-seasons of the Eastern Conference contenders. Still, with a few holes in the roster and roughly two million dollars in cap space remaining, it’s hard to believe the Penguins are done. While many have suggested that the Penguins could round out their roster via trade, this is the latest from the free agency side of things :

  • Defensemen Zbynek Michalek and Paul Martin were both added from the Phoenix Coyotes and New Jersey Devils, respectively, to add punch to the Pens blueline right away; blueliners Ben Lovejoy, Deryk Engelland and Andrew Hutchinson were all penned to two-way contract to add defensive depth throughout the organization as well. Still, if Pittsburgh general manager Ray Shero believes none of the two-way contractual additions are ready for full time gigs with the big squad, yet another d-man could be added to the black and gold.
  • The Pens lack of a winger to date seems to be a glaring omission in an otherwise cup-contending lineup, but the impact of such a line configuration is lessened with the movement of either center Jordan Staal or Evgeni Malkin to wing in 2010. Ray Shero recently alluded on Pittsburgh’s ESPN Radio affiliate that such a move is only a matter of when, not if. While adding a wing remains on the Penguins radar, moving Staal from the third line into the top six brings the discussion of who should center the third line as a result. Both Max Talbot and Mark Letestu saw time at this roster spot from time to time last season with positive results. Various Pittsburgh media have also reported the team is strongly considering rolling with speedy forward Tyler Kennedy as well. Nontheless, with Talbot’s injury history, Letestu’s lack of NHL experience, and Kennedy’s solid play at wing, The team bringing in a third center isn’t out of the question.
  • After putting together mediocre play on the ice and being a polarizing figure in the Pens locker room last season, it’s hard to imagine Alexei Ponikarovsky returning to Pittsburgh once again. Still, the two teams have had contact with one another about a one year deal with the Penguins for a drastically reduced price. Likely due to his lack of production playing with Evgeni Malkin last season, Ponikarovsky hasn’t been contacted by any other teams outside of the Penguins for a substantial contract. It stands to reason that this could be a win-win for both parties. Ponikarovsky could return to Pittsburgh’s top six and cash in next year’s free agency market with a solid season, giving him increase financial potential. He’s also a perfect fit for Pittsburgh’s system – he’s a big body that can skate, can be effective in front of the crease, and has excellent finishing skills. The caveat to this, as Pens fans found out quickly last season, is that “Poni” rarely uses his full skill set to it’s full potential – He only scored twice in sixteen games with Pittsburgh last year. This hypothetical, “win-win” scenario is unlikely, due to Ponikarovsky’s unsatisfactory status from both parties currently, but the two sides have been in contact throughout the last week. The latest is that #23 is refusing to accept less than two million per year – a price that he will likely receive elsewhere in a stale winger open market.
  • As it’s been discussed here before, Bill Guerin was a crucial part of the Penguins 2008-2009 cup run and was one of the better barters made at the 2009 NHL trade deadline. He provided a solid veteran leadership role both on and off the ice and quickly became very iconic amongst Penguins fans. In the ensuing season, however, Guerin showed his age in a more negative light. He showed an inability to play a full season in head coach Dan Bylsma’s uptempo system, and an unwillingness to crash the net on the powerplay. He was also very mediocre in his own zone, finishing with a minus-nine rating on an otherwise very potent offensive team. Ray Shero has stated he would like to bring Guerin back for one more season; at a reduced role and price. Guerin’s camp expressed an interest to have #13 play out one more season in the ‘burgh, but balked at Shero’s refusal to match his salary (approximately two million) from the 2009-10 season. Guerin has been contacted by the Tampa Bay Lightning, Montreal Canadians, and New York Rangers about his services for a one year deal. Unless he experiences a drastic change of heart in the coming days, it’s highly unlikely that Guerin will remain in Pittsburgh any longer.
  • Before being dealt from Columbus to Buffalo at the trade deadline last season, winger Raffi Torres flew high on Pittsburgh radar throughout January and February. Blue Jackets’ GM Scott Howson set the price for Torres at a second round pick – a pick that Ray Shero used on defenseman Jordan Leopold (who recently signed with the Sabres, ironically enough); the rest is history. Despite Shero’s inability to land Torres then, he could very well land Torres now. Torres’s time in western New York was a dismal one (no goals and a minus-five rating), but many teams around the league, Pittsburgh included, feel that he could benefit from playing a crash-bang style in an uptempo system such as the one the Penguins play. Shero has recently contacted Torres’s agent, Steve Reich, about acquiring his client on the cheap. If he’s willing to take a drastic salary cut – he made nearly three million last season, then Torres could be a solid budget option for the Pens.
  • It’s not often a player and his agent go drastically out of their way to contact a GM directly about wanting to be with a certain team, but that’s what the case is with former Los Angeles King Jeff Halpern. Halpern played on checking lines with both the Kings and Tampa Bay Lightning last season and has proven himself to suffice in said role – with expectations held in check. Halpern has played for four teams since the lockout, hasn’t stayed consistently healthy since the 2007 season, and hasn’t scored more than twenty goals since the year 2000. Still, he remains an above-average skater, a responsible player in the defensive zone, and one of the better face-off men in the league. If the Pens decide that they want to upgrade their face-off percentage (which was quietly the bane of Pittsburgh’s existence in the defensive zone last season at times) and add a solid forechecker to their bottom six at a budget price, Halpern could be just what the doctor ordered.
  • Many have passed around the rumor that UFA and former Montreal center Dominic Moore could end up in black and gold this season. Moore, who is coming off of a fantastic postseason with the Habs, would be a solid fit in Pittsburgh’s bottom six due to his “take-no-prisoners” style of forechecking and superb penalty killing skills, but this, so far, is just that – a rumor – neither Moore’s agent, Larry Kelly, or Moore himself have had any contact with the Pittsburgh Penguins organization so far.
  • The Pittsburgh Penguins lost their assistant coach, Mike Yeo, to the Houston Aeros of the AHL offseason. Yeo’s replacement will be a major priority for Shero in the coming weeks – Pittsburgh’s powerplay was a major albatross of the team last season (finishing the season with a 17.2% success rate – 19th in the league) at times, so expect a coach with a decorated history of special teams success to be a big factor in the hiring process.
  • Ray Shero, whose contract expires after the ensuing season, is likely to be extended by team ownership soon. Expect Shero to be paid amongst the highest in the league – various Pittsburgh media have reported that he could receive well over two million per year.
  • If the Penguins decide to stand pat with their current roster – young players such as Chris Connor, Eric Tangradi, and Dustin Jeffrey could be counted on to make the NHL squad in 2010. Connor is a fantastic skater with 30/30 potential who had a strong showing skating with Sidney Crosby last season; Tangradi is one of the finest power forward prospects in the NHL, and Jeffrey showed solid play in his brief stint in Pittsburgh last season. These are players with extreme upside but only Pittsburgh’s coaching staff in August and September will be able to decide if these players are truly NHL-ready or need more seasoning in the AHL with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Baby Pens. If a lack of trades are made between now and the end of July, one can deduct that the former is more likely than the latter.
  • The following players are entering expiring contracts with the Penguins and could be trade bait in the coming weeks, if Shero decides to round out the roster via trade rather than the open market : Max Talbot, Craig Adams, Mike Rupp, Tyler Kennedy, and Pascal Dupuis.

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