Friday, June 26, 2009

HOLD or FOLD? 2009 NHL Free Agency Analysis

OK guys, the core of the Pens is locked up for a long time, so there's no need to panic when Free Agency starts on July 1. We won't be affected like other squads. For comparison's sake, check out Montreal, who has 7 forwards under contract, or New York, who has 5!!!! (thanks to, a sweet site) While the Pens are in great shape, they are also crunching dangerously close to the NHL's expected cap of $56.7M. As we saw only a few weeks ago, championships are more than just about the stars. Many pieces and smart decisions are needed over the next couple weeks. Allow TOP TEN to break it down:

Count me among those that weren't exactly blown away when we acquired Billy G at the deadline. Old + Slow didn't exactly excite me, especially after being spoiled by the whole Hossa saga from before. But for years, all of us have been crying for a shooter on Sid's line. And that's all this guy does, no matter where he is on the ice. It's no wonder that Guerin clicked so well with The Kid, everybody's favorite passing center. While I always knew he was a great veteran leader, I never realized he was so relaxed, so funny, so easy to play with. Everybody (including yours truly) seems to love this guy, and I wouldn't underestimate his locker room presence in cases like the 0-2 holes in Washington and Detroit. Moving forward, he'll be 38, but he was logging 17:00 per game in the playoffs, showing that he can still skate like a young man. After spending a few years on Crap Island, something tells me he's about more than money, but who knows. If he'll let us split his contract price in half it's HOLD time. For me, my sun rises and sets on this sign.

I know that a lot of people are speculating that Ruslan will be back. Reports are that he's already been offered a cap-friendly 3-year deal, and that his people are feeling pretty good about it. While I don't hate this guy, it's a fact that he didn't wake up until the playoffs. What do you think this is, Ruslan, The NBA? Here is my simple two-word theory on why the Pens will be good for a long time: Superstar. Centers. For at least the next few seasons, Shero has the luxury to stockpile average NHL wingers, pair them with Sid or Geno (see: Kunitz, Chris), and watch them become solid contributors. Under such a scenario, we would expect more than the 39 measly points that Feds put up in 08-09. Plus he's 30. FOLD.

I know a lot of people love to say things like "The NEW NHL is all about speed." And while that has proven true for old, washed-up farts like Derian Hatcher, a 6'7" monster like Hal Gill still finds success in this "NEW" NHL. While he's got his faults -- most notably some hilarious foot speed -- he's a rock steady defender in front of his own cage. As I've maintained for a long time now, Hal Gill may be exposed here and there during the regular season (when every penalty is called), but you'll be glad you have him in the playoffs (when the play is rough and rumble). It's no coincidence that he and Scuderi were the shut-down tandem during the Cup run. While he's probably not worth the $2.5M he made last season, his massive frame alone makes him a unique defender for teams to gameplan against. If wiley Dick Lebeau were running things, Gill would've already been signed. I say HOLD.

I like Craig Adams as much as the next guy, but what greatness does he provide? If I'm not mistaken, he was brought here because of his playoff experience and because he won a Cup. We'll guess what....we have lots of guys like that now. Sure he kills a lot of penalties. Wow. Adams is a slower (albeit steadier) version of Dupuis, without any kind of shot whatsoever. Let's not forget he was a constant healthy scratch on his prior team, and we were able to simply pluck him off of waivers for free. If necessary, we can always find "Veteran X" at the deadline every year moving forward. FOLD.

He's a goner. And good riddance. Quite frankly, I wonder what the heck the Pens' scouting department's was thinking last summer when they decided to take a $3.5M gamble on this guy. It was obvious almost right away that he didn't fit, and he seemed to drift away on the ice, even though constantly surrounded and supported by elite talent. When he got sent to the minors, he tore up the AHL, partly because he was suddenly fast there. Back in the reality of the NHL, he's slow to loose pucks, and his slow hands are too slow to get them off. In the stretch run, it was nice to have his Euro-talent available when needed, but he will never be the 4th liner we need. Enjoy Russia, Miro. FOLD.

Unlike most yinzers, I really don't think Sykora is that bad. Even with some early season injuries, let's not forget that he posted a whopping 10 game-winning goals last year. Given the fact that he decided to only play half a season, that number is even more staggering. Sure, snipers like Sykora are usually granted a couple week-long slumps over the season, but Sykora permanently went in the tank somewhere around the all-star break. And when Disco Dan shoved his SKATE-PRESSURE-SKATE style down their throats, Petr's days on the top lines were done. Maybe he was hurt. Maybe he's just not a Blysma guy. But it's not like he suddenly sucks. That nasty wrister will always be in his arsenal, and he can fit in on anyone's PP. He just doesn't seem to fit into our chemistry any longer. "F*CKING RIGHT!!!", indeed. FOLD.

Like Adam Hall last year, Ziggy is a right-handed guy (rare) who can win faceoffs (rarer). Unlike Hall, he didn't play most of the year, so his salary may actually go down. Not to mention, this year Tampa Bay doesn't have any more foolish money to blow on our 4th liners. When Zigomanis got hurt, he was leading the league in faceoff %, an area where we always want to improve. And don't forget that Shero went out and traded FOR Zigomanis, so it shows that he's a fan. This looks to be the least of our problems. HOLD.

I'd speculate that its fair to say none of us know the true Garon. What has he done? Has he been bad? Has he been good? I dunno, he looks good in a ballcap sitting in the runway. I think the days of the Pens needing a "veteran to push Fleury" have to be ending soon....even if mentor Garon does speak Fleury's language (dirty French). The younger, cheaper John Curry has been pretty steady in WBS in the past few years, and they won't want to part ways with him. Remember when fans were screaming that we HAD to keep Ty Conklin? FOLD.

Another goner unless he plays for peanuts. Boucher is a depth-builder, an injury-replacer, a Swayze-looking goober. He had a good story during the Cup run, when it took 7 D-Men to finish off Washington and sweep Carolina. But the truth is that we have plenty of puck-moving, offensive defenders. And do we really need another French Canadian??? The come-uppance of Baby Penguin Ben Lovejoy and the retaining of a few others (Gill!!!) makes this easy. FOLD.

Let's not kid ourselves - if Scuderi is our biggest free agency concern, then it's a good year. This signing is 100% dependant on what we do with other guys. If Shero can convince some of our UFA's like the afore-mentioned Guerin/Fedotenko/Gill to take big pay cuts, then the cap room will be there for "The Piece". If we don't have the room, then we'll move on.

There are two sides to this story. On one hand, none of our D are as steady and responsible in their own end as Scuds. He has no problem getting down and dirty. Like Orpik, Scuderi was brought up in this system and finally seems to have found his niche. His shot-blocking ability is an essential part of the Pens defense. Just ask Jeff Carter or AO or Older Staal or Marian Nossa. On the other hand, he's admitted to having Free Agency on his mind for several months, so you know he is looking to cash in. And with clutchness like this, I think he could get it. Like we've seen countless times, it only takes one team to inflate a guy's value out of complete control (Paging Mr. Malone). And really, is he that irreplaceable? Is he that much of a game-changer? On a team loaded with talent like the Pens, Scuderi has absolutely ZERO offensive responsibility. I'm not sure someone like the NYR or Tampa would get what they wanted if they blew $4M on him. In the end, I really think Shero the Hero properly assesses value, and makes the numbers work.

We're walking a salary cap tight-rope, aren't we? HOLD!



Dupuis gets $1.4M over each of the next 2 years. He has proven that he's not top-6 forward material, and he doesn't fit with the Staal line. Where does that leave him? To make matters worse, younger legs are always on the way. Caputi. Tangradi. Jeffrey. Wallace. I guess if we can't fill (or can't afford) a place on the Malkin line, then Dupuis would probably fit there, but that's not a Cup team.

I may be living in an NFL GM's world when I say this, but: A) The Sarge is 35 and starting to show some wear and tear, B) he makes $5M on a team that already shells out big contracts to enough players, and C) with the generous Goligoski extension, we have 3 capable power play quarterbacks (Gogo, Letang, Geno). So is it sooooo crazy to think we could part ways with Gonchar? Spare me your emotional attachment. Poor Geno can get his own house now, right?

No matter what you or I want to happen (allegedly), Staal is staying a Center and staying a Penguin. Shero loves him, and he was a beast in the Finals. Deal with it.



Line 1: Kunitz - Crosby - Guerin
Line 2: [insert skilled winger looking for a cup] - Malkin - Talbot
Line 3: Cooke - Staal - Kennedy......Kennedy
Line 4: Godard - Zigomanis - Dupuis

In Waiting: Caputi - Tangradi - Jeffrey - Wallace

D1: Orpik - Gonchar
D2: Letang - Scuderi
D3: Lovejoy - Goligoski
Dextra: Gill - [insert cheap veteran here]

In Net: MA Fleurrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrry - John Currrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrry

No comments: