Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Pens Top 5 Offseason Targets

Be realistic.  We are not trading for Jarome Iginla.  We are not sending Geno Malkin to the Kings for Anze Kopitar, Jack Johnson, and 11 first round draft choices.  There is certainly nothing wrong with fantasizing about a better life, a better world, a better team.  But come on, Barney. You and me live in the real world... most of the time.  (That's right, we just quoted Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman.  That is why we do this anonymously.)

Let's look at the Pens' offseason options through the eyes of General Manager Ray Shero.  You've got 11 forwards, 3 defenseman, and 2 goalies under contract for the 2010-11 season at a total of roughly $45,953,000.  Based on Gary Bettman's recent statement that the cap could rise by $2 million, you're looking at a ceiling of about $58,800,000.  OK, you say, we've got $13,000,000 to play with.  You can sign Ilya Kovalchuk!  Sure you can, if you want to make like Chicago and go over the cap with only 14 players under contract.  (Mazel tov on the Cup win, but now you're screwed.)

Fortunately, you're Ray Shero, and that's not how you do things.  Let's make a couple of assumptions for the purposes of this exercise.  First, you bring back Sergei Gonchar only at your price and on your terms.  That's 2 years at $3.75 million per, and it's probably not going to happen.  Gonchar is, in all likelihood, gone.  Second, you have to resign Matt Cooke for 3 years at $1.5 million per year.  You understood this the minute it occurred to you during the playoffs that Cooke and Craig Adams were, for long stretches, the best players on the ice and, at that moment, you also understood that it might be a good idea to keep both of these two warriors on your bench for approximately one-third of the price of a single, heartless Alexander Semin.

Now you're down to $11.5 million, and you still need to sign at least three defenseman and at least one forward.  Part of this is easy.  By all accounts, Ben Lovejoy is ready, and you can slot him on the third pairing with Mark Eaton for a combined $3 million a year.  Just make sure to hold your breath when they get stuck out there against Ovechkin after an icing call next spring.  Whatever, you're doing the best you can.  You've got $8.5 million left in your pocket.  You'd better parse it out carefully, because you're missing a number 1 defenseman and a first line winger.  Maybe an additional veteran forward in the event you don't bring back Billy Guerin to play fourth line minutes for Craig Adams money.  [Note: please let Billy go, Ray.  He seems like a terrific guy "in the room," but "on the ice" he hasn't moved his feet to collect a pass in the neutral zone since 2001.]  With all of that in mind, here are 5 guys you're targeting on July 1, if not sooner:

1) Anton Volchenkov, defenseman (UFA).

PRO: You can't really find a better fit.  Sure, he isn't a classic number one in the Duncan Keith mold because he brings no offense to speak of.  But we're going to live or die with Letang and Goligoski on that front, and this guy is a monster in the defensive zone.  He's a shutdown player, like Darrelle Revis.  Just stick him out there on an island with Ovechkin.

CON: He's going to be overpaid.  Anything more than a $4.5 million cap hit will be tough to take, and he'll likely command at least $5 million.  He's only 28, but durability is an issue.  He's averaged only 66 games a season for the last three years.  His body could fall apart at any moment.

2) Zbynek Michalek, defenseman (UFA)

PRO: No one's heard of him.  No way he's banking $5 million a year.  But he led the league in blocked shots a couple of years ago, and the 27-year-old has been a steady presence on the Phoenix blueline for 5 years now.  We could get a reasonable facsimile of Volchenkov for $3.5 million.

CON: Guarantee you every GM except Bob Clarke is thinking the exact same thing.  And, the possibility of him trying this foot deke.

3)  Dan Hamhuis, defenseman (UFA)

PRO: Here's another potential number 1 guy who is durable, decent offensively, and shouldn't command a $5 million salary.

CON: He shouldn't command a $5 million salary, but there are people out there who would sign Scott Gomez for $7 million a year.  We're not naming any names.  And sometimes potential remains unfulfilled.  Ryan Whitney.  (Cough, cough.)

4) Kris Versteeg, forward (Chicago Caphawks)

PRO: The Blackhawks have to trade this guy.  It's not even debatable.  He's not Toews, Kane, or Hossa, but he is easily a first-line winger on the 2010 Pittsburgh Penguins.  He is under contract for the next two seasons at a cap hit of $3 million.  He is durable, gritty, good defensively, and has excellent scoring touch.  Put him with Sid or Geno for 80 games and he scores 35 goals.  Easily.

CON: There will be a bidding war.  Right now the speculation is he'll cost a high second round pick.  We don't have a high second round pick.  We do have a late first round pick.  Do it Ray.

5)  Jaromir Jagr, forward (Some team in Russia)

PRO: At 38-years-old, he is light years better than any winger on our roster.  Any old school Pens fan who tells you they wouldn't get chills hearing his name announced on opening night at Consol is lying to you.  All the talk about Jagr needing to be the man, being jealous of Sid and Geno, and disrupting locker room chemistry is nonsense.  He'll be thrilled to be allowed to drift into open space and wait for those guys to feed him the puck.  Then he'll bury it.

CON: He seems to be trending back towards a mullet.  Pittsburghers don't need any encouragement on that front.


  1. All good info, here are a couple more thoughts to consider

    1.) Your right, signing Gonchar to a 2 year deal probably isn't realistic. He most likely wants at least 3 if not 4 years. But if the cap number is friendly 3.75 or 3.5 why not entertain the idea of giving him that third year? Even with consideration paid towards the 35 and over rule, bettering our chances of winning a stanley cup over the first two years may be worth swallowing 3.5 million for one year. Especially when you consider that the pens worst stretches over the last two years occured when Gonchar was out of the lineup.

  2. 2.) Kris Versteeg is a top line winger and might be exactly what the penguins need. But, with very few forward option in free agency this year why get into a bidding with other clubs to acquire Versteeg? If the pens trade away a first round pic for ANYONE it should be for a guy like Bobby Ryan of Anahiem who is an elite centerman away from being a 45 goal a year guy. Versteeg is not worth a first round pic.

    Versteeg was only a 20 goal guy while playing with Jonathan Toews he's not going to turn into Jari Kurri just by placing him next to Sid or Geno.

  3. Lastly point,

    With all this talk about not enough cap space, no one has suggested dealing Kunitz and his 3.75 million dollar a year cap hit. He is not a 3.75 million dollar winger no matter how you slice it. Trade him away and go find an up and coming winger along with a draft pic or two. No matter what, you clear up some much needed cap room, and a guy like Volchenkov may become a realistic option

  4. Thanks for the comments. Bobby Ryan is an RFA, and signing him would cost far more than a 1st rounder. That's multiple 1st rounders in addition to the fact he'll demand a much higher salary than Versteeg. Also note that Versteeg spent a fair share of the season on a line with Dave Bolland. No slouch Bolland, but no Toews, and certainly no Geno or Sid.

  5. We'll see. It's a delicate balance to strike. Gonch is still a power play wizard, but he sure looked in the playoffs like a guy who's best days are behind him.

  6. Great point. We wholeheartedly agree that Kunitz can't be our most highly paid winger. Trouble is, to clear that cap space you need to find someone who DOES think he's worth $3.75 million per year. Good luck with that.

  7. Kudos to you for knowing who Versteeg was paired up with. My thinking is that Versteeg will never be anything more than a 30 goal guy and I am not willing to give up a 1st rounder and maybe more (because other teams will be looking to trade for him too) for 25 to 30 goals and his 3.083 million dollar salary. At least not without clearing out the cap space Kunitz is taking up now.

    I am aware Bobby Ryan is a restricted free agent, and will automatically require a 1st rounder in return. (My reply to the following post ties into this one.)

  8. Anahiem might be as willing as anyone to accept Kunitz (they know his value better than probably any other team, plus they have the cap room) along with a first rounder and possibly a sixth rounder (because we have three this year) for Bobby Ryan.

    If Kunitz, the first rounder and a sixth rounder are not enough I’m willing to replace the sixth rounder with Tyler Kennedy because I think Nick Johnston (RW) who has spent the last two years with the baby penguins is ready to move into either a second or third line role. In doing so, Kunitz, the first rounder, andKennedy for Bobby Ryan will clear up 4.75 million in cap room and give us a right winger to put on Crosby or Geno's line that will produce more goals than Kunitz and TK could combined.

    If we could get our hands on Bobby Ryan I believe it’s realistic to try and sign him to a deal averaging about 5.5 million over 5 to 6 years. The problem is that solves the issue of an impact winger to put with either Malkin or Crosby we still need to go out and find another left winger for one of them, and that is with the belief that Tangradi (LW) is ready to make the jump to play on one of their wings.

    So, in my trade and subsequent signing of Bobby Ryan our cap number only moves from 45.108 to 45.805. But, If we sign Gonchar to a contract that averages no more than 3.75, it takes us to 49.555. If we bring Matt Cooke back at 1.5 were at 51.055. Tangradi at .750 takes that number to 51.805. Ben Lovejoy at .500 takes that number 52.305. And now its decision time because if the cap is going to sit at 58.800 and we need to leave at least 1 million to sign another player in case of injury we have to find two wingers and one defensemen to complete our roster for no more than a total of 5.5 million. The best answer might be to sink 3.5 million into an impact winger for Malkin and hope young guys can fill the other wing position and defensemen spot.

    At least then you have a complimentary winger for both Sid and Geno so opposing teams cant focus they’re efforts solely on one guy, or one line when we unite them

  9. Personally I think the team as a whole looked lethargic and inconsistent through much of the second as a whole. Many player's postgame comments and exit interviews seemed to be a mixture of sadness and relief and that would suggest to me they were worn out. Two deep playoff runs and a lengthed season because of the Olympics had the same effect on detroit. (I could point out injuries, but everyone gets injured so I'm not willing to use that excuse)

  10. You're one of the first people I've heard talking about potentially moving TK and I think it's a fantastic idea (in the right circumstances). I like the energy that TK brings, but the fact is that he barely contributed offensively at all last season. The defense is on to his hesitation move - I'm not sure it has worked since early 2009. Being Pens fans and watching him every night, we know his value and his ceiling (not very high) but he may be a guy that other teams value simply because they know his name. Deep runs in the playoffs give players name recognition and because of some of the general GM incompetence in the NHL (Glen Sather), name recognition can go a long way.

    I like TK, but let's be honest - he's replaceable. Moving him wouldn't clear up a lot of cap space, but that also could make him more attractive to other teams.

  11. I actually think Tyler Kennedy has a decent cieling, but not at RW. He is a natural center and has looked much more comfortable in that position when Jordan Stall has centered the second line and he has centered the third. (because Crosby and Malkin are paired up) But, TK is never going to get an opportunity to play center here, and Im ok with that because I wouldn't break up our top three centers if my life depended on it. (At least not while they are still all in their early twenties)

    Personally I think TK could be a 50 point a year guy centering a second or third line for the right team. And, I do love his energy and speed but not enough to continue to play him out of position when I have Nick Johnston who is actually a true RW and other forward positions to fill with limited cap space.

    So, I think you are absolutely right. I would shop TK around to acquire a pick or two, or as part of a package deal to acquire and impact winger or physical defenseman

  12. I have officially changed my tune on signing Gonchar! Based on the news that Gonch isnt willing to accept anything less than 5 million per season, and his camp thinks he can get more. Our best option is too let him go, and wish him well. He is not worth that kind of money considering where we are under the cap, and the limitations that the 35 and over rule places on a deal with him.

    We can use the money to try and sign Volchenkov

  13. If the money isn't right, we can't afford him. Shero made a commitment by giving (relatively) big money to Letang, a player with huge upside but with a long way to go to reach that upside. By making that investment in Letang, Shero has basically said that he thinks Letang will be a very good PP guy and a solid own-zone presence. Ideally we would give Letang another year behind Gonchar on the PP, but if Gonchar wants the big money elsewhere then we have to turn the keys over to Letang. That is kind of scary given that our PP operated at something like 10% when Gonchar was out of the lineup last season.

    Let it be known that I don't begrudge Gonchar at all if he goes somewhere else for bigger money. It's likely his last opportunity at a big multi-year deal. He should go for it.