Saturday, April 28, 2007

Penguins By The Numbers - Part Two the Forwards

Well our defensemen discussion brought some good ideas of possible fill ins on the Penguins blue line...some notables: Andy Sutton, Scott Hannan, Vitaly Vishnevski, Brent Sopel, Kimmo Timonen, Cory Sarich and Aaron Miller. I am not sure which direction Ray Shero is going to go, he could look to fill the defensive need via trade, but most likely is going to bring in some one through free agency. I will discuss some of the above names when I get to the Free Agency "By the Numbers."

Today we will look at the Penguins forwards and discuss cost and who will be staying with the team.

Let's go started...

Sidney Crosby - signed through '07-'08 and brings a cap hit of $3.7 Mil. (Of course it is hard to predict his actual hit based on bonus payments) What can't this kid do? He has already broken 100 pts in each of his first two seasons, won an Art Ross Trophy and is the potential Hart Trophy winner. Crosby is the closest thing to a Penguin for life that they have on the roster. Ray Shero will discuss long-term contract with Sidney Crosby in July. The team cannot negotiate with him until after July 1st. I can envision the wording of any new Crosby contract stating that he will be the team's top paid player under the terms of the existing CBA...terms that dictate that no player can make more than 20% of the total salary cap for any team.

Evgeni Malkin - signed through '08-'09 and brings a cap hit of $3.834 Mil. Malkin cooled off a bit down the stretch, but there is no denying that he is a dynamic talent. He is the likely Calder Trophy winner, which is awarded to the league's top first year player and should evolve into a top two line center in the NHL. Malkin will be fine, he showed us only flashes of what he can be when he is completely comfortable and confident...something that he wasn't fully this past season. Malkin will be a dominant player in the NHL and will be one of the Penguins cornerstones for quite some time.

Jordan Staal - signed through '08-'09 and brings a cap hit of $2.2 Mil. Staal wowed the hockey world as he made the Penguins roster at the age of 18. Many thought he would be sent back to his junior team in Peterborough, but the young center gave the team no choice but to keep him. He went on to score 29 goals, 7 of which were short handed - a record for first year players. Staal looks as if he could be better than his older brother Eric and may end up being better than Evgeni Malkin...a great situation to be in if you are the Penguins. This is the player that will make it hard for the team to keep Malkin as they both approach free agency down the line. Michel Therrien calls him: "Scary good!"

Mark Recchi - Unrestricted Free Agent - Recchi had a good year playing almost exclusively with Sidney Crosby. He will probably not be given that opportunity very often if the Penguins resign him. Recchi is a good mentor and leader to have around, but he may not have a place on this team if Gary Roberts is retained. Recchi has said that he will work from now on with one-year contracts and will fill any role that the team envisions for him. If I had to place odds upon his return I would set them at 60-40. Recchi started here and will most likely end his career here.

Ryan Malone - signed through '07-'08 and brings a cap hit of $1.375. Malone has shown glimmers of the talent that he possesses, but he is very inconsistent. Malone is popular because he hails from the Pittsburgh area, but I can't see him getting another chance next season. Ray Shero came close to trading him a couple of times this past year, and I think he will get the offer he has been waiting for this summer. Malone may still blossom into a good NHLer, but it is going to have to be with another team. He is great at killing penalties, but that isn't enough for a player who is going to make $1.45 Mil during the coming season...say good-bye to Ryan Malone.

Jarkko Ruutu - signed through '07-'08 and brings a cap hit of $1.15 Mil. I think that Ray Shero envisioned a little more scoring out of Ruutu, but the Finnish agitator did everything he was asked this season. He occasionally took penalties at the wrong times, but will be a great compliment to the "stars" once again next season. He is so tenacious that he was quoted in Russia's Sport Express as saying he would hurt Malkin in the World Tournament if he had too to secure victory for Finland. Win at all cost guys are hard to come by...

Nils Ekman - Unrestricted Free Agent - To say that Nils Ekman was a disappointment this past season is an understatement. Much more was expected of him prior to his injury, a horrible dislocated elbow. Ekman will most likely be allowed to walk. I mentioned him getting another look in camp this coming year in a prior blog, but I was mistaken on his contract status...the $1.1 Mil he was making will be put to use in plugging some of the teams other holes. Nils, we hardly knew you!

Colby Armstrong - Restricted Free Agent - Armstrong has the heart of a lion and showed the hockey world that he is not afraid to mix it up with anyone. He disappointed many with his lack of scoring this past season, but he was really never known as a huge offensive threat...he is a great energy guy, and a great teammate. He may not cash in often, but the ones he does put in are big goals. Armstrong will be on this team for the foreseeable future and should come a bit cheaper than originally thought.

Maxime Talbot - Restricted Free Agent - I absolutely love this player. If I had to choose one Penguin to clone other than Sidney Crosby, this is the guy. Talbot was a much bigger scorer in Canadian Junior hockey than he will ever be in the NHL, but he is the prototypical 3rd line energy guy. He can play Center or the wing and is a great presence on and off of the ice. There is no doubt that Max Talbot will be qualified...he was one of the better face-off men that the Penguins had coming down the stretch. Not to mention his knack for scoring very timely goals...think Ottawa with 1.9 seconds remaining in regulation.

Michel Ouellet - Restricted Free Agent - I am sure that he will be qualified, but I also think Ray Shero would move him if approached with the right deal. I cannot knock Ouellet though, for as much abuse as he has taken, he did end up putting a nice year together. It is just a shame that he is not a better skater because he does have some hands, especially around the net. If only we could splice him with Konstantin Kolstov! I look for Ouellet to be back, but wouldn't be surprised to see him move one. He is known for scoring goals and that is a commodity in the league.

Gary Roberts - Unrestricted Free Agent - Roberts was amazing after coming over from the Florida Panthers and the Penguins would love to keep him. He showed a young Penguins team how to win and what it takes to be a professional hockey player. Many of the Penguins core asked Ray Shero if they could work out with Roberts this off-season, and it is no surprise because he is in great shape for an older player...probably better than some players half his age. The decision to come back to the Penguins will be made more by the player than the team, but I have a feeling he will be back. He seemed to really enjoy himself here and realizes that the team is close to competing for the Stanley Cup. Pittsburgh is not that far from Toronto and his daughter. Based on things I have heard...Roberts signs.

Ronald Petrovicky - Unrestricted Free Agent - Petrovicky played sparingly this past season after having hip surgery during training camp. I wouldn't mind having him back, but I think that he will be allowed to move one. He hits everything that moves and will fight if he has too, but the team was hoping for more than the 6 points that he put up in 31 games. Just like Nils - Petro, we hardly knew ya!

Chris Thorburn - Restricted Free Agent - Thorburn had some ups and downs this past season, but definitely should come back next season. He does have some hands and can score goals in the right situation. There could also be some interest in him around the league, as one scout told me that his team was looking at Thorburn if the Penguins hadn't grabbed him off of waivers from the Sabres early last season. I can see Ray Shero bringing him back at the right price and teaming him with Ruutu or Talbot.

Erik Christensen - Restricted Free Agent - Christensen is a wild card...he could potentially be a top two line player in the NHL, but his inconsistency knocks him down to 3rd and 4th line duty too often. The team will definitely retain this 18-goal scorer because they have to be intrigued with what he has done in spurts. His shot is lethal; he can play the wing and center and is decent in the face off circle. There are games where he looks like the Penguins most dangerous forward and others where he just looks lost. If he puts it all together...look out. I would love to see him get more of a look on Sidney Crosby's line.

Georges Laraque - signed through '07-'08 and brings a cap hit of $1.2 Mil. Laraque was sort of a disappointment since coming over from Phoenix at the trade deadline. He didn't do much fighting, though you can't fight if others will not drop the gloves. He did show some skill in the corners and seemed to cycle the puck well with his line mates. He will probably be on the team next season, but will not dress on a nightly basis. He could be next season's Andre Roy and find himself on waivers before it is all said and done.

Ray Shero has said that finding a goal-scoring winger for Sidney Crosby is not a top priority, but it is something he will try to accomplish. Shero has stated that he was comfortable with the goal scoring he got for the guys he has, but would like to find someone who could be a long-term solution on Crosby's wing...someone who could grow with Sid. That is easier said than done, but the right guy could be out there. If that player is available, I am confident that Ray Shero will find him.

I will discuss the Wilkes Barre-Scranton forwards who could potentially break into the NHL next season in the prospects part of this series. Stay tuned in the upcoming days for Goaltenders/Prospect and possible free agents.

Keep the comments coming...


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