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09-10 Pittsburgh Penguins Final Player Grades and Free Agent Roundup

May 14, 2010 11 comments

So with the disappointing but entirely possible outcome of Game 7 against the Montreal Canadiens, we’re left to pick up the pieces and see what went wrong (where to begin?) as well as see where we can go from here.  Oh, and evaluate those that may or may not be here from this year to next:

Sidney Crosby I still maintain Crosby had an amazing year.  He came within 3 points of a scoring title and potted 51 goals, by far the highest total of his career.  He was the epitome of a franchise player and team captain.  He was absolutely on fire during the Ottawa series and cooled off when the Canadiens put their defensive stranglehold on him, but no one can do it themselves.  Given that he can’t rely on many other players to give him some slack I think my previous grade still holds. A+

Bill Guerin I think people expected far too much from him simply because he was so solid and well-rounded last year.  He’s coming to what’s most likely the end but still chipped in over 20 goals at such a relatively old age.  He absolutely started to show the signs of an aging athlete though.  Wacky miscues where I’m left to wonder what he was thinking and generally slow in mind and body, he did the best he could nonetheless. C+

Chris Kunitz Kunitz is a 20 goal scorer and a 55-60 point player when he’s healthy.  It doesn’t seem like injuries are a long-term problem for him, so I don’t plan on it being a problem going forward.  That being said him not being in the lineup hurt as he’s really the only winger the Penguins possessed that is a true top 6 forward.  He chipped in at a consistent yet underwhelming rate in the playoffs and seemed to lack intensity/physical prowess for having been off for a large part of the year. C+

Evgeni Malkin What a strange year for Malkin.  A constant revolving door on right wing and a total dud in Fedotenko (not that I’m ruining the surprise there) put Malkin’s game in constant flux.  He struggled to find his game, and to me the blame falls in equal parts to Malkin, his linemates, and the coaching staff.  He had literally no top 6-caliber help for most of the year, was prone to mental blunders (probably due to trying to do too much), and I never got the sense that the coaching staff got him to relax.  All that being said, here’s the hard truth:  77 points in 67 games is a 94 point pace.  That is amazing considering the joke of a winger corps the Penguins have and the fact that Malkin’s linemates were usually no better than Jordan Staal’s……..or Craig Adams’ for that matter.  He is without a doubt still one of the top 3 players on the planet.  Now, despite a year of uncharacteristically bad penalties and sometimes uneven play, it’s time to give him some help again. B

Ruslan Fedotenko Scroll down to my last round of player grades to get the full gist on Feds, but here’s a quick summary of what was said:  “30 points and 11 goals in 80 games with Evgeni Malkin.  Wow.”  That basically sums it up so I don’t really feel the need to change much.  I don’t know what happened to him.  He’s only 32 so it’s not a Guerin-type situation.  I almost never question if a player cares or question their work ethic, but I’m at a loss as to what the reasons could be otherwise.  He looked slow and just plain out of it.  Heck I don’t even blame Shero for re-signing him.  There appeared to be no downside, but oh was there a downside.  Don’t let the door kick you in the butt on the way out, and oh don’t forget this *hands him his Cup ring*.  Nothing short of his family holding Shero hostage will have him in a Pens uniform next year.  F

Pascal Dupuis Dupuis had a surprisingly good year for a 3rd/4th line tweener.  18 goals was a welcome contribution on a team without nearly the scoring depth people assume when they see the top players’ names.  He also contributed the OT winner that sealed the series against Ottawa.  A great year for him, although I’m not opposed to dumping him for a draft pick to free up some cash given that the Penguins seem to have too many pluggers. A-

Alexei Ponikarovsky I refuse to go too low with my grade on Ponikarovsky.  Much of a player’s success is attributed to opportunity.  How would you treat a proven 20 goal scorer when he arrived in your locker room?  A solid yet unspectacular player?  Oh and also you have a problem at the left wing of your superstar center.  Would you shift him all around the lineup and not give him any power play time on a team that lacks scoring depth?  If you answered yes, apparently Bylsma would agree with you.  Sure, he didn’t light the world on fire in his time here but if he was ever going to that chance was taken behind the old oak tree and shot between the eyes by Bylsma himself.  I’m not a big Luca Caputi fan, but according to Bylsma we traded away a decent prospect for a guy who, despite his track record,  should be bounced up and down between the second and fourth lines constantly.  The result?  We’ll never know if he’s worth signing or if he had any chemistry with Malkin.  You know what though?  It doesn’t matter because I have no idea why he would want to come back here anyways.  Great job Dan.  He won’t come back, but again we’ll never know if he was a fit or not in my opinion. C

Jordan Staal As previously stated I think Staal made significant strides this year.  I say that because he broke 20 goals and registered 49 points.  In all honesty I always thought he was a decent two-way player.  Now the stats are starting to come.  If he can average 60 points a year I’ll shut up about possibly dealing him and finally be comfortable with the 3 center formula.  What he needs to add now is taking some offensive initiative and being visible in the opposing zone when the team needs him.  Playing solid defense is not enough.  Any forward can do that or at least be taught to do that.  In conclusion I don’t mind what I see, but I want to see more of it, and god help him if he dips under 20 goals next year because it won’t be acceptable.  The time also needs to come for people to realize Staal doesn’t “shut down” anyone.  He isn’t assigned to shadow anyone and big time players have torched the Penguins in certain playoff series’. B-

Matt Cooke Cooke had a very good year by his standards despite taking some typical bad penalties.  Of course that’s the downside of having a player like Cooke.  Nevertheless 15 goals is a nice total for a checker and he was maybe the only player I thought played consistently well throughout the playoffs and he also continued to produce goals.  He’s very signable at a current value of $1.2 million per year.  I expect him to be re-signed rather easily and it could very well be before July 1st. A-

Tyler Kennedy Another season, another 15-20 games missed by Kennedy.  He’s only 23, but he’s very small and I’m banking on him missing a chunk of the season every year.  13 goals is what it is, good or bad.  The problem with him is I don’t see any potential or any kind of ceiling.  What you see is what you get.  I can live with him on the third line for his paltry salary, but if his agent ever even utters the words “one million dollars” even in casual conversation I would cut the cord.  He’s easily replaceable and rarely brings anything when it counts. D+

Craig Adams I ragged on him constantly for his big donut in the goal scoring category, but I thought he played very well in the playoffs.  Oddly enough he chipped in two goals in the post season and seemed loaded for bear in the hitting and hustle departments.  He makes next to nothing by NHL standards so what the heck, let’s keep him around.  He obviously gives a crap when the playoffs roll around. B+

Mike Rupp Rupp had a great year goal-wise and in general he played well in his role.  13 goals and despite not scoring in the playoffs he played admirably when given a chance to get some ice time.  I don’t really have any complaints and think the Penguins should explore rotating him into the top 6 every once in awhile next year. A-

No grades:

Max Talbot (he’s been racked up so I’m giving him a break)

Eric Godard (self-explanatory)

Sergei Gonchar 50 points in 62 games is about right for Gonchar.  I admit he’s not as reliable as he once was in his own zone but he’s a premier power play QB and I wouldn’t say he’s terrible defensively.  What he was thinking on that short-handed goal in game 7 no one knows but all things considered I think he’s at least average back there.  I don’t see any way the Penguins can realistically keep him and despite the oddity that was the power play’s lack of success this year he’ll be missed dearly.  No one can play that point on the power play like he can save for a few others in the league and his shot is only challenged by Malkin on the Penguins roster.  All in all “Sarge” had a good year although it’s at least worth mentioning he might be starting to spring a few leaks in his game. B

Brooks Orpik I’ve been very mindful and often critical of Orpik’s game since he signed his $3.75 mil per year deal.  I still maintain that the one shift against Detroit a couple years ago where he drilled three or four Red Wings in about 10 seconds earned him an extra $750k at least.  I like him as a player and obviously I don’t expect him to contribute much offensively (although 25 points this year was great) but I don’t see him in “Orpik-mode” often enough.  Hitting as a defenseman is a risky proposition and we shouldn’t take that for granted, but at the same time that’s what he gets paid to do isn’t it?  Be physical?  I see him be all he can be every three or four games on average, and at times he can go for a decent stretch without providing any kind of impact.  That’s not to say he plays poorly, but what’s missing a lot of nights is what earned him that money.  Where was he against Montreal for instance?  When he started coming on in his career I thought he looked like a poor man’s Scott Stevens.  Unfortunately the rule changes and more wide open game that’s played these days prevented that from happening, but he’s just not always there and I don’t know if you can look past that.  If there was a grade between a C+ and a B- that’s what I would give, however given that I’m not as adept at evaluating defenseman I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. B-

Kris Letang I think these playoffs made Letang even more of an enigma.  One thing you have to remember though is being an enigma at the age of 23 as an NHL defenseman is more than most guys will ever be.  In other words, there are a lot of tools and room to improve here.  Right now I’m just not as certain he’s as big a part of this team going forward as Shero is.  Can you really give a defenseman $3.5 million a year who scored a paltry 3 goals, 27 points all year and isn’t defensively oriented?  He leads all defenseman in playoff goal scoring as of this writing but I’m going to go out on somewhat of a limb and say that it was a fluke.  Letang normally can’t hit the net to save his life so I don’t expect 10-12 goals out of him next year.  Who knows?  Maybe the light bulb went of during this post season.  I’m not counting on it but it’s possible.  All in all Letang needs to be more consistent.  The majority of the time I think he’s a $2 million defenseman.  I think the rest of the time is split between earning his new contract and being unreliable and confused in his own zone.  I’m willing to keep the book open on him, but if it doesn’t look like he’s made strides this year and maybe next, I see him as I always have:  A decent player that’s nice to have or but also nice to throw around in trade talks. C-

Alex Goligoski Speaking of consistency issues, look no further than this guy.  Believe it or not as much as people bash him the numbers are there:  8 goals, 37 points in only 69 games.  9 points in the playoffs.  The problem is he’s arguably more green defensively than Letang is despite being older.  Missed assignments and general screw ups put him on very shaky ground when the other team has the puck.  There’s still time to rectify these problems, although the “he’s still young” excuse is running out.  He’ll be 25 at the start of next season.  He’s on a nice contract though and if he’s surrounded or at least paired with a defenseman who can serve as an anchor there’s really no worries here.  He also needs to find a way to consistently put up points (he was out to lunch a good part of the season).  While I don’t think he’ll ever be well-rounded, the Penguins have him on the cheap for the next two years and that will be enough time to determine if he can at least survive in his own zone long enough to put up a nice point total throughout the year. C+

Mark Eaton Eaton uncharacteristically looked a little slow and a little lost in the last few games of the Montreal series, but the key word there is “uncharacteristically.”  He’s a solid Dman in the bottom half of any team’s D corps, he’s just not going to provide any thunderous hits or surprise you with an end to end rush.  His game is to be where he’s supposed to be and do his best to get the puck out of the zone and he usually performs his job admirably.  I’ll be curious to see if Shero is willing to pay him anything more (he already makes $2 million), but I don’t see many teams being more than mildly interested so they may be able to get away with something like $2.2 million a year or a slightly longer deal for the current price.  I’m 50/50 on whether he stays or goes.

Jordan Leopold I think the jury is out on Leopold as well.  I think he looked pretty good as a Penguin after getting a few games under his belt, but the sample size isn’t large enough since he got hurt in the playoffs.  He only makes $1.75 million so if he could be kept for right around $2 million I would probably take it if the Penguins didn’t have any defensive prospects they liked in free agency.  To me he’s basically Letang but for the right price and with more experience.  No grade.

Jay McKee Shero gambled and lost on this one.  I don’t blame him, that’s just the way it goes sometimes, but McKee isn’t what everyone was praying he’d be.  He looked like a good emergency replacement for Scuderi for the first couple months of the season, blocking shots like a maniac.  Then the issues that made the Blues and everyone else stay away became apparent.  He got nicked up and slowed down big time.  He’s more suited to be a seventh defenseman that’s rotated in frequently, but even then his terrible lack of foot speed is still an issue.  I would cut the team’s losses and just leave him be as a free agent.  Kind of one of those “oh well, we tried” sort of situations. C

Martin Skoula Just kidding.

Marc-Andre Fleury I’m as big a fan of Fleury as anyone, but he simply had a bad year for his standards.  Relative to all goaltenders he was average during the regular season and in the post season he just wasn’t to be relied upon.  I hesitate to use the word “awful” but it’s close.  He’s proven so much at such a young age that while I was hoping for more saves out of him by the middle of this run, the team in front of him wasn’t playing that well defensively either.  Long story short, I figured he’d bounce back the next game……then the next game…..and it never really happened.  What people don’t realize is that every time a goal is scored the goalie is never really the only person to blame, sometimes even on the really soft ones.  But even with that in mind there were a lot of games where Fleury let every good chance for the other team go in the net and that’s not good enough.  Not to be harsh, but if that’s the way your goalie is going to play the only wins you’re going to amass will be of the fluke variety and even that’s not for certain.  I’m surprised and disappointed because as many people tend to forget this guy IS one of the better goalies in the league.  He just wasn’t that guy this year and regardless of his previous body of work there’s not getting around that.  I don’t have much doubt he’ll be back to his old self next year but for now it was a year to forget for Fleury, no other way to say it. D+

Brent Johnson Not a whole lot to say, but he’s a reliable backup.  That’s been one of my slight niggles with the Penguins since they drafted Fleury and threw him into the fire:  Get a backup that’s been around, and they’ve done that.  A little late for my taste (would have been nice to have someone like Legace alternating starts with Fleury years ago) but Johnson is signed for the next two years and while he worries me in the case of a long term injury to Fleury he should be suitable so long as he doesn’t have to play many games in a row. B+

PROSPECTIVE FREE AGENT ACQUISITIONS

To summarize my thoughts on the Penguinsown key free agents:  Cooke will stay for a slight raise, Ponikarovsky, Fedotenko, and Guerin are all gone, Eaton I really can’t say, and the same goes for Leopold.  Gonchar will unfortunately have to go most likely.  Here are some free agents who are worth watching, although some are more likely to sign with the Penguins than others.  Also:  any players not mentioned most likely won’t make their way to the Penguins in any circumstance for a variety of reasons.  Lastly, keep in mind trades are also a possibility that I don’t care to speculate on regardless of how much time I have on my hands.

FORWARDS

Tomas Plekanec I could see Plekanec playing with Malkin and taking the draws for him, but he’ll command a big salary ($4.5-5.5 million) and it’s probably too high for what he’s worth.  It’s absolutely too much for the Penguins.  A very nice player, but he’ll get too much and he’s a pure center to my knowledge anyways.

Olli Jokinen I only mention him so you remember his name in case he goes the way of Alex Tanguay.  In other words if everyone has a “hands off” policy towards him and he wastes away for weeks on the free agent market.  If his asking price drops to $3 million or less it would be hard for the Penguins to pass by.  I think he’s a diva, getting sick of it quickly wherever he plays, but there just might be enough excitement around here where the risk is well worth the reward.  I have no idea what’s happened to his game but I cannot state this enough:  if the Penguins acquired him they could have easily bought themselves a 75-85 point player.

Ray Whitney I have a big hunch Whitney simply stays in Carolina, that is unless someone over pays him to the tune of $5 million.  Either way the Penguins don’t have a shot at him in those scenarios.  The only glimmer of hope is if Pittsburgh really was one of the few teams if not the only team he wanted to go to at the deadline.  TSN speculated the above, which doesn’t count for everything but it counts for more than if it was speculated somewhere else.  The Penguins could realistically offer 2 years/$7.5 million but that’s about it.  Maybe $4 million a year if they’re desperate to have him, but under no circumstances will they give him more than two years anyways.

Chris Higgins This guy is a bum in my eyes but his name has brought up so I’ll do my due diligence.  He was once an up and comer for Montreal, scoring 20, 22, and 27 goals in consecutive seasons.  Then something, we have no idea what, happened.  He only scored 12 goals the next year but it was in 57 games, yet Montreal still dumped him to the Rangers.  Since then he’s only played 61 games this past season (in the midst of being traded again) and registered 8 total goals.  There may be something there, and he would come for next to nothing, but it seems to me like there’s something about him where GMs know to stay away.  Plus I don’t think the Penguins can afford for him to be thrown in to the top six and completely bust, no matter how interesting some may think he is.

Ilya Kovalchuk No.

Paul Kariya This is a player of……curiosity to me.  He’s nearing the end of the road but still has the wheels, the creative mind, and the hands.  Injury problems are a fallacy, as he had one serious injury last year but has otherwise been in the lineup for the entire latter part of his career.  18 goals in 75 games is somewhat worrisome, but with the Blues going with so much youth it’s not a surprise to me that Kariya’s numbers were underwhelming.  He will have to take a hefty pay cut from the $6 million he’s currently making, and with the $4 million mark being reserved for substantial players I think he will be pegged by someone for $3 million a year or less if there isn’t much interest.  Verrrrry interesting.

Fredrik Modin He’s older than I thought (36), but I think he’s still worth taking a long look at.  He was never anything great, but was a good second line player for Tampa.  Then he went to Columbus to die under Hitchcock.  What intrigues me is what happened afterwards:  He was traded to the Kings and seemed rejuvenated, making key contributions.  He definitely won’t make over $3 million like he has been, so a one year deal worth $2 million or less is a possiblity.

Alex Tanguay Probably one of the riskiest propositions here, it’s hard to tell what Tanguay’s story is.  He’s got a lot of talent, but is he just getting bored of the game?  10 goals in a full season last year?  Less than 20 in every year since ’06-’07?  I don’t get it, I really don’t.  He was soft as butter on the Avalanche but skilled as all hell.  If I’m using my head and not my heart I would stay away unless he’s forced to take $1 million or less as Afinogenov was last summer.  I also wouldn’t be surprised if the lights come on somewhere else and he puts up 60 points.  You just don’t know.

Raffi Torres He was a possible interest at the trade deadline, but apparently it was best to stay away (he did nothing for the Sabres).  He’s somewhat affordable at what will probably be $2.5 million, but other than that we’re probably in Dupuis territory here.  A slightly better, more physical Dupuis, but still one Dupuis is probably more than enough.

Pavol Demitra He’ll be taking a pay cut for certain ($4 million) and he’s a bit of an enigma.  He was hurt for most of this year, but 20 goals and 53 points in 69 games last year says there’s still life left in his 35 year old body.  Nevertheless I would stay away unless the price comes down dramatically.

Owen Nolan Hear me out.  At 39 I seriously think he can still play.  16 goals and 33 points on a Wild team that is devoid of offensive flare is not that bad all things considered.  He either won’t get signed at all or he’ll be had for less than $1 million.  I wouldn’t say I’d even consider him an option in the summer but if he hangs around past the start of the season, he could set the locker room straight if need be and probably do a few things on the ice.

Lee Stempniak I’m cautious about putting Stempniak on this list for two reasons:  He’s had an up and down career so far and he might command too much money because of his rebirth in Phoenix after being traded.  He should be in the Penguins price range, but probably won’t be due to having scored 28 goals in the most recent regular season.

Colby Armstrong Just no.  I like Colby actually, but unless the plan is to go with 4 wingers just like he and Kunitz then I say forget it.  I have no idea how he makes $2.4 million and I have a hard time saying he deserves any kind of raise.  Strange things happen in Atlanta I guess.

Todd Bertuzzi Some will say I’m nuts, but I would pounce on Bertuzzi the moment the Penguins aren’t able to get their primary free agent targets, whoever they may be.  It might be another case of living in the past, but he scored 18 goals on Detroit this year and I don’t think he’d do any worse here.  Plus the guy has size and isn’t slow considering that size.  My opinion is he’s at the top of the second tier in terms of wingers the Penguins can afford, but that doesn’t necessarily make it fact.

Maxim Afinogenov Talk about a wild card.  No one wanted him last year because he’s flaky as hell, so Atlanta signed him for next to nothing and he registers 24 goals and 61 points.  I think it’s impossible to tell what he’ll get in free agency.  I suppose if someone believes in him $3 million is possible.  To me the Penguins should call and offer him $2 million per year for two years as soon as the clock strikes and free agency starts.  Sell the fact that the money is good, he’d be on a great team, and the whole free agency thing would be over with.  I’m sure his agent would have other ideas but this is just about the best you’re going to realistically get out of this crop in my opinion.  I actually think he played pretty well with Malkin in the Olympics for what that’s worth.

Tomas Holmstrom Here’s another head scratcher.  I think his skills would be an absolute boon to this team, but at 38 years old?  I just don’t know, I just…..don’t……know.  It’s a risky proposition, but if it worked out it would be just what the doctor ordered for this group of forwards and in front of the net on the power play, where Holmstrom has terrorized opposing teams for years and years.  He makes $2.25 million currently, so a raise to $3 million or so will probably be too rich for Shero’s blood anyways when you consider his age as well.

Alexander Frolov Frolov has eclipsed 20 goals and scored 30 a couple of those times in five of the last six years.  He only had 19 this past year, which is hard to figure out but there it is.  I want him.  His cap hit is at $2.9 million, but the “what have you done for me lately” attitude that seems to rule the free agent market might get the Penguins in the mix at a fair price.  This one will depend entirely on the interest of the rest of the league, and it would take a little luck to land him, but I think it would be a dynamite acquisition.

Marek Svatos This guy misses 20 games a year about as consistently as possible (I hear he mentors Kennedy in the offseason), so I’m loathe to the idea of signing him.  His goal totals the past few years are as follows:  32, 15, 26, 14, and 7.  Of course missing games every year will do that to you.  Even at a young age (27) Svatos shouldn’t be considered in my opinion.  The Penguins are in “win now” mode and don’t have the depth to replace a relied upon goal scorer for a period of time, and it’s not even certain Svatos is such a player.

DEFENSEMEN

Anton Volchenkov I’ll just get this one out of the way first.  I don’t think there’s any chance he comes here and I also think if you crunch the numbers it’s sort of an impossiblity in realistic terms.  Volchenkov will command $4.5 million per year and possibly more if the bidding gets out of hand.  He’s exactly what the Penguins need on defense and in their own end, but it’s not going to happen.

Pavel Kubina Kubina’s $5 million contract is an old relic from the John Ferguson Jr. days in Toronto, when everyone that could put on a pair of skates and not fall down was buying a 4th, 5th, and 6th house.  He won’t be making that much next year and by a good bit in my estimation.  He’s good for 35-40 points a year, but what his +/- will be at the end of a given season is impossible to know.  Not worth the risk for what will probably be a $3-$3.5 million defenseman.

Paul Martin He would be an ideal and somewhat affordable replacement for Gonchar, but getting him here is another story.  His cap number is currently $3.83 million and other teams will certainly offer him $4.25 mil and probably slightly above without hesitation.  Also, with Ilya Kovalchuk probably going to the highest bidder the Devils all of a sudden have money to keep players like this.

Willie Mitchell I think he’s a defensive stalwart and would be that second physical guy the Penguins need on the blue line.  He currently makes $3.5 million so if someone wants him badly enough he’ll get a raise, although it’s possible he’s maxed himself out salary-wise so there’s a chance he’ll last a week or two in free agency and have to take a bit of a pay cut.  Only in that scenario would the Penguins be a possible suitor.

Side note:  Looking through this list I notice Mike Rathje made $3.5 million on the Flyers this year.  Can’t stop laughing, although that’s money the Flyers will no doubt use to their benefit next year.

Ruslan Salei Salei is 36 years old and might not have much left.  He’ll probably ditch the Avalanche, who won’t dare give him a raise on his $3 million salary, only to find out no one else wants him either.  Could be a one year stop gap solution for $1 million or so.

Joe Corvo Much of Corvo’s game simply makes me go “ewwww” and the Penguins would also have another puckmover without much muscle, so it’s probably best to stay away.  There’s a chance he won’t get a raise though so if the defense is bolstered with another Orpik-style player he may be worth taking a shot at in the worst case scenario.  I understand why many hate Corvo, but the one thing I’ll say about him is this:  You know how everyone talks about how guys like Letang and Goligoski move the puck up ice?  Corvo actually does it all the time, not just whenever it comes to mind.

Dennis Seidenberg I honestly know nothing about this guy but he’s going to make no more than $3 million next year no matter who signs him so he’s worth mentioning.  If you know more about him than I do then good on you.

Dan Hamhuis This guy was a high draft pick that seems to be in the typical Eaton/Nashville mold with maybe a little more offensive ability.  I’m not sure what a lot of people see in him to be honest and he’ll be making something like $2.5 million so taking a leap of faith I would say he’s overrated and stay away.

Garnet Exelby I’m a fan of this guy.  He’s essentially Orpik but smaller, yet tougher.  He’s still a bit young and can be a little flaky at times, but he’ll probably go for about $2 million and I think he’s a legitimate option for the Penguins.

Milan Jurcina Another guy I think would be a great fit.  He’s huge and while I can’t deny the Penguins torched him in last year’s playoffs, he was the leader of Slovakia’s defense in the Olympics and looked very good.  He’s the closest thing to Hal Gill you’re going to get aside from Gill himself, although admittedly he’s not nearly as smart as Gill.

Andreas Lilja Lilja is a defensive defenseman that’s had a long run with Detroit.  That’s really enough for me if you’re talking about pairing him with a younger defenseman.  At 35 and in a new system even a two year deal has some risk involved, but he could be had for probably around $1.5 million (makes $1.25 now).  Definitely wouldn’t give him a ton of minutes though as with Lidstrom and Rafalski being in Detroit it’s hard to say if he would perform well.

Zbynek Michalek For my money this is the guy the Penguins want.  I can only go by information I’ve gathered (the Coyotes aren’t exactly on in prime time every night), but here’s the deal:  He’s right handed, he’s 27 years old, he doesn’t take many penalties, he’s had some good plus/minuses in previous years with Phoenix.  He also currently only makes $1.25 million per year.  I guess I’m a little off my rocker to be so certain of a guy I’ve pretty much never seen play, but I had pinpointed him as a trade possibility 3-4 years ago and since then I’ve tried to get as much sense as possible about him.  My conclusion is that someone will double his salary in the offseason and he could very well reach $3 million per year.  I honestly would take him for that.  If nothing else just call it a hunch I guess.

Francis Bouillon He only makes $750k and would be a cheap option to pair with Lovejoy.  Worst case scenario he becomes the 7th defenseman.  At the age of 35 the risk is still almost none.

Chris Chelios I really hope you’ve caught on by now!

Brett Lebda Another Red Wing that might be edged out by the salary cap, Lebda fits the 7th Dman role pretty well if Shero was looking for an experienced NHLer.  He and Bouillon would probably make a combined $1.5 million.

Well that’s about it as far as free agents in my opinion.  I don’t think it’s a great group, but there should be enough there for the Penguins to fill the holes they need and spend what money they do have to spend.  It’s very hard to be picky when you can’t really go above $3 million at most for one player and it’s very easy to scoff at a list like this, but this is the cap era and the Penguins have some big time contracts that take up a lot of room.  There might also be a name or two out there that others think are viable options, this is just a personal list of who I think is realistic.  Still like I said if Shero gets a good sense of who will be scooped up and who will last awhile I think there’s enough “depth” in this free agent pool to get some complimentary players.  Who they might be will just depend on how many teams are willing to overpay for mid- to low-range talents and in contrast, how many teams will be reasonable, paving the way for the Penguins to easily acquire some names on their list.

Western Conference Predictions

September 24, 2009 4 comments

It’s that time of the year for speculation and intrigue so let’s check out who I think will end up where in the Western Conference:

1.  San Jose Sharks  I really do think they’ll end up here, the question is will it matter?  The Sharks love to tear it up in the regular season, but like captain Joe Thornton they wilt come playoff time.  To be honest not much has changed, but the acquisition of Dany Heatley will ensure the Sharks will light the lamp even more so than usual this year.  They also have the defense and goaltending to keep a level playing field.

2.  Chicago Blackhawks  They’re not as flashy as they’re hyped to be, but with Marian Hossa on board (albeit after he recovers from surgery) the Hawks have talent young and old and that should secure them the #2 playoff spot.  I’m not a huge fan of Christobal Huet in net, but with Hossa and a long list of piquing young players (Toews, Kane, Keith, Seabrook, Barker), Chicago should have plenty of strengths elsewhere to overcome any shaky goaltending.

3.  Calgary Flames  Many are picking Vancouver for this spot, and it’s certainly a more stable pick.  I’m going to spice it up a bit and pick Calgary, but not just for the sake of controversy.  The acquisition of Jay Bouwmeester automatically elevates their defense corps to borderline elite status.  He plays in all situations and plays well in all of them.  Everyone dismisses the deal for Olli Jokinen, but with a full year to get comfortable and with his nemesis Mike Keenan out of the picture, he and Iginla could be explosive.  Kiprusoff’s constant regression is my only worry.

4.  Detroit Red Wings  With Hossa departing to a division rival on the rise combined with the aging of some key Red Wings, I can’t put Detroit any higher than this.  They have a way of being one of those “I told you so” teams but I’ll chance it.  Nik Lidstrom looked good, not great probably for the first time in his career in last year’s playoffs.  Brian Rafalski looked the same.  All of a sudden the Wings have an above average team, nothing more.  Not that that spells doom or anything.  They’ll still be competitive, but I think they’re past being able to work miracles.

5.  Vancouver Canucks  Without a division crown the ‘Nucks are relegated here.  There’s a lot of things I like about their team though.  Their goaltending and defense are impeccable, however the catch is that with Mats Sundin gone all of a sudden there is a huge hole in their forward roster.  The first line is special, especially with Burroes who I love, skating with the Sedin twins.  After that there isn’t much though.

6.  Anaheim Ducks  The Ducks are slotted nicely here, but it’s probably by default.  There are some decent teams below them, but not of the same caliber.  Some top end talent (Getzlaf, Perry, Ryan) vaults the Ducks over some other respectable opponents, but they’ll again have to rely on their horses if they expect to get anywhere.  For now the Pronger deal drastically downgraded their talent level, and I’m not one who shares the opinion that Scott Niedermayer hasn’t lost anything.  They’re very much like the Canucks, but their defense is a little ho-hum for them to make a lot of noise.

7.  Dallas Stars  I almost forgot about them.  The Stars, like the Ducks, will end up here pretty much by default.  They have good talent with Turco, Richards, the improving young D corps and young talent at wing in Neal and Eriksson.  They were decimated by injuries this year but they’re certainly good enough to land here.

8.  Columbus Blue Jackets  It’s been a slow, arduous process, but the Blue Jackets seem to be moving in the right direction.  There wasn’t much to write home about until last year, but Columbus has finally sprinkled in some other talent to make it all work cohesively.  They have a tough, underrated defense and the forwards are a solid group (again, finally) which all together should mark another spectacular season for Steve Mason, and another playoff birth.

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9.  St. Louis Blues  I think Nashville makes the most sense here, but something about the high-flying youth of the Blues tells me otherwise.  There was something refreshing about so many young players pinning their ears back and going for broke.  Chris Mason had a very good season as well, and as long as he can have a similar campaign I think the Blues will narrowly miss the playoffs led by Oshie, Backes, Boyes, Berglund, and Erik Johnson (remember   him?).

10.  Nashville Predators  On paper this team looks fairly good to me every year but they never deliver much, just flashes.  Now they’re just average.  Their defense is good enough, if not a little lacking at the bottom.  Forwards are just okay as well, and giving Steve Sullivan too much money doesn’t help.  Pekka Rinne looks like a starting-caliber goaltender, but it’s just never been the same since Tomas Vokoun left.

11.  Edmonton Oilers  I don’t really think any team at this point deserves to be even this high, but the Oilers just might.  They have enough legitimate players, they’re just not all that great.  Horcoff, Penner, Sam Gagne, Robert Nilsson, Grebeschkov, the list goes on.  All these players would be fine in supporting roles on other teams, but Nikolai Khabibulin won’t be enough for them to contend for anything this year.

12.  Minnesota Wild  Overhauling the front office and coaching staff was a good move, because they tried things Jacques Lemaire’s way and were too slow to change after, costing them a few years.  Unfortunately they don’t have the personnel to play a Penguins-influenced style.  Havlat takes Gaborik’s place as best player most likely to get injured, I like Sheppard and Burns as good, young players, and the goaltending is very good, but that’s all.  Cliff Fletcher has some work to do before anyone can take them seriously.

13. Los Angeles Kings  I’ve been a huge fan of what the Kings have done in the last few years.  Think of them like the Penguins or Caps with slower developing talent, but more of it all around.  This summer they added Ryan Smyth and Rob Scuderi who will really help teach these young players.  In total the Kings have 9-10 players you need to familiarize yourself with.  Don’t take your eye off them; in 3-4 years they’ll be contending.

14.  Colorado Avalanche  Joe Sakic’s gone, handing over the reigns of the team to Paul Stastny.  That’s not a bad thing but the rest of the roster is.  Hejduk is done, Wolski looks like he won’t pan out, and the defense is filled with has-beens.  3rd overall pick Matt Duchene could be playing second line center if he impresses early.

15.  Phoenix Coyotes  At first I thought their financial woes were the reason everyone had them in the basement, then I saw their roster.  Aside from Shane Doan, your go to guys include Matthew Lombardi, Scottie Upshall, and Petr Prucha.  They have some young talent on defense (Z. Michalek, Yandle) and goaltending is okay, but look at their prospect pool and wonder, as I am, what the hell they’ve been doing for the past 5-7 years.