Penguins 2013 Free Agent Rundown
With the Penguins’ season ending earlier than any of us would have liked, we can at least take a little bit of comfort in the fact that the offseason is compressed and we won’t have to wait as long for NHL news. With the NHL Entry Draft coming up on June 30th, Jesse is hard at work on his draft preview material. Unfortunately, the Penguins don’t have a pick until the third round, 97th overall, after trading away some future for a few rental players and a Cup run.
Now most of those rental players and a handful of mainstays are poised to the hit free agent market on July 5th. Here’s a rundown of whose contracts will expire and what situations they face as the start of the new league year approaches.
Easily the biggest name on this list, the future Hall of Fame winger was brought in to shore up the Penguins’ perennially-doubted top 6 group of forwards. Iggy had a very good postseason, scoring 12 points in 15 games, or 12 points in the 11 games they played before Boston shut down everything. The veteran former captain has publicly said he’d like to return to Pittsburgh, but that’s what players always say. Still, Iginla is certainly known for his team loyalty in Calgary, where he turned down the option to move to a contender seemingly every year until he finally joined the Penguins at the 2013 deadline. If I had to guess, I would think he comes back for another shot at the Cup, but he’ll have to accept a bit less financial compensation to do so.
Pascal Dupuis has been the Penguins’ secret weapon for a little while. Now the centerpiece of what was formerly known as the Hossa trade, Dupuis has been the one to develop excellent chemistry with Sidney Crosby. Not everyone can keep up with Sid, be ready for a pass at all times from anywhere on the ice, and have the hands to finish the play. At 34 years old, Dupuis should be declining, but he isn’t. Since being a popular whipping boy for fans (back when everyone still had high hopes for Tyler Kennedy), Dupuis has managed to turn himself into a 40-goal threat (projecting from his absurd scoring pace in this shortened regular season) and could be in line for a massive pay day. I’m not one to put much stock into the “hometown discount” because anyone can be had for the right money, but much like having a breakout season in the mid-30s, nothing about Dupuis really seems ordinary. Working in favor of retaining him: Dupuis has commented in the past on how much he loves his neighborhood, the school his children are enrolled in, and even the babysitter he and his wife trust. Dupuis also isn’t a fool, and he knows that much of his success can be attributed to Sidney Crosby. If he wants to chase a higher payday elsewhere, he knows he likely won’t replicate his on-ice production with the Penguins. He’s definitely going to get a raise, but all the evidence points to him accommodating the Penguins’ salary cap situation as best he can for the opportunity to stay in Pittsburgh.
Matt Cooke is an intriguing case from a free agency perspective. He’s an effective bottom-six forward, a reliable penalty killer, and is coming off a good playoff performance even on a team that fell apart towards the end of the road. The other factor in play is that Cooke is blacklisted by many NHL teams for his past transgressions on the ice. From a blindside hit on Marc Savard that changed the rules of hockey (although didn’t end Savard’s career, contrary to popular opinion; Savard was put out indefinitely by a hit from Colorado’s Matt Hunwick) to an international incident involving a skate blade and Erik Karlsson’s ankle, there are some places Matt Cooke simply can’t go. But while he is notorious for some questionable physicality throughout his career, that hasn’t stopped players like Raffi Torres or Patrick Kaleta from finding work, and it won’t stop Cooke. He has a place in an organization that has supported him through some difficult times in his career recently, but he’s also earned his money and may get a bigger paycheck from a team looking to get grittier in the offseason. Sure, it would be nice to keep Cooke, but if it comes down to Cooke or Dupuis in terms of who to retain, I expect they’ll go with Sidney Crosby’s running mate.
Morrow joined the Penguins when Shero got the Plan B for Jarome Iginla at the trade deadline a few days before he got Plan A. Morrow, once a dynamic power forward, has seen his game deteriorate in the twilight of his career and was relegated to the fourth line by the end of the postseason. While he is still capable of playing an effective physical game and while he had a strong run late in the regular season, I think Morrow is facing long odds to return to the Penguins. He’ll still command more money than the average bottom-six forward in the NHL and the Penguins are closing in on a salary crunch in the next two years, so Morrow will likely market his captain’s pedigree and physical presence on the open market. Although if Jarome Iginla moves on, Morrow’s chances of returning are probably higher.
Kennedy has been a mainstay with the Penguins for several years as an energy forward on the third line who can chip in 10-15 goals and generally shows up in the playoffs. The problem with Kennedy is that when he gets away from that gritty, in-your-face forechecking style and fancies himself as a top-line goalscorer, he becomes ineffective. The fact that he doesn’t kill penalties certainly won’t help him, and Jussi Jokinen’s presence in Pittsburgh probably spells the end for Tyler Kennedy.
Craig Adams is your typical 4th line grinder who’s great on the penalty kill. He re-signs for close to the veteran minimum every year and there’s no reason to expect that to change.
“Crankshaft” was the hulking, physical defenseman the Penguins have lacked since Hal Gill’s departure. Much like Gill though, Murray looks like he’s skating in molasses out on the ice. His physical presence is a good asset for any defensive corps, but it’s hard to imagine he’ll be a priority to re-sign, particularly if Simon Despres and Robert Bortuzzo are expected to play next season.
Mark Eaton came to Wilkes-Barre in 2013 to try and prove he could still play professional hockey at a high level. He did. The Penguins signed him to a quick, cheap contract and Eaton became the Mark Eaton we all know and love, a quiet veteran defender who was doing his best work when you never heard his name. At times, he was a stabilizing force in his own zone. At times, he was an old defenseman still trying to hang with stars in the NHL. As time goes on, he’ll be more the latter than the former, and while his service record speaks well of him, his future isn’t so bright. I’d be surprised to see him come back, but it’s possible that he has another year in the tank.
Reese played a couple of games for his hometown Penguins but spent the bulk of the year taking care of things in Wilkes-Barre. Despite the logjam of defensemen in the organization, it wouldn’t be terribly surprising to see Reese give an actual hometown discount to the Penguins’ organization for a chance to take a spot on the major league roster in training camp.
Many Penguins fans thought Brad Thiessen was dead in the water after a few underwhelming performances in Pittsburgh and losing starts to Jeff Zatkoff in the minors. Thiessen took his lumps and eventually took over the starting job for the baby Penguins into the postseason, where his crowning achievement was shutting down the Providence Bruins as the team overcame a 3-0 series deficit to win four straight and advance to the next round. Granted, they were lit up against the Syracuse Crunch, but at least one goalie in the organization can say he shut down the Bruins and carried his team to an improbable series win. Eric Hartzell’s presence may complicate things, as he’s an RFA and the Penguins would obviously like to get the talented goaltender integrated into the system next year.
I’ll be floored if Dustin Jeffrey wants to return to Pittsburgh next year. He’s a reasonably talented player with a great minor league resume, but has been forced out of the Penguins’ lineup at every possible opportunity, it seems. I have to imagine he’ll want to play somewhere that he can actually get on the ice, though as an RFA the Penguins hold all the cards.
Like Dustin Jeffrey, Robert Bortuzzo could make an excellent case for wanting to get ice time somewhere else. He has the assets to be a physical, shutdown defenseman in the NHL, but with Deryk Engelland under contract (and an inexplicable tendency for Dan Bylsma to play him) and the potential for Douglas Murray to return, Bortuzzo may again be relegated to the press box, where young players can’t develop. He’s a restricted free agent though, so the Penguins have leverage to keep him in Pittsburgh at least until Deryk Engelland is gone.
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