Names: Craig Adams and Mark Eaton
Status: Unrestricted free agents beginning July 5
Expiring Contracts: Adams – 3 yrs/$675,000 cap hit | Eaton – 1 year/$725,000 cap hit
The Scoop: Both Craig Adams and Mark Eaton are crafty veteran role players who helped the Penguins win the Stanley Cup in 2009. They’ve lost a step or two, but at near-league-minimum salaries, both an be considered bargains for the 2013 shortened season. But will they be replaced by younger players with more of a future?

Matt Paul: Most felt the mid-season signing of Mark Eaton was an ill-advised, desperate attempt to bolster the Penguins blueline. Most were wrong. Eaton stepped in and played admirably for a player who went unsigned through the free agency period.

Adams, meanwhile, has been with the Penguins since being claimed off of waivers in 2009. He’s given consistent effort, albeit with terribly slow wheels, night in and night out, playing a crucial role on a penalty kill unit that has, for the most part, been impressive since his arrival.

Neither player is irreplaceable — far from it, actually, but both are nice depth guys to have around, and at their salaries, it could be difficult to find even rookies who play for so little. Zach, what are your thoughts on these vets?

Zach Boslett: Every offseason, I look at Craig Adams and I see a player that can’t shoot, has no hands, has no speed, can’t really fight, and does not bring much to the table outside the penalty kill. And once the season starts, Adams plods away, sacrifices his body and gives a solid 12 minutes per game with excellent penalty killing. How can you not want a guy with so much heart on this team? I would like to replace Adams with a younger player like Joe Vitale but Dan Bylsma has been reluctant to give Vitale much penalty killing time. A guy like Zach Sill could do what Adams does as well albeit with a little more snarl and a little more bite – maybe a good thing for a team with so much skill.

The addition of Jussi Jokinen adds a wrinkle to the yearly Adams debate. Jokinen can do everything that Adams can do except hit and Jokinen can contribute on faceoffs as well as on the powerplay. Jokinen’s flexibility may find him on the wing next year in the top 9 which may save Adams his job. Whatever happens with Adams, he is towards the end of his career and might be looking at 1 or 2 more seasons before hanging them up.

As for Eaton, I was shocked when the Penguins signed him. This is a guy who was not retained by the New York Islanders of all teams so he surely had nothing left in the tank? Right? Right?!

Wrong. Eaton came in and from his first game with the team solidified a penalty kill and provided a stay at home presence for an increasingly unpredictable Kris Letang. Say what you will about Letang, Eaton pairs well with him and if Letang stays in Pittsburgh this offseason Eaton could return with him as well.

On the other side of the coin, you have Despres, Bortuzzo, and potentially Dumoulin, Samuelsson and Harrington pushing for playing time as well. Is it worth bringing back an aging veteran with a significant injury history to this defensive core?

Joshua Neal: I expect Adams to be back if for no other reason than his cost-effectiveness. He hasn’t shown a lot of the wear that many guys his age probably should have. He is the kind of guy that helps the team in a lot of different ways, with his presence in the locker room being a largely overlooked one. One thing’s for sure, when he does retire, that Harvard degree in Economics could be put to good use resolving any future lockout possibilities.

I think Adams will continue to be used in the same ways, but I tend to agree that between Joe Vitale, Jussi Jokinen, and any combination of some grinders from the A, Adams is replaceable – he’s just not finished yet.

I was befuddled when Eaton was signed at first. Then I was befuddled at how good he was in his role with the Penguins this year. He will likely be back on the cheap if for no other reason than his ability to partner with Letang. Say what you will about Letang, but I wholeheartedly believe a lot of the struggles he does have are a result of not having a stable/steady partner. Eaton is a stalwart that lets Letang freelance and covers up his offensive expeditions.

With Despres ready to be a top-4 defensemen (according to Bylsma), you’ve got to think that Letang-Despres is going to be a work-in-progress throughout the season’s early stages. Despres pairs well with Letang (in theory) for the opposite reason – he forces Letang to play “like the veteran” of the pair. If Despres isn’t getting the job done, Eaton wouldn’t be a bad guy to keep in tow for Letang.

Predictions:
Matt: I see both players being retained for one year at bargain basement prices — maybe $650k-$675k per — freeing up cash to spend more on other, bigger needs.

Zach: I too expect both players to return but I expect Eaton to more often than not spend time in the press box only to be called on when injury or poor play strikes one of the higher upside defenseman.

Joshua: Both return on the cheap, but together they don’t play more than 50 games a piece this season.