Free Agent Focus: Mark Eaton

Part of an ongoing series that looks at potential free agents on the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Mark Eaton
Penguin since: 2006
Cap Hit [Cap Geek]: $2 Million/season
2009-2010 Stats []:
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Ray Shero definitely likes Mark Eaton.  In 2000, Shero was assistant GM for the Nashville Predators when the team made a trade with Philadelphia to acquire Eaton.  Shero then signed Eaton as a free agent to the Penguins in 2006.
Eaton has played in Pittsburgh for four seasons.  He's not the kind of player that usually stands out.  Rarely will he deliver a big hit like Brooks Orpik.  Even more rarely will he show offensive talent like Kris Letang, Sergei Gonchar or Alex Goligoski.  That's exactly what makes Eaton valuable.
On a team filled with more offensive defensemen than defensive ones, Eaton leans towards the defensive side of the game.  That makes him an important player in Pittsburgh.  That also means he'll likely receive offers from a couple of other teams if he becomes a free agent.

Last year Mark Eaton played 79 games.  It was the closest he ever came to a full NHL season.  In the other three years he's played with the Pens, he's played 35, 36 and 68 games a year.  A $2 million cap hit for a player that usually misses significant time may be a little much for the Penguins.
However, the Penguins defensive line-up will likely change a great deal next season.  Along with Eaton, Sergei Gonchar, Jordan Leopold and Jay McKee could all be free agents on July 1st.  Re-signing Eaton would provide some stability to a blue line that will look much different in October than it did in May.
Out of the defensemen that could be leaving Pittsburgh in July, Mark Eaton may be the most likely to return.
Next time: Matt Cooke