He's banged out beastly Homer-esque comments with a high level of consistency.
The ice has melted at the Igloo for the last time. The banners have been taken down, ready to be moved across the street. The Blackhawks have clinched the Western Conference and the Hossa jokes are already old. The only thing more nauseating is the thought of the Philadelphia Flyers lifting the Cup. To top it off, local Pittsburgh sports media are doing their best to crap all over your summer.
It’s been the Offseason of Suck so far here, so we’re gonna shake things up a little bit this week. I’m enlisting the help of fellow c-blogger Raybin and we spent some time over the last several days playing Ray Shero. We tried to have some fun with this, but wanted to be at least somewhat realistic, too. What you’ll read below are our “discussions”…
STOOSH: The Pens defense of the Stanley Cup came to a crashing halt about two weeks ago at the hands of the Montreal Canadiens and already the rumor mill is off like a pair of Ben Roethlisberger's pants in a ladies bathroom. This was bound to happen to some degree, as the rumor mill churns up any time a team’s season ends.
This “Trade Malkin” talk is another column for another day. Penguins GM Ray Shero probably chooses not to involve himself with matters that aren’t borne under the influence of peyote, so you’ll find no talk of shopping Geno here; if fact, quite the opposite as you’ll soon see.
So, Mr. Raybin, I ask you to please take over Ray Shero's office for the next few weeks. Where the hell do you start?
RAYBIN: First thing I'd have to do in stepping into Ray Shero's office is adjust to having my balls suddenly turn into giant brass spheres. Sitting in that chair confers magical powers upon you. Or so runs my dream. Second thing would be to send FedEx packages of dog crap to all Pittsburgh media types and that joke from the Hockey News.
Before I start looking at free agents or prospective trades, I'd have to put my own house in order. That means making decisions about impending free agents. Let's say Guerin saves me a difficult decision and retires. I'd call the following guys into my office, shake their hands and wish them the best: Fedotenko (not enough production), Ponikarovsky (started out well, but just didn't work out), McKee (same as Poni), Eaton (age, cap considerations, NHL ready dmen waiting in WBS), and Gonchar (age, cap number, noticeable decline as season went on.)
Next, I'd be on the phone with the agents for Cooke and Leopold. Cooke has earned himself an extension for many reasons–agitator, penalty killer, underrated ability to score–and I think you could even give him a small raise without hurting your cap considerations too greatly. Dupuis makes $1.4 million as a rock solid role player and paying Cooke the same seems fair. Next, Leopold played well enough to earn himself another year or two with the team, provided he can be had at his current number ($1.75 million). Seeing as to how he's been traded three times in 2 years (Colorado to Calgary, Calgary to Florida, Florida to Pittsburgh), I don't know if he'd have a stream of GMs beating a path to his door bearing suitcases laden with cash. Shouldn't be a difficult thing.
That only leaves me with four defensemen under contract. One problem is easy to solve: Ben Lovejoy. He's a UFA and 100 percent NHL ready. Once he's signed, sealed and delivered (I envision something like a 3 year/4 million dollar deal, with a 1.333 cap hit), it's time to turn the attention to that sixth and final spot. As I see it, that spot should be reserved for someone big and nasty because God knows the one thing we can all agree on right now is that the Pens need more toughness on the blueline. Two names come to mind, one in house and one not.
Deryk Engelland is the in-house name, and his recent signing pretty much puts him in the top seven. He showed some nice skills and good physicality in his time up from WBS last season. He's also 28, so he pretty much needs to be brought up to the NHL now or else be written off as a lifetime minor leaguer.
The other, more established name is Milan Jurcina. He's a big, nasty presence that can patrol the front of the net and clear out interlopers. He'd be more expensive than Engelland, but not back-breakingly so. Can't see him costing more than 1.6 million, which is a modest raise from his current amount.
My personal philosophy is to always try to promote from within, so I'd be inclined to lean toward Engelland. I'd have to take a long, hard look at Jurcina though.
After a brisk morning of that, I'd get down to forwards.
STOOSH: I agree that Matt Cooke has to be the top priority, at least internally. The Pens have no one in their immediate system like him and the last thing I’d want to see this summer is Cooke wind up on an Eastern Conference contender. This is an instance where I’d walk Cooke down to the trophy case, point to the Cup and say, "Do what you want, but realize that you're in an ideal spot here." I just hope three years at $1.5 or $2.0 million is enough.
Next up would be Gonchar but unfortunately, I think he’s gone. His age makes this his last chance to cash in and he’s going to want years and dollars that I’m just isn’t going to want to match. I’d offer him something honest, but knowing other teams can likely trump it, I thank him for his five years of service to the team once he signs elsewhere.
I’d then focus on Dan Hamhuis, but I’m afraid he garners a ton of interest once Volchenkov signs. I also like Zbynek Michalek out of Phoenix, a Czech version of Mark Eaton with a little more grit in his game. If Hamhuis or Michalek can’t be signed, I agree with retaining Jordan Leopold, especially given the knack he displayed for getting the puck to the net on the power play. He’s not Gonch, but he’s not bad.
I love the idea of bringing Milan Jurcina in as the 6/7 guy along with Derek Engelland. Engelland reminds me a bit of Bob Boughner with the nasty edge he brings. Jurcina is about as solid a physical presence as you could expect for a bargain player. Given that this is your 6/7 defenseman, it would be ludicrous to break the bank there. Jurcina here makes tons of sense.
Now back to the forwards. How the hell do we address this gaping hole at wing? The Habs series did prove it WAS possible to take away the middle of the ice and force the Pens wingers to beat them. Yes, Halak played his part, but everyone in front of his held up their end of the bargain for seven games and our lack of natural scoring depth there showed.
I need to bring someone in who is more of a threat to hit the corners rather than the crest on the goalie's jersey when they get chances. Yes, we have Tangradi, but he’s played one pro season. What if he’s not ready? If Uncle Billy comes back – which I don't expect him to – that means our top scoring threat on the wing turns 40 in November. Can this upgrade happen without trading Malkin or Staal?
RAYBIN: The situation on the wings looks harmless enough, but once you probe the surface, you find some deeper issues. You put your finger on the big one: the biggest scoring threat will be the hockey equivalent of a senior citizen less than halfway through the season, if he comes back at all.
I have few fears of Kunitz if he stays healthy. He played well enough down the stretch and though he is overpaid, some things can't be helped. After that, though, things are grim. Dupuis and Cooke are solid but are ultimately only role players. Kennedy was very disappointing this year, Rupp is a 4th liner, Godard is part of a dying & increasingly less useful breed, Talbot is inconsistent and Feds & Poni are likely gone. So, what then?
A glance at the numbers tells me that Chicago will be about $600,000 dollars over the cap for next year once Kane and Toews' new deals kick in with the just the players they have signed now. They have a TON of important players coming up for extensions like Niemi,
Hjarmarlsson, and Ladd. Junior Bowman is frankly going to have to bend over and take it this summer from other GMs. He might be able to foist the albatross contract of Campbell off on Atlanta (who very nearly signed him in the first place) but I have a hard time believing anyone will take Huet's contract off his hands. He's the Wade Redden of goalies…but I digress.
The point is, Bowman is probably gonna have to move some current important-but-not-critical assets at firesale prices around the time of the draft. An overextended GM who might be willing to bargain? MAH GAWD, THAT'S RAY SHERO'S MUSIC.
So here's what I propose: Hawks get Tyler Kennedy, Max Talbot and Eric Godard; Pens get Kris Versteeg.
The Pens get a young winger who hasn't even begun to hit the heights of his potential yet. He's fast as shit, kills penalties and is already a proven 20 goal scorer. The Blackhawks get three awesome grinders for the lower lines to complement the high skill guys like Toews, Kane and Hossa. TK and Talbot have both shown the ability to fill in on the top two lines in a pinch. Talbot kills penalties and TK plays a great two-way game. Godard is actually what makes the deal work, though. If they had him, the Blackhawks could let the more expensive Ben Eager walk. Shedding Versteeg's and Eager's salaries and adding TK, Talbot and Godard would ultimately save them 1.5 million or so, and that's something they'd have to be interested in.
STOOSH: One thing to add quickly is that the Pens may not even need to move three roster guys to make a deal like that happen. If shedding salary is a necessity in Chicago, they may be just as inclined to take a draft pick or a prospect back in return, and their cap situation may seriously limit what they can demand.
RAYBIN: One final piece to the puzzle: that veteran presence and big body in Guerin will be missed. Assuming he can't be persuaded to return (this would be the preferable thing), there is a free agent out there who brings a lot of his qualities to the table. This guy has said he has one more good year left in him and more than anything wants to spend it contending for a Stanley Cup.
Nolan is not going to win that cup in Minnesota. He made 2.75 million last year. Let's assume the Pens nab him for a 1 year, 2.5 million dollar deal. You get a lot of Guerin's positive qualities and a highly-motivated, one-year solution until Tangradi is ready in 2011.
That’s the Versteeg/Nolan plan. I have another: the Neal Plan.
The Neal Plan goes back to an interesting tidbit Bob Pompeani dropped just before the trade deadline. Apparently the Stars had called inquiring after a young puck-moving defenseman, meaning Goligoski or Letang. Shero had said he would consider if the main return was James Neal. Given that nothing else has been said of the deal, it seems safe to conclude the Stars thanked Shero for his time and hung up. But I think it's worth revisiting the deal. In fact, it could kill two birds with one stone.
Mark Fistric is an intruiging guy. He's a big, nasty stay at home type that we are sorely lacking. His deal is also very cap-friendly. Dallas would probably loathe giving him up, but might for the right deal. Offering Letang or Goligoski along with the right draft pick(s), a prospect and a choice of guys like Dupuis, Talbot or Kennedy might be enough to snag both Neal and Fistric. At the least, I'd make the call to see if we can restart those discussions. Neal and Fistric are both young and already outstanding at what they do. At the least, Neal is an RFA this year; it might be worth tossing around the idea of an offer sheet.
STOOSH: The Neal/Fistric deal would make me damn near catatonic if it happened, but I'm afraid of what it may cost to get them both. Neal seems on the verge of becoming a huge part of that Dallas team's plans. Dallas may be more apt to deal a player like Jamie Benn, a young forward who scored 22 goals this past year, can play both wings and has a scoring touch that might be just a step down from Neal’s. He wouldn’t command quite as much as Neal would on the trade market.
As nice as it would be to use free agency to capture the same sort of winger we got when Petr Sykora came to town, the market just doesn’t seem to be there this year. It's ridiculously lean, to the point that Alexander Frolov starts to sound like a terrific option. I could kick the tires with a guy like Lee Stempniak. Frolov MIGHT be this year’s Maxim Afinogenov – a guy whose production dipped so far that he falls off the radar and is still there in August, waiting for a change of scenery. Then again, we just sailed that ship with Ponikarovsky. And speaking of Afinogenov, he could also be a low-cost, high-reward option given that he only carried an $800,000 cap hit last year.
But this is as good as it gets? Sheesh. If it's impact I really want, I may HAVE to go the trade route, and you know what that means.
No, not “Trade Malkin”. Shut up, Rossi.
Your plans are perfect example of how the wings can be strengthened without making all those Malkin jerseys in the stands obsolete. You either take advantage of teams looking to remake their rosters, or you take advantage of a team in cap hell. A tam dealing with cap issues is forced to deal established second-tier players and limits how much they can demand in return.
With that said, I’d also place a call to the West Coast – namely to Vancouver and San Jose. Vancouver’s got $48 million tied up in 17 roster spots. With Willie Mitchell looking at UFA status and Bieksa, Salo & Ehrhoff on tap for UFA next summer, they could use a young defenseman. I'd call Mike Gillis to see what it might take to pry someone Mason Raymond away. San Jose’s going to be an interesting case if they elect to remake that core.
As far as teams looking to remake their rosters, I’d call Peter Chiarelli in Boston about Marco Sturm and Blake Wheeler, Darcy Regier in Buffalo about Drew Stafford (rumored to be on the block there). I’d call whoever the GM is now in Columbus about R.J. Umberger. And I’d call old buddy Dave Tallon about Nathan Horton and Michal Frolik. We know he loves his offensive defensemen.
This summer is going to afford Shero a ton of options in terms of directions to take the team. Should they decide to move one of the younger, more integral parts of the core, guys like Neal, Benn, Raymond and Fistric highlight exactly the type of players they need to get in return.