Tuesdays With Stoosh: 7.12

Everyone: Do you know us?  We’re a National Hockey League team!
Jovanovski: But since we haven’t been to the playoffs in more than 10 years, nobody recognizes us – not even in our own hometown.
Versteeg: That’s why we carry the American Express Card.
Upshall: No matter how far behind the Caps and Lightning we are, it’s cool. It keeps us from getting shut out at our favorite hotels and restaurant-type places.
Campbell: So if you’re looking for some big-league clout, apply for that little green goal-scorer…and I don’t mean Mike Santorelli.
Fleischmann: Look what it’s done for us! People STILL don’t recognize us, but…
OK, sorry. I saw the above image on Puck Daddy and just couldn’t help it. Major League was the first thing that came to mind.
So after the free agency waters calmed and it became apparent that the bulk of the movement was over, I spent a little bit of time looking over the Pens page on Capgeek. A few things immediately stood out.
= THANK GOD Shero chose to address re-making the defense LAST summer and not this summer. Can’t help but think that was at least in part by design, as he’s mentioned it in some media appearances over the last week. Then again, King Shero may just like patting himself on the back a little, too. But why not? Last year, $9 million in cap space netted Shero Zbynek Michalek and Paul Martin. This year, he kicked back, lit up a stogie, poured out a pina colada and laughed it up with the rest of management as they saw what $9.5 million in cap space got – Christian Ehrhoff and James Wisniewski.
= It’s been a year, and I’m still amazed that Shero got Matt Cooke at a cap hit of $1.4 million a year, while Toronto – which didn’t need to overspend on players to get to the salary floor – dropped $3 million a year on Colby Armstrong. I’m a huge fan of Armstrong, and I thought that was crazy.
= Fast-forward to this year. Emo McPhee decided to commit $3 million a year for each of the next four years to Joel Ward. Joel Ward’s a nice player to have on your team. 10 goals and 19 assists last year (admittedly down from 13-21-34 the year before). Physical guy. Hard worker. He’s a good glorified role player.
By comparison, though, Shero managed to bring back Tyler Kennedy and Pascal Dupuis on two-year deals for a total of $3.5 million a year in cap space. That’s 21-goal, 45-point Tyler Kennedy and 17-goal, 37-point Pascal Dupuis. Shero got two players who are already known commodities within this system for a fraction over what Washington committed to a very similar player.
The reason I bring this up? Not to poke fun at McPhee – although another image of him staring blankly off into space, wondering how it went wrong is certainly welcome. 
I say this because of what really stood out to me on the Capgeek Pens page. Namely, this…
= While this has become an NHL where Ilya Bryzgalov & Christian effing Ehrhoff are now getting ten-year contracts, there isn’t a player on this Pens team signed beyond the 2014-15 season. That may not be a bad thing.
Time, they say, she flies when you’re having fun. Yesterday was four years to the day that Crosby kicked this whole parade off by signing the very contract that’s paying him right now (July 11, 2007). From that point, Shero has set about assembling a core group that has seen four playoff runs, three 100-point regular seasons, two Cup Finals appearances and one Stanley Cup. That’s a great run. Realistically speaking, you really can’t ask for much more than that. 
But remember when felt like it would be years before we ever had to think about contract extensions for guys like Crosby, Malkin, Staal and Fleury?  Well, guess what? Those days are knocking on the door and will be here in less than a calendar year.
Current CBA rules state that a team cannot begin negotiating an extension with a player until the summer before the final year of his current deal begins.
That means Shero’s next three summers are going to be awfully, awfully busy, as each year he’ll have at least one member of the team’s central core up for new deals.  Here’s how it shakes out:
July 1, 2012 = Crosby & Staal can open extension talks
July 1, 2013 = Malkin, Orpik & Letang can open extension talks
July 1, 2014 = Fleury can open extension talks
So maybe it’s a good thing that this summer has been a relatively dead, uneventful one for Pens fans. The next three summers will be much, much different animals. 
And yes, the thought of where some of this could go makes me want to puke, too. When it gets bad, just do what I do and look at the photo of the Florida Panthers at the top of this post. Or go back and re-read the 2011 chapter of “Paul Holmgren: What the F*&k Was I Thinking?”
This all illustrates a method to Shero’s madness.
This is where secondary deals like getting Kennedy and Dupuis to take less money and term than what they’d get on the open market add up.
This is where bringing back Arron Asham for half the cost and 1/3 the years that it would’ve taken to keep Mike Rupp adds up.
This is why a one-year shot at Steve Sullivan for $1.5 million makes a thousand times more sense over the next three years than competing for the likes of Ville Leino or Michael Ryder ever would have made.
Draft and develop. Build a system of depth and trade from strengths in the system to fill needs that emerge at the highest levels. DON’T commit to lengthy deals unless it makes absolute sense.
All of that amounts to money saved for when it does make the most sense – when it becomes time to lock up your franchise players. Like next summer. July 1, 2012.