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Before Friday the Pens must: Sign Dupuis, make a call on Kennedy, give Jagr an offer.

Free agency opens at noon on Friday, leaving the Penguins with four full days to figure out what can and cannot become of the roster they will take into training camp. Sure, moves will be made starting Friday and perhaps through camp, but these next four days are perhaps the most important of the Penguins’ offseason.

Consider the days leading up to the start of free agency last offseason, days during which GM Ray Shero concluded that neither of two targeted impending free agent defensemen (Sergei Gonchar and Dan Hamhuis) were likely to sign before exploring the open market. Reaching that conclusion allowed Shero to waste no time on July 1; he signed defensemen Zbynek Michalek and Paul Martin within the first three hours of the free-agency period – signings that dramatically revamped the Penguins’ defense corps and afforded Shero the rest of the offseason to add complementary parts for a club whose nucleus was intact.

The Penguins’ nucleus – Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal, Marc-Andre Fleury (and now Kris Letang can be considered part of that group) – remains intact for the upcoming season.  Those five players took the ice together for just two games last season, and still the squad assembled by Shero finished tied for the third most points in the NHL and without Crosby and Malkin forced a seventh game in a Round 1 Stanley Cup playoff series.

Presuming Crosby and Malkin return for training camp – this past season proved there are no guarantees – the Penguins will be among a handful of NHL teams labeled as Stanley Cup favorites. Some quick points as to why that is:

  • No NHL team will add to its lineup two better players than Crosby and Malkin, two former NHL scoring champions entering the primes, each a player likely to return highly motivated to rejoin the conversation about the planet’s best hockey player.
  • The return of Crosby and Malkin will make Staal, who played No. 1 center minutes and situations in their absence, a lot more of an impactful weapon. Instead of shouldering the load of carrying an offense, he can continue to grow offensively while he returns to focusing on the shutdown defense that made him a Selke Trophy finalist in his last healthy season (2009-10). Also, Staal will be coming off a limitless offseason, unlike the last one during which he could not train because of lingering issues from a 2010 postseason surgery to repair a torn right tendon. The Staal that shows this season should be the one that finally starts to blossom as the Penguins’ expect. Given the circumstances of last season that was never going to be the case.
  • James Neal, acquired last season when Crosby and Malkin were both out of the lineup, never looked comfortable after joining the team from Dallas. Essentially, his time with the Penguins became a test-run for the coaching staff to figure out where he best fits. Coach Dan Bylsma says he has poured over video of every goal Neal has scored in the NHL. Translation: He’ll have figured out how to use Neal by September, if he hasn’t already. Those who quickly want to dismiss Neal because he was underwhelming upon joining the Penguins are overlooking that he has scored 20 goals in each of his first three seasons – and he was brought in to play with an elite center. His center in the playoffs was Mark Letestu. Barring injury, that won’t be the case next spring.
  • If he chooses, Bylsma can go into camp with 1-2-3 LW-C combos of Chris Kunitz-Crosby, Neal-Malkin, and Matt Cooke-Staal. Cooke, who can be counted upon for about 15 goals (if he stays in the lineup), is the least impactful point producer of those six players. That actually speaks to the potential depth of the top-6 as it stands. Translation: If healthy, the Penguins possess the potential for strong foundations to their top 3 lines – potentially a huge advantage for a team that, because of salary-cap factors, figures to be working some younger players into the lineup net season.

Keeping all of the above in mind, these next four days are crucial. Vital decisions must be made, sooner rather than later this week. As of this posting, the Penguins had not reached deals with three of their targeted impending unrestricted free agents (Max Talbot, Mike Rupp and Pascal Dupuis) or figured out how to handle the future of an intriguing restricted free agent (Tyler Kennedy, who is coming off a career-best 21 goals and 45 points). Also, there is the tantalizing – at least Bylsma thinks so – potential to add Jaromir Jagr, who is seemingly set on returning to the NHL to play for either the Penguins if Shero wants him. Jagr is 39, hasn’t played in the NHL in three seasons, and seemingly appeals more to Bylsma than Shero. Also, he, unlike these other players, can’t sign until Friday.

Clearly, Shero has a lot to consider before then. He was praised last summer for winning the offseason by revamping the defense corps and setting up the Penguins for another Cup run. Important to keep in mind over the next week is that such praise was warranted. Even without Staal in the lineup and Malkin playing below his potential, the Penguins were a top-5 team in offense and defense and overall points at the time of Crosby’s last game in early January. The point being that Shero is more often right when it comes to making up a roster that can compete for the Cup.

Still, a GM is only as good as his most recent moves – and these are the ones Shero should make before Friday:

= GET A DEAL DONE WITH DUPUIS

Of the potential UFAs, he is the most dependable and the likely easiest to sign. The idea that Shero doesn’t give multi-year deals to role players in the 30s was proven false last June when Cooke secured a three-year deal and somewhat last month when Craig Adams signed for two years.

Dupuis, 32, is a rare player, but one the Penguins cannot afford to chance losing. He is versatile, a quality Bylsma professes to demand, and more important willing to accept any role – capable of working on a top line and eager to contribute on a checking line. His speed remains elite, and his hands have produced 18- and 17-goal seasons the past two years. In other words, the Penguins know what they are getting offensively from Dupuis, who Bylsma ha said is one of the most effective penalty killers in the NHL. Finally, as last season proved, Dupuis is a subtle team leader – identified as such by the likes of reputably vocal leaders such as Staal and Brooks Orpik.

The Penguins needs some stability leading into Friday. Signing Dupuis would take care of that. Shero should offer him a multi-year deal with a modest raise on his $1.4 million previous cap hit. He wants to stay, so give him a reason to stay and then get moving onto the next move.

 

= MAKE A CALL ON KENNEDY

Perhaps he is a developing top-6 right wing and his career highs this past season were more indications of his development than the result of Kennedy playing in better offensive situations because of injuries to Crosby and Malkin. Either way, the Penguins needs to decide what Kennedy is worth to them and move accordingly, but swiftly.

What they shouldn’t do is let arbitration become a factor. By the time of that hearing it will be too late. Set a deadline with his agent for a new deal – Wednesday? – and get that deal done, thus committing to him as a top-6 right wing for the next few seasons, or trade him before Friday even though his value isn’t that high because of his RFA status.  

Technically, there are other options, but the ones addressed here are the ones the Penguins should consider. There isn’t enough time to kick tires at Kennedy. Sign him or move him, and live with the decision. There are too many other issues at hand.

 

= ANSWER THESE QUESTIONS ABOUT JAGR

Is Jagr on a one-year deal, even at $2 million (plus?), a better option than: A) Kennedy on a longer-term deal, or B) any other potential UFA winger?

Does Jagr fill the needs for this season – those needs being secondary scoring skill and a power-play difference maker – better than the non-Jagr options?

If the answer is yes to both of those questions, get a handshake agreement that he will sign on Friday. Commit to him, even if he isn’t an ideal fit.

Hal Gill wasn’t an ideal fit for what the Penguins wanted from their defensemen – top-quality skating, sharp puck movement – but he worked out well on a short-term basis. Actually, he played a big secondary role in helping the Penguins reach one Cup Final and win another. Fits not need be ideal, see Gill, Petr Sykora or even Marian Hossa – the latter whom was acquired without assurances he would sign a new contract.

Sometimes the less-than-ideal fits are the ones that push a contending team to the brink or over the top, and thus become risks worth taking.

Bottom line: The Penguins should not wait until Friday to make Jagr an offer. Get cap-whiz asst. GM Jason Botterill to work the numbers ASAP, make Jagr a best-case offer by Tuesday and tell him an answer is needed Wednesday night. There is only one way to find out if Jagr is sincere about wanting to play again for the Penguins. This is that way.

Also, there is something to be said about giving a coach what he wants – and Bylsma clearly wants Jagr. Shero has stated repeatedly that Byslma is his coach, and if Bylsma firmly believes Jagr is a missing piece to the Penguins’ Cup puzzle, Shero should provide Bylsma that piece.

At that point the pressure is on Bylsma, not Shero.

 

= ACCEPT THE INEVITABLE

Let Rupp and Talbot test the market, but make it clear that doing so means they eliminate any guarantee the Penguins will be waiting if they don’t find other offers that attractive once Friday arrives. It’s simple, really. Both players bring a lot of intangibles, but neither is irreplaceable – and these next four days aren’t the time to waste time on role players who may be set on testing the market.

These next four days are the time to make some decisions.

 

Surely the dear readers have thoughts; so chime in at @RobRossi_Trib on Twitter or by email at rrossi@tribweb.com

 

Cheers,

Rossi

Author: Rob Rossi

Rob Rossi has covered the Penguins for parts of every season that Sidney Crosby has played in Pittsburgh. So, since 2005. He has led the Trib's NHL coverage since 2007, when he became the primary Penguins beat reporter. He joined the Tribune-Review in November 2002. Rossi, 35, is local chapter president of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association. He also dabbles in radio, as ClearChannel's "Penguins Insider," and TV, as "NHL Insider" for Root Sports Pittsburgh, and as a semi-regular contributor to The Final Word, a Sunday sports show that airs on WPXI. In 2012, Rossi was recognized nationally by Penn State's John Curley Center for Sports Journalism for his coverage of youth sports for a Trib series that investigated concussion protocol. In 2013, he teamed with Carl Prine for an investigative piece about athletes' charities what was honored regionally. A graduate of West Virginia University and Keystone Oaks High School, Rossi was raised in Crafton and Green Tree and currently resides in Brookline. He is currently working on the authorized biography of Evgeni Malkin. Follow him on Twitter: @RobRossi_Trib

Comments

  1. Ross says:

    I believe some names that should be thrown out there as potential FA signings I think the penguins could be looking after are: Jussi Jokinen, Joel Ward, Leino, Zherdev, Ryder, Erik Cole, and maybe even Knuble if the capitals let him walk. with kennedy, I think you let him walk for now since hes an RFA; so they will get the chance to match any other teams offer. that will give the penguins the idea of what the market is for kennedy and how much the rest of the league is asking for him. gauge signing/not signing him on that. dupuis on the other hand is the toughest because say if we sign jagr, i see our top two lines being kunitz-sid-neal, malkin-staal-jagr. and even with that, our 3rd line as cooke-letestu-jeffrey…..so where in the world would you put dupuis??? it will be interesting thats for sure

  2. Bizrow says:

    Shero is good at letting things come to him

    Patience

  3. Chris Sheasley says:

    Great article Rossi. There are alot of tough decisions coming up in the next week for the pens. I to believe Dupuis has to be resigned before friday. Jagr I think would be a good fit especially on the power play. Although I hate to see Max and Mike leave like you said they are role players that are a little easier to replace. Shero has always impressed me with his offseason moves so I’m hoping he continues to do so this week and beyond. GO PENS!!!

  4. Shawn says:

    I agree with your off season game plan, Rob. Sign Jagr. Sign Dupuis. Trade Kennedy.

    Except with one *.

    The team has already said they will not, BUT…I would rather trade Matt Cooke than TK.

    I am a big fan of Cooke’s. This is not a “get the bum out of here” sentiment. But, between the further expansion of Rule 48 and Cooke already having a bullseye on his back, I think he’ll bring more bad than good going forward.

    Knowing that we aren’t going to get much for either of them in trade, I’d rather keep TK’s right hand shot.

  5. AgingGoalie says:

    Largely a great gameplan, but I have to part ways with Rossi on Kennedy and arbitration. If I recall correctly, teams can exceed the cap by up to 10% in the offseason, provided that they’re below it when the season starts. And arbitration awards are not binding…the team can (if it chooses) walk away from an abritrator’s decision once rendered, and the player becomes a UFA at that point. Because of these two factors, I say Kennedy’s situation really isn’t all that different than Talbot or Rupp. Qualify him at last year’s salary plus 5%, and then you can match any offer he gets if it goes that route. Or, if he takes the arbitration path, you see what his award is, and you can either pay it for one or two seasons (arbitration awards are of limited duration), let him walk, or trade him (or some other salary) to get yourself under the cap. In all but one of those scenarios, however, you either get Kennedy as a Pen or some form of compensation for him being elsewhere.

    If I’m Shero, I make it clear to the kid that, if he opts not to re-sign by July 1, there may or may not be enough room for him here, and he may or may not have any control over where he ends up. After that, I let the chips fall where they may.

    All of this, of course, may be academic…because the only two reasons I can think of that Shero would not have qualified him already are (a) he doesn’t care if he walks or (b) he intends to trade his rights before the end of today. Option b seems more unlikely as the hours go by…so I have to wonder if it’s actually option a…

  6. Steve says:

    TK is a top six forward but in the cap era a $1mil. can be the difference between a cup and no cup. If he gets a 150% increase he’s still between $1.75mil.-$2.0mil. That is a serious raise and quite frankly I think 2yrs./$3mil. is a stretch. Let him go for anything beyond $1.5mil. per. If guys like Talbot, Dupuis and Rupp are serious about staying with the Pens they will take notice at what TK gets, the money or the boot.

    Jagr would be one year and at TK money for him, sign the check, Kennedy’s best year (last year) is nowhere near Jagr’s potential.

    The nucleus is there. The potential to put two incredible lines together with the signing of Jagr and a stout defense along with proven goal tending is huge. Everyone worried when the Pens lost so much after losing to the Wings in ’08 but after replacing those players we know what happened, don’t we?

  7. Robert says:

    105 points. Without Crosby, Malkin, Stall and others for major parts of the season. Why is Jagr needed? Why is Jagr getting a pass on his ability to fit in? He didn’t when things didn’t go his way when he was here last. He will be a 40 year old gamble. Guerin and Roberts didn’t have Jagr’s baggage when they signed and had good years and gone. Jagr has just as good a chance to have a regrettable year as a good one. There are a lot of young players I would rather not have come under Jagr’s influence. Also I would rather have TK, Rupp and Dupuis.

  8. JK Means says:

    I love Jussi Jokinen. He would be great on a top line alongside Sid and Neal, and would fit great on the PP as well. He’s consistently putting up 25+ goals, and would IMHO be an upgrade over TK. TK proved he can score, but if TK can be kept and Jokinen brought in, I would be all for that. I was hoping that he would be someone we could bring in to play alongside Sid. Watch his 30 goals video on YouTube. He’s a finisher around the net, and that’s something we could have used on the PP last year.

    I’m still up in the air about Jagr. I feel like if it Jagr + Dupuis/Talbot/Rupp, you keep one of those guys aforementioned with having to sign 68 as well. Or, do you focus on signing all 4? Unfortunately, I hear that Max’s and Rupp’s asking prices are both each more than what figure has been given to Jagr. Having said that, I hope we do sign Jagr, and he plays 2nd line with Geno and on the PP. Though doesn’t 68, 71, and 87 all play the half-wall on the PP? That’s going to create a problem, because 71 isn’t comfortable at the point, we all know that.

    Ideas?

  9. Ross says:

    remember the Penguins currently have 9 forwards signed to contracts…Sid, Kunitz, Neal, Malkin, Staal, Letestu, Tangradi, Adams, Cooke. You know who I would worry about signing first more than Kennedy?? Dustin Jeffrey, thats who. his cap hit was $509,444 last season and will probably sign for around that again, maybe 1 million per year MAX. 7 goals in 25 games played last season and if you expand those stats to the amount of games Kennedy played (80 games), that would be mean Jeffrey would have around the same amount of goals as Kennedy in 2009-2010. Obviously we wouldnt know if Jeffrey would stay on a pace of 7 goals every 25 games for the entire season, barring any slight injury or whatnot. But I believe he has a better future and potential than Kennedy. Also, I really think that one of Craig, Nick Johnson, Joe Vitale, Tim Wallace, Brett Sterling can be on the team full time for a spot. And go with signing Jagr. So, in that case, you have your 2011-2012 Pittsburgh Penguins. Kunitz-Sid-Neal, Malkin-Staal-Jagr, Cooke-Letestu-Jeffrey, Adams-Tangradi-(and either Craig, Johnson, Vitale, Wallace, Sterling I believe those top 3 lines are solid and like I mentioned before, Penguins have close to 8 million left in cap space. So signing Jagr and Jeffrey will at most be 3.5 million combined in my opinion. Consider Jussi Jokinen, Joel Ward, Leino, Zherdev, Ryder, Erik Cole, Knuble, Fleischmann as a FA pickup

  10. Shawn says:

    I suspect this is Shero’s way of attaining roster certainty sooner instead of later, but…

    Why let an asset go for nothing?

    Qualify him, plan your offseason without him, roll the dice at arbitration. Maybe you win? If not, then you can walk.

    The only reason to let him go now…is so he can test the market and if the grass isn’t greener, he could resign here. Doubt that happens.

  11. Stevie says:

    @ Ross

    I agree. Signing Jeffrey is a priority and should be top priority right now. TK is replaceable, easily. I would love to see more of Sterling. Vitale, Sterling, and Nick Johnson can all seamlessly replace TK and Talbot. Let TK go while he has value. He played more minutes toward the end of the season. One would hope he would produce more.

    I am not totally convinced of the pros outweighing the cons on signing Jagr. My biggest fear is not his ability. We know his stick/puck handling is still superb. My fear is his attitude. Shero has one damn good locker room and our team always has great chemistry. One bad attitude in the locker room can cause more misery on the ice than necessary.

    Offer Duper 2 years. Offer TK 2 years, no more than $1.5-1.75 TOPS. Talbot is just asking too much for not producing in the last two seasons. Let him go. Rupp I’d love to have signed for the right price.

  12. Jeremy says:

    I like everything here. I don’t see Kennedy staying though, I think the price is going to be too high. Dupuis is more important than people think, he can play on a top line as well as a fourth line. I’d love to see Rupp stay too but if Asham is unrestricted (and I believe he is), keep him. I think he gives you the same game as Rupp, just a bit more offense. Talbot is gone, he wants way to much cash for his lack of scoring. 2 goals in game 7 was great, but he has done nothing since. Last but definitely not least is Jagr, I think he is priority #1. I have followed him recently and while he has lost a bit of his explosiveness, he hasn’t lost his size, hands, skill, shot, or play-making ability. Don’t forget he can also play both half-walls on the power-play, a wrinkle the Penguins could use desperately.

  13. espo33 says:

    Ross-Knuble already resigned with the Craps like 2 months ago to a $2M 1 year deal.

    I agree Jeffrey is going to be a good player for them. I am not sure how his knee rehab is doing or if he will be ready for training camp. He is a centermen, but if he can move to RW that would be ideal. He is a smart player with and without the puck

  14. Yoprst says:

    I loved Jagr in his prime in the 90′s. But when I think of signing him now, two names pop up in my mind. The names are: GUERIN and KOVALEV.

    I’m afraid brilliant past can’t compensate for the age, lack of speed, and most importantly – motivation. Not every veteran is Recchi, unfortunately.

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