Penguins defensive corps crowded after Rob Scuderi's signing


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Ray Shero had a plan for this offseason.

No surprise there. He might be able to react on the fly as well as any general manager in the NHL, but Shero isn't in the habit of making it up as he goes along.

Nothing in his vision for trying to preserve the Penguins' place among the NHL's top teams, however, included Rob Scuderi.

Not until the middle of last week, anyway.

"I never thought we'd get Rob Scuderi back," Shero said. "That was never on my radar. Things change pretty quickly."

Indeed, several things did when Scuderi accepted a four-year contract from the Penguins Friday with a salary-cap hit of $3,375,000.

The Penguins' defense corps gained a reliable, responsible presence. One who should help lower the stress level for goalies Marc-Andre Fleury and Tomas Vokoun, along with the team's goals-against average.

Shero, meanwhile, got a revision in his summer to-do list: For the first time in his career, he will have to make a personnel move simply to get under the NHL's salary-cap ceiling.

That is set at $64.3 million for the 2013-14 season. CapGeek.com -- the leading authority on such matters for anyone who doesn't have a team-issued cap specialist in an adjoining office -- reports that, after the agreements Shero made with Scuderi and fourth-line forward Craig Adams Friday, the Penguins have $676,667 to work with for the coming season.

Shero still has to sign three restricted free agents, defenseman Robert Bortuzzo and forwards Harry Zolnierczyk and Dustin Jeffrey, so it's a given that the Penguins will breach the cap maximum because those players have received qualifying offers worth a total of more than $1.9 million.

Teams are allowed to exceed the ceiling by up to 10 percent in the offseason, but must be down to it before the start of the regular season.

Assuming Bortuzzo, Zolnierczyk and Jeffrey accept their qualifying offers or negotiate longer-term deals, it's unavoidable that the Penguins will end up north of the ceiling, likely by a couple of million dollars.

Adding Scuderi leaves the Penguins with at least eight defensemen who project onto the NHL roster this fall -- Paul Martin, Brooks Orpik, Kris Letang, Matt Niskanen, Simon Despres, Deryk Engelland and Bortuzzo are the others -- and teams generally carry no more than seven.

That might make it seem logical, even obvious, that Shero will slice the Penguins' cap hit by dealing a defenseman. Which explains why Matt Niskanen, whose cap hit for 2013-14 will be $2.3 million and who is scheduled for unrestricted free agency next July if he isn't re-signed, has been a popular subject of trade speculation.

Shero, though, declined to commit to moving a defenseman, perhaps because there's no urgency to get under the ceiling.

"I haven't made that decision," he said. "I think it depends on what comes our way in terms of value [in a trade] for guys.

"I've learned that what I'm looking at now might not be the same next week, or might not be the same a month from now."

Transition rules for the NHL's new collective bargaining agreement had put the ceiling at $70.2 million in the just-concluded season, so it will be dropping significantly for 2013-14.

"It's coming down $6 million," Shero said. "Things are going to be tight this year."

Nonetheless, there generally is a market for NHL-caliber defensemen, so Shero probably wouldn't have troubling finding a taker if he offers one.

"People look at your team, what you might need or might need to get rid of," he said. "You might have an excess number of [players at a particular position]. You just kind of see how it sorts itself out."

The most striking feature of Scuderi's contract might be that it covers four years. That's a serious commitment to a 34-year-old defenseman, but one Shero felt was necessary.

"If I only want to offer a guy a two-year contract, he's going to go to the next team for a four-year contract," he said.

"We know Rob Scuderi. If I'm going to pass on Rob Scuderi because I'm a little worried about what he's going to be like when he's 38, I'm not going to get him."

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Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@Post-Gazette.com or Twitter @MolinariPG. First Published July 7, 2013 4:00 AM


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