Dave Molinari on the Penguins: An accounting of the club's unrestricted free agents
February 24, 2008 5:00 AM
Ottawa goalie Ray Emery cools off Evgeni Malkin Saturday afternoon at Mellon Arena.
It is, in some ways, a perfect confluence of supply and demand.
One team is all but officially out of playoff contention but has an established, productive player who's about to become an unrestricted free agent and does not want to lose him for no return.
Another club --- or, more often, several of them --- believes it is that very player away from making a serious run at some objective, whether it's a playoff spot or a Stanley Cup, and is willing to pay a generous, sometimes ridiculous, price to get him.
That's what happened at the trade deadline a year ago, when Nashville (Peter Forsberg), Atlanta (Keith Tkachuk) and the New York Islanders (Ryan Smyth) gave away significant pieces of their future for short-term help. (Which wasn't enough to get any past the first round, by the way.)
And history might well repeat before Tuesday's deadline, based on the rampant speculation that has swirled around Mats Sundin, Marian Hossa and Vaclav Prospal in recent weeks.
The Penguins don't figure to be in the running for such players -- general manager Ray Shero seems more interested in adding players to his major-league roster than in losing anyone off it -- but they do have some of their own unrestricted-free-agents-to-be.
Some would be sure to attract interest if they were made available; others couldn't make it onto the radar if they wore suits made of sheet metal. A look at the pros and cons of including those players in trade negotiations:
• Kris Beech
Pros: Any return on a player claimed off waivers would have to be considered a plus.
Cons: There probably isn't much demand for guys who have been on four teams this season. Especially ones with a broken wrist.
• Ty Conklin
Pros: Has there been a more consistent goaltender in the NHL during the past two-plus months? If the idea is to move a guy when his value is at its peak, this would seem to be the ideal time to deal Conklin.
Cons: What exactly would the Penguins do for a go-to goalie if Conklin is traded and Marc-Andre Fleury aggravates his high ankle sprain, which hardly is out of the question? And, Conklin's recent brilliance aside, it's hardly a given that a 31-year-old will hold on to his newly claimed place among the game's top performers at his position, which might limit what teams would be willing to give up.
• Mark Eaton
Pros: The Penguins have proven they can get by without him, although Eaton is an excellent partner for Sergei Gonchar.
Cons: Even a low-wattage GM should realize that a guy who won't play again until next season won't be much help in the stretch drive and playoffs.
• Adam Hall
Pros: He can play all three forward positions, kills penalties and is a right-handed shot who's a decent faceoff man.
Cons: A non-factor, offensively, before hurting his groin more than a month ago. All teams need blue-collar forwards but rarely pay much to get them.
• Georges Laraque
Pros: There's always a healthy market for an elite heavyweight, especially one with decent skills.
Cons: Would the Penguins really want to go into a playoff series against Philadelphia, or any number of other clubs, after removing Laraque from their depth chart?
• Ryan Malone
Pros: He's playing the best, most consistent hockey of his career, and a top-six forward who has size and skill and skates well would bring a hefty return, because there aren't many clubs that couldn't use such a guy.
Cons: As noted above, he's playing the best, most consistent hockey of his career, and the Penguins are one of those clubs that should be interested in adding such a player, not losing one. Plus, Malone's local ties should enhance their chances of re-signing him in the offseason.
• Brooks Orpik
Pros: Orpik clearly is not one of coach Michel Therrien's favorites and it's hard to imagine that he'll be eager to re-sign here if the current staff remains in place. Plus, Shero probably wouldn't have to look hard to find a club willing to make a generous offer for a defenseman who can hit the way Orpik does.
Cons: The Penguins have a few defensemen who make Gandhi seem downright nasty. Take Orpik out of the mix, and much of the hitting their defense does for the balance of the season will qualify as incidental contact.
• Gary Roberts
Pros: After seeing what he did for the Penguins -- and what they did for him -- following his acquisition at the deadline last year, a lot of teams have to believe his toughness and intangibles would be nice additions, even though he's still recovering from a broken leg.
Cons: A guy such as Roberts is most valuable in the playoffs, because of the impact (literally) he can have on the course of a series, so why discard him when the stretch drive is just starting?
• Jarkko Ruutu
Pros: Teams love to employ antagonists almost as much as they hate to play against them, and Ruutu can be about as annoying as they come. Make it known that he's available, and Shero's phone will start to ring.
Cons: Ruutu's effectiveness has risen in tandem with his ice time as the season has moved along, and he's an underrated ingredient in the Penguins' locker-room chemistry.