Penguins general manager Ray Shero is not upset about losing defenseman Rob Scuderi to free agency yesterday.
Frankly, he seems pretty happy about it.
It's not that Shero does not appreciate what Scuderi contributed to the Penguins' championship season or that he would not have liked to have Scuderi back next season.
Just that Shero enjoyed seeing a player whose low profile and relatively modest salary did not begin to reflect his value to the team get a tangible payoff for what Scuderi did to make the team's Stanley Cup possible.
Scuderi, who made $725,000 last season, accepted a four-year contract worth $13.6 million from the Los Angeles Kings.
"We really wanted him back," Shero said. "But, at the same time, I don't know if I can be happier for a guy and his wife and his family."
Shero had been braced for Scuderi's departure and expects to learn today if winger Ruslan Fedotenko will follow him. The Penguins hope Fedotenko will return, but he has drawn interest from a number of teams and might sign elsewhere.
"I'm not [optimistic or pessimistic]," Shero said. "He's going to talk it over with his wife and let us know."
While the Penguins don't know yet if they'll have to find a top-six forward to replace Fedotenko, Scuderi's departure means they will be in the market for at least one NHL-caliber defenseman.
They have five -- Sergei Gonchar, Brooks Orpik, Mark Eaton, Kris Letang and Alex Goligoski -- under contract and a restricted free agent, Ben Lovejoy, who will get every opportunity to play at this level, but the Penguins will be in the market for at least one more. They do not have to add one immediately, so even though Shero and his staff have contacted some free agents about joining the Penguins, they can try to bring someone in via a trade later.
"We have the option of waiting," Shero said. "Maybe there's a rush, maybe there's not."
Certainly, no one can accuse Scuderi of acting in haste by accepting the Kings' offer.
When word of his decision to sign with Los Angeles got out, Scuderi suggested that he felt "sick to my stomach" about leaving the only pro organization for which he ever has played, but he is pragmatic enough to understand that there is a business side to the sport.
"I've never been through the frenzy that is free agency," he said. "I held out pretty long, hoping maybe we could figure something out [that would make staying with the Penguins possible].
"I'm really sad to leave, but, of the choices I had, I was pretty confident with my choice. I think [the Kings are] going to be there in one or two years.
"I had four teams that I was very serious about. L.A. really wasn't one of them until I looked at their roster and saw that they have some underrated talent that really is very young."
Part of Scuderi's role with the Kings likely will be to mentor promising young defensemen such as Drew Doughty, Thomas Hickey and Jack Johnson.
Scuderi paired with Hal Gill on what became the Penguins' "shutdown" defense pairing. About 24 hours before Scuderi accepted the Kings' offer, Gill agreed to a two-year, $4.5 million deal with Montreal.
"It's hard seeing guys go, especially after the year we had and the success we had," center Sidney Crosby said. "You don't want anyone to leave, but there's only so much room [under the salary cap].
"When guys do play that well, they get a lot of attention from other teams. They've earned the opportunity to go to other teams."
Actually, staying with the Penguins -- at least for anything resembling the money Scuderi and Gill are getting from their new teams -- was not really an option. The Penguins have committed $52,204,300 worth of cap space to 18 players for the 2009-10 season, when the cap ceiling will be $56.8 million.
While Scuderi undeniably was a bargain in his final season with the Penguins, increasing his pay by nearly 500 percent could lead to some drastically elevated -- even unrealistic -- expectations for a player who makes his living as a blue-collar, defensive defenseman.
Scuderi, though, said Kings officials assured him that while his tax bracket will be changing, his job description won't.
"I actually talked to [general manager] Dean Lombardi and [assistant general manager] Ron Hextall about that," Scuderi said. "The No. 1 thing I got from them is they want me to be the exact same player I am now.
"I don't think they're expecting me to do anything they haven't seen me do for the last three or four years."
Dave Molinari can be reached at email@example.com . First Published July 3, 2009 4:00 AM