Penguins: Gonchar, Guerin heading for free agency

Hamhuis' situation 'still in discussion'


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Penguins general manager Ray Shero remained in his office long after regular business hours Wednesday, trying to get some of his free-agents-to-be under contract before they go on the market at noon today.

From most indications, he should have knocked off early and gotten out to enjoy the nice weather.

Shero acknowledged through a spokesman that defenseman Sergei Gonchar seems certain to explore free agency, and the same is true of right winger Bill Guerin.

He also passed along word that he was "still in discussion" with defenseman Dan Hamhuis' camp, apparently making a conscious effort again not to use the word "negotiations" to describe the Hamhuis talks.

The Penguins sent a third-round draft choice in 2011 to Philadelphia last Friday to secure Hamhuis' rights.

Finally, while the Penguins have not ruled out re-signing defensemen Jordan Leopold and Mark Eaton, doing so has not been a priority.

Both figure to see what kind of interest they will attract from other teams.

"Ray told Jordan he would like to have him back and we would talk before July 1," agent Ben Hankinson said in an e-mail.

"Jordan would like to be back, but [is] preparing for [free agency]."

If all of those players move on, the Penguins should be fairly aggressive shoppers today. Because their wish list will be shaped by any signings done before noon -- if, for example, they would agree to terms with Gonchar, their interest in a skilled defenseman will drop -- the candidates listed below are presented in alphabetical order (inside their position), not by the Penguins' level of interest.

Defensemen

Pavel Kubina -- He is coming off a pretty solid season in Atlanta, but made $5 million and is 33 years old, so Kubina might have to accept a pay cut. No longer the force he was earlier in his career.

Kurtis Foster -- A good point-producer, especially on the power play. Though suspect in his own zone and not known for using his 6-foot-5, 220-pound body to its full advantage, he is in line for a hefty increase on the $600,000 Tampa Bay paid him in 2009-10.

Andreas Lilja -- Doesn't often play as big as he is (6 feet 3, 220 pounds), but is pretty effective in his own end and excellent when his team is short-handed. Made $1.25 million in Detroit last season.

Paul Martin -- He is 29 and earned $4.5 million in New Jersey. A broken arm he got blocking a shot at Mellon Arena last fall soured his season, but Martin might be the best two-way defenseman on the market.

Zbynek Michalek -- A slightly watered-down version of Anton Volchenkov, he logs big minutes and blocks shots well. Does not put up big offensive stats, but can make a good outlet pass. He is 27 and likely has a chance to double his salary of $1.5 million from last season.

Henrik Tallinder -- So quietly efficient that he sometimes goes almost unnoticed. Tallinder made $3.25 million in Buffalo last season and, at 31, can expect a fair bump in pay sometime in the next few days.

Anton Volchenkov -- The closest thing to a shutdown defenseman in this class. At 28, he is entering his prime and should get a healthy raise on the $3.2 million he earned in Ottawa in 2009-10. But while he hits hard and blocks many shots, his offensive game is extremely limited.

Wingers

Maxim Afinogenov -- Revived his career with a 24-goal season in Atlanta. He is fast and skilled, but prone to poor decision-making. Still, Afinogenov is just 30, and some club figures to give him a nice increase on the $800,000 he got on a one-year deal with the Thrashers.

Alexander Frolov -- Fell out of favor in Los Angeles, where he made $4 million in 2009-10, likely because of his maddening inconsistency. He could turn out to be a high-priced flop or, at 28, mature into the kind of player who could be counted on to get 30 goals per season if given a quality center.

Christopher Higgins -- Maybe the most intriguing possibility on the list, although there is no assurance he will put up satisfactory numbers after scoring just eight goals for the New York Rangers and Calgary while being paid $2.25 million last season. Higgins, 27, runs hot and cold, but is good at both ends of the ice, kills penalties well and had three consecutive seasons with 22 or more goals in Montreal.

Ray Whitney -- He is 38, and his scoring touch will desert him someday. Maybe someday soon. For now, however, he can be counted on to ring up 20-plus goals per season and do some outstanding work on the power play. At his age, however, Whitney might have trouble finding clubs interested in making the kind of financial commitment he is seeking.


Dave Molinari: dmolinari@post-gazette.com .


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