Penguins forawrds Pascal Dupuis, left and Craig Adams are each scheduled to become unrestricted free agents this summer.
By Dave Molinari Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
They are all different players, of course.
Max Talbot doesn't score as often as Pascal Dupuis; Craig Adams isn't as good on faceoffs as Talbot. Dupuis doesn't register as many hits as Adams.
But they also are alike, in a lot of ways.
Each usually fills a blue-collar role. They are responsible defensively. They kill penalties well.
And they are all about to become unrestricted free agents.
Now, that hardly makes them unique among Penguins forwards -- Alex Kovalev, Mike Rupp, Eric Godard, Arron Asham, Mike Comrie and Chris Conner also will be free to sign elsewhere if they don't get new contracts before July 1-- but the interesting twist is that those three might be competing for the same spot or two on the 2011-12 roster.
General manager Ray Shero has not divulged who he is most interested in retaining, and it is always possible the cap ceiling will rise enough that he will be spared any difficult personnel decisions, but that seems unlikely.
A more realistic scenario is that teammates who are working together to win a first-round playoff series against the Tampa Bay Lightning also are battling for a place on the depth chart here in future seasons.
"With the salary-cap era, maybe we are, but, at the same time, you don't feel like it is," Dupuis said. "You hope [for] the best for your teammates.
"You hope [another free-agent-to-be] is going to put [the puck in the net], so you can win and the team can win."
Dupuis, who generally plays the wing, has a cap hit of $1.4 million. Talbot is listed as a center, but also has worked on the wing and carries a cap hit of $1.05 million. Adams, who has a cap hit of $550,000, is a right winger on the roster, but has been centering a line for Mike Rupp and Arron Asham lately.
Adams, acquired from the Chicago Blackhawks on waivers in 2009, said that "I definitely think about" his contract running out, but added that there is no point in dwelling on it.
"You're always aware of that," he said, "but what are you going to do?"
In Talbot's case, agonize over it. At least, that's what happened before he signed his current deal during the 2008-09 season.
"I remember that I was nervous because I was not playing well," Talbot said.
"This year, it came into my mind, but not at all like nervous or distressed. I was healthy all season, I played an average of 15 [minutes per game], I thought I was consistent most of the time."
Dupuis is coming off a 17-goal regular season -- Sidney Crosby, Chris Kunitz and Tyler Kennedy were the only ones to score more for the Penguins in 2010-11 -- and has shown he can slip into a top-six role, when needed.
His ability to contribute in a variety of niches -- a quality he shares with Talbot -- only enhances his value, which likely helps Dupuis to resist any temptation he might have to obsess over where he will be working in the fall and how much he will be paid to do it.
"It's one of those things where it's going to work itself out," Dupuis said.
"You can't control that right now. The only way I can do anything about it is by playing some good hockey, so that's what I'm pushing myself to do."
Dupuis, Adams and Talbot are adamant that their preference is to re-sign --"Why wouldn't you want to stay here?" Adams said.
"It's a great organization, and a great team. A great city and atmosphere to play in, so, of course, it's a desirable place to be" -- and contend that their contract status has no impact on how they go about their jobs.
That means they won't pass up a chance to block a shot simply to avoid the possibility of being injured or insist on being the shooter on an odd-man break simply to try to pad their stats.
"Like everybody in here, I'm a competitive person," Adams said. "If there's a shot there to be blocked, I'm going to try to block it, regardless of the score or the situation.
"That hasn't affected my play at all."
Smiling, he added, "if it had, I'd have 20 goals."
Which would be 16 more than Adams actually scored in the regular season.
Such statistics matter, of course, but not as much as contributing to a winner. Do that, and there will always be a market for your services, even if it is not where you're working at the moment.
"I want to win a Stanley Cup," Adams said.
"And I think that if we do that, it's better for everyone involved."