New Penguins forward Steve Sullivan scored 22 points wih the Predators last season.
By Dave Molinari Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Tyler Kennedy is not a particularly large man.
He is listed as being 5 feet 11, 183 pounds. And that might be on his tiptoes with a pocket full of rocks.
Focusing on his vital statistics would be a mistake, though.
Because, if Kennedy, who accepted a two-year contract worth $2 million per season Friday to stay with the Penguins, had opted to sign elsewhere, it would have left a gaping void in their lineup.
Maybe not the kind of crater created when Sidney Crosby had his brain scrambled in early January, or when Evgeni Malkin got a knee demolished a few weeks later, but a pretty significant hole.
"Tyler Kennedy is a player we want on our team for how we play and what he brings," coach Dan Bylsma said Friday.
But, while re-signing Kennedy was the top priority Friday, the search for a veteran winger with a goal-scoring touch began after they pulled their contract offer to Jaromir Jagr.
A few hours later, Steve Sullivan, late of Nashville, agreed to a one-year deal worth $1.5 million.
Sullivan is 36 and has had some major health problems in recent years. He missed the entire 2007-08 season because of back trouble, sat out 40 games the following year after undergoing back surgery, was limited to 44 games during the 2010-11 regular season by a sports hernia and sprained his knee in the playoffs -- but general manager Ray Shero said he is OK now.
"He's healthy and ready to go," Shero said. "He could play tomorrow if he had to."
His many maladies aside, Sullivan's hands, feet and instincts seem to be in pretty good shape.
"He has really good speed, and is a smart player," Shero said. "Can play with good players as well. In terms of what's available on the market this year ... I'm happy with that signing."
The Penguins did not lose much goal-scoring on the first day of free agency, but a couple of capable role players moved to Atlantic Division rivals. Max Talbot went to Philadelphia on a five-year deal worth $9 million, and Mike Rupp got $4.5 million over three years from the New York Rangers.
The Penguins still have to re-sign forward Dustin Jeffrey and goalie Brad Thiessen, both restricted free agents, and appear to have at least mild interest in adding an enforcer and a blue-collar center.
Badly as the Penguins wanted to keep Kennedy, they still do not know exactly where he will fit in next season. Just that he almost certainly will assume a more prominent role than he has to this point in his career.
Bylsma said Kennedy could end up flanking Crosby or Malkin on one of the top two lines, or he might turn up in his customary spot alongside Matt Cooke and Jordan Staal one what might be the best No. 3 unit in the NHL.
"He did better [on lines with] Malkin and Crosby than he had done in years prior," Bylsma said. "He made some plays, complemented them, didn't defer to them. He showed that he could complement them and play with them."
Then again, his effectiveness with Cooke and Staal has been well-documented, and keeping that group together has a definite appeal.
"He may, at camp, be on Sidney Crosby's right wing, or Evgeni Malkin's right wing," Bylsma said. "Or he be on Staal's right wing at camp. ... It's not out of the question to think that third line could be intact."
While his ability to play a solid, responsible two-way game has been evident for a while, Kennedy showed a surprising scoring touch in the stretch drive. He got nine goals in the final 20 games of the regular season to finish with a career-high 21.
No one will be expecting him to produce at anything resembling a 40-goal pace, but Bylsma believes Kennedy's output will rise as a function of increased ice time. To this point in his career, Kennedy has gotten the bulk of his work in even-strength situations.
"He's earned that opportunity to be on the ice four-on-four, to be on the power play, to play more minutes," Bylsma said. "If he gets to 16 to 17 minutes a night, I think you'll see him be in more situations where he does provide some goal-scoring."
Additional offense, though, will be a bonus. It's what Kennedy has proven the Penguins can count on from him that made retaining him so important for management.
"He has speed, and he's an aggressive player, a tenacious player," Bylsma said. "This is a guy who plays like a Penguin."
On the first day of NHL free agency, the Penguins signed two free agents:
• Tyler Kennedy, Penguins, 2 years, $4 million.
• Steve Sullivan, Predators, 1 year, $1.5 million.
• Max Talbot, Flyers, 5 years, $9 million.
• Mike Rupp, Rangers, 3 years, $4.5 million.
And pulled its 1 year, $2 million offer to Jaromir Jagr, who signed with the Flyers for one year and $3.3 million.