Penguins GM Shero turns attention to free agents Letang, Dupuis

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Penguins general manager Ray Shero is about to expand the scope of his busy offseason, but it will not include using the compliance or "amnesty" clause in the new collective bargaining agreement to buy out any players' contracts.

"Those are the rules now. You have two," Shero said Thursday. "But from where we are, that's not something we're looking at."

After the completion of the Stanley Cup final, the Penguins could buy out one or two players' contracts, which would make those players unrestricted free agents and wipe their salary-cap hits off the team's logs. The salary cap will drop from $70.2 million this season to $64.3 million next season, and the Penguins have a lot of players to try to squeeze in.

Shero -- who last week worked out deals to extend the contracts of coach Dan Bylsma and center Evgeni Malkin -- has focused on defenseman Kris Letang and winger Pascal Dupuis in recent days, opening talks with their agents. With free agency approaching, he wants to begin to juggle more.

"I need to get in touch with a few other agents as well, continue that process," Shero said. "I'd like to have all the information I need to make some decisions over the next 10 days. I want to be in touch with [impending] unrestricted free agents and guys who have a year left [on their contract] now that they've had time to sit down with families and agents."

Dupuis and six others -- forwards Jarome Iginla, Brenden Morrow, Matt Cooke and Craig Adams, and defensemen Douglas Murray and Mark Eaton -- will become unrestricted free agents if not re-signed by July 5. Letang and nine others will enter the final year of their contract and could sign extensions beginning July 5 that would begin in 2014-15.

Dupuis is 34 and coming off of one of his best seasons with 20 goals, 38 points while playing in all 48 games of the lockout-shortened season. That made him a bargain with a cap hit of $1.5 million, but also a coveted goal-scorer who could command a large raise and multi-year deal should he hit the free-agent market.

He is also the preferred right winger of Sidney Crosby and has expressed a strong desire to remain with the Penguins.

"He's certainly deserving of a raise," Shero said. "He's gotten better as he's gone on. Usually, it works the opposite. Whatever he gets, he'll deserve, whether it's from us or someone else."

Letang, 26, was a Norris Trophy finalist this season and the only defenseman in the NHL to average more than a point a game with 38 in 35 games in a season shortened by injury. He has expressed a desire to re-sign, citing being on the same team as Crosby as a lure -- but has a cap hit of $3.5 million and could be worth much more on the open market. Shero said Letang's situation is eased somewhat because the Penguins locked up their other big-money core player who was entering his final season.

"It would have been a difficult situation with Malkin and Letang both going into their last year," Shero said. "We'll continue to talk to [Letang and his agent] and hope to have a deal. I would like to keep him and extend him."

Letang's agent, Kent Hughes, also expects more communication.

"We plan to continue talks to see whether we can reach an agreement," Hughes said in an email.

Although the draft is often a popular venue for offseason trades -- the Penguins traded center Jordan Staal there last summer -- Shero isn't setting the June 30 event in Newark, N.J., as adeadline to reach an agreement with Letang.

"If we go to the end of next week and he's not signed, does that mean he's traded? No," Shero said.

In fact, Shero doesn't see the draft as a deadline for any decisions or deals. "The draft is just a date," he said.

After the draft, free agency will work a little differently this year. Before, it was considered tampering if a team reached out to other clubs' impending free agents before the deadline. Now, there will be a two-day window starting July 3 where teams and would-be free agents can talk.

Having a tight budget won't stop Shero from using that time to check around the league, and he thinks the new window will soften the normal frenzy that comes the day free agency begins.

"It will be interesting, a little bit different," Shero said. "The process will be a little more orderly, a couple of days to be in touch with people you might have interest in."

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For more on the Penguins, read the Pens Plus blog with Dave Molinari and Shelly Anderson at Shelly Anderson: and Twitter @pgshelly. First Published June 21, 2013 4:00 AM


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