The Penguins have less than three weeks to contemplate which of their dozen or so free agents they would like to have on their roster next season. On July 1, several key players who helped the Penguins reach the Stanley Cup final for the first time since 1992 will become unrestricted free agents.
On Monday, the agent for Ryan Malone had preliminary discussions with Penguins general manager Ray Shero about the possibility of the forward remaining in Pittsburgh. Mike Liut, who is representing Malone, had a conversation with Shero and expects to have more before the June 20-21 NHL entry draft.
"Not much was exchanged," Liut said. "We talked briefly during the regular season, too. They have a lot of free agents. They have a [salary] cap they have to deal with. They have a lot of things to think about. They have some really good young players there.
"One of the hallmarks of the new [collective bargaining] deal is sometimes you have to pick and choose. [The Penguins] are in the process of doing that."
In addition to Malone, the Penguins' other unrestricted free agents who will be able to sign elsewhere beginning July 1 are forwards Marian Hossa, Jarko Ruutu, Gary Roberts, Pascal Dupuis, Adam Hall, Georges Laraque, Jeff Taffe and Kris Beech; defensemen Brooks Orpik and Mark Eaton; and goaltender Ty Conklin.
Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, 23, is a restricted free agent, meaning the Penguins will be able to match any offer he receives.
Malone, Hossa, Fleury and Orpik are believed to be the first priorities for the Penguins, but unless each takes less than market value, it might be next to impossible to retain all of them.
Malone had 27 goals and 24 assists in the regular season and 6 goals and 10 assists in 20 playoff games. He also is one of the Penguins top penalty killers and will be looking for a significant raise above the $1.45 million he earned last season.
After the Game 6 loss to the Detroit Red Wings last week, several of the potential free agents spoke about wanting to remain in Pittsburgh. Malone, who grew up in Upper St. Clair, has some strong feelings about remaining with the Penguins, but it remains to be seen whether he will give them the so-called hometown discount.
"We don't know what the discount is," Liut said. "We do our homework and look at possibilities out there, see where opportunities are. But where you're playing and who you're playing with is important. When you challenge for the Stanley Cup, it's hard to get back. It's tough to win the Stanley Cup. That's why you play hockey. Right now, he's a Pittsburgh Penguin. If it gets to July 1, you start to look around. [The hometown discount] plays in, but if July 1 comes around, you have to make decisions."
With a limited amount of salary cap space, the Penguins must select wisely among their free agents.
"The point of concentration now is: 'Where are the Penguins and where are we?' " Liut said. "If there is common ground, you can strike a deal."
Ray Fittipaldo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1230.