Penguins: McKee could fill hole on defense

Former Blues defenseman can help replace Scuderi, Gill

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The Penguins might be close to signing a defenseman, one of the final missing pieces for their roster.

Jay McKee, an unrestricted free agent who spent the past three seasons with St. Louis, is likely to decide in the next few days where he will spend the 2009-10 season, and that could be with the Penguins, his agent, Pat Morris, said yesterday.

"When the Penguins come calling, it catches your attention," Morris said of the recently crowned Stanley Cup champions. "I think there are things he does well that the Penguins like. He can be a shutdown guy."

McKee, who turns 32 before the season starts, is considered a skilled shot-blocker. At 6 feet 4, 203 pounds, he adds a physical presence.

The Penguins lost defensive defensemen Rob Scuderi and Hal Gill to free agency this month.

Penguins general manager Ray Shero has said that because of salary cap considerations, the team is looking for a short-term deal if it chooses to sign a free-agent defenseman rather than acquire one by trade. Morris said McKee, who is mulling offers from other teams as well, would be open to a one-year contract.

McKee could be more affordable than his talent and experience would usually dictate. The former Buffalo first-round draft pick was the first St. Louis signee after John Davidson took over as team president three years ago, but the Blues opted to buy out the final season of his four-year, $16 million contract this summer. That means the Blues are on the hook for two-thirds of his 2009-10 salary, or $2.67 million.

McKee had one goal, eight points and a plus-minus rating of plus-11 last season. He was seventh in the NHL with 185 blocked shots. His career highs on offense came in 1999-2000, when he had five goals and 12 assists for 17 points with Buffalo.

In addition to a defenseman, the Penguins need to sign a backup goaltender. That could be restricted free agent John Curry, who played his first three NHL games with the Penguins last season and had a strong season with their Wilkes-Barre/Scranton minor league club.

The Penguins also released their 2009 preseason schedule yesterday, which includes home games Sept. 18 against Toronto and Sept. 25 against Columbus, both at 7:30 p.m.

The other four games are on the road: Sept. 21 at Montreal, 7:30 p.m.; Sept. 22 at Toronto, 7 p.m.; Sept. 24 at Columbus, 7 p.m.; and Sept. 27 at Detroit, 5 p.m.

The final game marks a return to Joe Louis Arena, where the Penguins took possession of the Stanley Cup with a Game 7 victory in the final.

The 2009-10 regular-season NHL schedule is expected to be released later this month.



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