Ray Shero made it clear he dreaded dishing out this news.
"It's not a phone call I was looking forward to," the Penguins general manager said Thursday of informing veteran winger Bill Guerin that the club had decided not to pursue re-signing him.
"I respect Billy and like him. I let him and his agent know we're going in a different direction."
Although the Penguins are less than $2 million away from scraping the NHL's $59.4 million salary cap and Guerin made $2 million last season, Shero said this was not a financial move. The two sides did not exchange offers.
"It came down to our club making a decision, whether it was giving younger guys a chance or moving in another direction," Shero said. "There were mixed feelings for us. He was a big part of us winning a Stanley Cup. He's a great guy, has a great family.
"It's something we felt we needed to do."
Guerin, 39, became a free agent July 1. He joined the Penguins in March 2009 in a trade with the New York Islanders and immediately became a valued asset on and off the ice.
He had a big presence in the dressing room, setting a tone of being accountable mixed with mischievousness. He became a fixture on the top line with young center and captain Sidney Crosby and on the top power-play unit. And he helped the Penguins set a torrid pace through the stretch run that season and in their drive to the Cup.
Last season, Guerin had 21 goals, 45 points in 78 games and added four goals, nine points in 11 playoff games.
A three-time United States Olympian and two-time Cup winner, Guerin has 429 goals, 856 points in 1,263 NHL games with eight teams. He has said he wants to play at least one more season and had hoped it would be with the Penguins.
Guerin declined comment beyond confirming he had heard from Shero.
"He's obviously disappointed," Shero said.
"He certainly made my job easier. When you make trades like that and it's someone who helps you win a Stanley Cup, it makes the [general] manager look good. I think he would be valuable to other teams for the same things he brought to us a year and a quarter ago. Certainly, Billy can still play."
Shero, who consulted with the coaches and other staff regarding Guerin, did not elaborate further on why the club opted not to pursue him and did not indicate whether the Penguins might have wanted to ask Guerin to take on a reduced role or a reduced salary if they had decided to try to bring him back.
It's possible that with the team's core players maturing -- including Crosby, now 23-- Guerin's leadership was no longer indispensable, giving the Penguins the option of offering younger, less expensive players a shot at earning a spot in the lineup.
The Penguins have 12 forwards on one-way NHL contracts after signing gritty free agent Arron Asham last Friday.
Barring other moves, a 13th forward on the roster during the regular season, should they choose to carry one, could come from a large pool of prospects that includes Eric Tangradi, Mark Letestu, Dustin Jeffrey, Nick Johnson, Tim Wallace and others.
The Penguins also have signed or re-signed a few forwards with NHL experience ---- Chris Conner, Ryan Craig and Bret Sterling.
"If a player comes available at the right price, we'll look at it -- Arron Asham probably wasn't on the table three weeks ago and to get in our price range it had to be more of a timing thing," Shero said, "but we'll have competition with young players and some of the free agents we signed, at forward and on defense.
"It creates competition internally and some depth."
Shelly Anderson: email@example.com or 412-263-1721.