Tough choice for Scuderi

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Kentucky men's basketball coach John Calipari gives the best advice I've ever heard to players torn between staying where they are or going after the really big money with another team.

"If you want to do what's right for me and my family, stay," Calipari tells his guys. "If you want to do what's right for you and your family, go."

Makes sense, doesn't it?

An athlete's pro career is short. He has to grab for as much as he can for as long as he can. Forget loyalty. There is no such thing in sports anymore. It's all big business. As soon as the team finds a better option, that player is gone, anyway.

Calipari's advice really is sound.

That doesn't mean it's always easy to follow, though.

Ask Rob Scuderi.

He's Penguins' property, but maybe for just three more days, until the NHL free agency period starts Wednesday. He was terrific during their run to the Stanley Cup, so good that he's expected to get at least one blockbuster offer from another hockey club -- perhaps as much as $4 million per year, which would be an extraordinary number for a defensive defenseman and more than five times what he made this past season -- that the Penguins almost certainly won't be able to match.

"I know the type of player I am," Scuderi said late last week. "I'm not sure the market will be there like this for me again."

If you want to do what's right for you and your family ...

But it's not quite that simple for Scuderi.

"I've never been the type to just chase the money," he said. "I've seen too many guys go for the highest contract and end up in a bad situation and be completely upset for three or four years. I don't want that happening to me. It's no fun going somewhere and losing, especially after you've been spoiled playing here. That would be just miserable."

Former Penguins winger Ryan Malone is the poster boy for that. He left for the Tampa Bay Lightning after the 2007-08 season because the Lightning made him offer he couldn't refuse -- $31.5 million for seven years. But they missed the playoffs this past season and he had to watch his Penguins' buddies hoisting the Stanley Cup.

Miserable, indeed.

"If he had to do it all over again, he'd take a lot less to stay here," Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik said of Malone during the Cup odyssey. "I know at the trade deadline, he was begging to come back here. A lot of guys who left feel that way."

Scuderi knows. He has talked to Malone about that very thing. Scuderi also knows Orpik took less to stay with the Penguins after the '07-'08 season, not that $3.75 million per season for six years is chump change. "This is why I came back," Orpik said after he had his turn with the precious Cup after the clinching win in Detroit earlier this month.

No doubt, Scuderi has much to consider.

"By far, the best situation for me is staying in Pitt," he said. "I know how I fit in here. I know my role. And I want to be a part of another winner. Just because we won this year doesn't mean I'm going to shut it down. I want to win again. I know they can do that here for a long time. With the young core they have -- especially the centermen -- and the system they have and the way they run the organization, it's hard to imagine them not having long-term success."

Clearly, the Penguins would love to keep Scuderi. General manager Ray Shero is a big believer that defense wins championships. He has watched Scuderi, 30, grow from a mediocre young player into one of the NHL's top shutdown defensemen.

"When I first got here and found out he had a one-way contract, I was like, 'Are you kidding me?' " Shero said. "But he just kept improving. Now, I wish I had signed him for three years instead of two [after the '06-'07 season for a $1.425 million]."

Scuderi, for $725,000 this past season, was an incredible bargain.

"He's a very, very smart hockey player, and he has one of the best sticks in the league," Shero said. "He played against the other team's top player in every series of the playoffs -- [Jeff] Carter, [Alex] Ovechkin, [Eric] Staal and [Henrik] Zetterberg. He was kind of our glue back there on defense."

Added Hal Gill, Scuderi's defensive partner and another free agent-to-be on Wednesday: "You could always count on him."

The problem is the Penguins don't appear to have the wiggle room under the salary cap to keep Scuderi. They probably could go $2 million per season, but not much more. That would be quite the hometown discount from a $4 million-a-year offer.

Really, who could begrudge Scuderi if he doesn't give it to the Penguins?

One more time:

If you want to do what's best for you and your family ...

"We'll see what happens," Scuderi said. "I told Ray in our exit meeting that I'd give Pitt the last shot. I'll take him the offer I'm most comfortable with and say, 'How close can we get?' "

No matter what Shero says at that point, Scuderi will have a tough decision.

Doing the right thing for you and your family really isn't always easy, no matter how astronomical the money is.

Ask Malone.


Ron Cook can be reached at rcook@post-gazette.com .


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