Fleury's deal all but done
Ray Shero is in the market for a No. 1 right winger.
A couple of other top-six forwards, too. Along with a few guys who have some grit -- and perhaps even a little malice aforethought -- to labor on the Penguins' third and fourth lines.
But he won't have to go looking for a No. 1 goalie because the framework of a contract that will keep Marc-Andre Fleury in that role for years is largely in place.
While a few issues -- like whether the deal will cover five or six seasons -- still must be resolved, all major hurdles to an agreement have been cleared.
"I'm hopeful that in the next couple of days, something will work out there," said Shero, the Penguins' general manager.
Even though tying up the loose ends on Fleury's deal shouldn't take long, Shero won't have trouble staying busy. Not after he lost his No. 1 right winger, Marian Hossa, to Detroit via free agency yesterday.
While the Penguins -- who had offered Hossa a little more than $7 million per season on deals lasting five, six or seven years -- clearly were taken aback when he opted for a one-year, $7.4 million deal with the Red Wings, they moved quickly to try to fill the hole created by his departure.
Because Hossa was the crown jewel of the free-agent Class of 2008, the Penguins aren't going to find a replacement of his caliber in the next day or so. In fact, they won't try.
Instead, Shero said, they likely will take the money they were prepared to invest in Hossa and use it to add a couple of wingers capable of playing on the top two lines.
"There certainly are some decent options for us," he said. "That was a lot of money going to one player. Now we have the possibility of spreading it out a little bit."
Ex-Penguin Markus Naslund, late of Vancouver, is getting a long look -- which is more than another Penguins alum, Jaromir Jagr, received -- but the Penguins apparently have not isolated just a handful of candidates for spots alongside Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
Anybody past the prime of his career -- and most of the skilled wingers still available in free agency are -- need not apply for work here if he's intent on getting a contract that lasts more than a season or two.
Finding guys willing to play on the Penguins' terms apparently won't be a problem, though, based on Shero's observations since free agency kicked in Tuesday afternoon.
"You have guys who have called me -- the same situation as last year -- who really want to play here," he said.
The sentiment certainly seemed to figure into defenseman Brooks Orpik's decision to re-sign with the Penguins.
He accepted a contract that will pay him $3.75 million per season for six years, but could have gotten at least $4 million per season if he had opted to leave the Penguins.
Instead, he honored his pledge to accept a bit less than market value to stay.
In so doing, Shero said, Orpik followed the precedent set by Crosby and Malkin, who gave the team bigger discounts by agreeing to five-year contracts with an average annual value of $8.7 million.
"I'm happy Brooks Orpik took less money to be here," Shero said. "He wants to be here."
Retaining Orpik filled out the Penguins' depth chart on defense. Now, when he isn't shopping for skilled linemates to play with Crosby and Malkin, Shero can turn his attention to replacing some of the grit and toughness the Penguins have lost via the departure of Gary Roberts, Ryan Malone and Jarkko Ruutu, who accepted a three-year, $3.9 million offer from Ottawa yesterday.
Shero was responsible for bringing Roberts and Ruutu as well as Georges Laraque to the Penguins, so he obviously recognizes the value of assembling a team that is physical, abrasive and difficult to play against.
"I certainly like to have a team that plays a certain style," he said. "Maybe this is Ryan Stone's turn, or someone else's, [to provide] the grit internally. Or else we'll go out and find it."
NOTES -- Malkin's new contract will pay him $9 million in each of the first four seasons, $7.5 million in the final one. ... Former Penguins defenseman Josef Melichar signed a one-year contract with Carolina. Melichar, 29, played 310 games for the Penguins between 2000-01 and 2006-07.
First Published July 3, 2008 12:00 am