Penguins unlikely to bid for top guns
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Think Ryan Smyth or Chris Drury would look good on one of the Penguins' top lines?
So does general manager Ray Shero.
Think Brian Rafalski or Sheldon Souray would upgrade their defense?
Think there's a possibility the Penguins will sign one of those guys, or any of the other big-ticket players who will become available when NHL free agency begins at noon today?
Well, not so much.
Barring a radical change in philosophy -- and a huge infusion of cash from ownership -- the chances of the Penguins giving some unrestricted free agent a $6 million or $7 million salary for four or five years when the bidding gets underway fall somewhere between negligible and nil.
"There are only going to be select teams that are going to be in the market for those players," Shero said. "We know that."
The Penguins' payroll, which crested in the mid-$30 million range last season, is scheduled to rise in 2007-08, although Shero has not said precisely how much he will have to spend on players. It will not begin to approach the $50.3 million salary-cap ceiling established by the league's collective bargaining agreement.
That isn't likely to happen until the Penguins begin to receive the enhanced revenue that will come from playing in the city's new arena. What's more, Shero has to be wary of handing out big-money, multiyear deals because he must save cap space for his own players who must be re-signed over the next few seasons.
No one will be surprised if some of the most-coveted free agents -- guys such as Scott Gomez, Daniel Briere and Paul Kariya -- have contract agreements in place within hours, if not minutes, of hitting the open market.
But if precedent from 2006, Shero's first year as general manager, holds, it might be a few days before the Penguins make a move. It's not that Shero is planning to take today off; just that the high-priced players figure to find homes before most of those who will be targeted by the Penguins begin to attract serious attention.
"It's no different than last year for us," Shero said. "We'll make calls, like every other team, and I think we're going to find out pretty quick what the market is going to be.
"Every year, we think the same thing: It appears that it's a crazy market. And probably this year is going to be no different."
Shero said the Penguins have "identified some players" they plan to pursue in coming days. He has not publicly identified them -- doing so before free agency begins could constitute tampering, as well as give rival clubs insight on his plans -- but the Penguins have openings for several types of players: A reliable, veteran defenseman, a goal-scoring winger and at least one goaltender, especially if Shero can't re-sign Jocelyn Thibault and/or Nolan Schaefer.
Shero might well put out a few contract proposals today, but whether any will lead to an agreement -- or even serious negotiations that could eventually yield a deal -- is impossible to predict.
"My idea of 'viable' and the agents' idea of 'viable,' might be different," Shero said, laughing.
"It's so volatile, you just don't know exactly what to expect. Two or three hours into free agency, you're talking to other [GMs] and you're like, 'Can you believe it? Holy cow.' It's going to be interesting."
Defense likely is the Penguins' top priority -- ideally, they would find a partner for rookie Kristopher Letang, who management hopes will crack the NHL lineup this fall -- and Shero said he and his staff have "different tiers" of candidates for addition to their blue line.
"It's no different than last year, when we ended up signing Mark Eaton," he said. "Mark wasn't a marquee guy, but ended up being a good fit for us when he was healthy.
"You saw the guys on defense last year who got the big money quickly, the Jay McKees, guys like that. They were quickly out of range, especially with where we were last year, so you have other plans. You just have to react and be flexible. You're not going to sign a guy just to sign a guy."
It also is conceivable that the Penguins could get a defenseman -- or a winger or a goalie, for that matter -- without ever submitting a proposal to a free agent.
As other teams add free agents, players already on their roster might be deemed expendable. What's more, because a number of clubs maintain payrolls that flirt with the salary-cap ceiling, adding a free agent could force some to shed a productive player strictly for financial reasons.
"As teams are signing guys, maybe something else frees up, trade-wise," Shero said. "Maybe we have to respond to that, as well.""Every year, we think the same thing: It appears that it's a crazy market. And probably this year is going to be no different."
First Published June 30, 2007 8:52 pm