Priority for Penguins' Shero is signing Kennedy
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Tyler Kennedy is not the right-winger-for-hire who is making headlines on a couple of continents these days.
He's not the guy who has inspired a frenzy among Penguins partisans, who has a significant portion of the fan base frothing at every hint, accurate or otherwise, of where he might be working next season.
But Kennedy, not the infinitely more celebrated Jaromir Jagr, is the one Penguins general manager Ray Shero will focus on trying to sign before noon today, at which time Kennedy will be eligible to explore unrestricted free agency if he doesn't have a new contract in place.
As for Jagr, the Penguins still don't know whether he will accept the offer they submitted Tuesday to his agent, Petr Svoboda. But they do know they haven't altered any terms of that proposal and have no intention of doing so.
Which is why Shero will simply wait to hear from Svoboda and/or Jagr, while moving aggressively to get something done with Kennedy.
"We've made the offer [to Jagr]," Shero said. "My priority is Tyler Kennedy. The [Jagr] offer is there, but right now, I'm spending time on Tyler Kennedy."
Actually, he has done quite a bit of that since Monday, when he declined to extend Kennedy a qualifying offer that would have allowed the Penguins to match any offer Kennedy would have gotten from another team as a restricted free agent or to receive compensation if they declined to match.
The risk is that not qualifying Kennedy put him in a position to be unrestricted today, but Shero and Kennedy's agent, Steve Bartlett, seem cautiously optimistic that won't happen.
"We're continuing to feel like we're making slow, steady progress," Bartlett said. "My gut tells me we'll find a way to close the gap."
Bartlett did not elaborate on just how large the gap between what the Penguins are offering and Kennedy is seeking is, but said it has shrunk over the past few days.
"I wouldn't be optimistic if there was a large gap," he said. "We're trying to grind through some ideas about [the length of the deal] and other things that affect the [salary]."
Shero and Bartlett are longtime friends and onetime associates -- Shero worked for Bartlett before getting his first front-office job in Ottawa -- and their relationship certainly is an asset in the negotiations. While it doesn't guarantee there will be an agreement, it keeps the talks from becoming contentious.
"Tyler is due a good increase in his salary," Shero said. "It's a matter of how much and for how many years"
Although the Penguins might be able to hold on to Kennedy, left winger Mike Rupp won't be returning. His physical style was an asset on the fourth line the past two seasons, and he chipped in nine goals and eight assists in 81 games in 2010-11, when he was paid $850,000.
The Penguins re-signed winger Arron Asham on Wednesday after it became clear that they wouldn't be able to reach an agreement with Rupp.
Shero said the Penguins haven't imposed a deadline for Jagr to accept the one-year deal they have proposed, and that agent Petr Svoboda told him late Thursday afternoon that the Penguins remain "very much in the picture" for Jagr.
Detroit and Montreal also are believed to have put forth contract offers, and Svoboda has suggested that several other clubs have expressed interest. What's more, Jagr has what seems to be a standing offer to return to Avangard Omsk in Russia's Kontinental Hockey League, where he spent the past three seasons.
Shero reiterated that the Jagr situation is "independent of anything else we're doing," but the Penguins, like every other team pursuing Jagr, would like to be aware of his intentions before the free-agent signing period starts at midday.
Knowing whether Jagr will be taking up a roster spot, and how much salary-cap space (if any) he will consume, is important for all the general managers who are vying for his services, because it could influence who they go after to fill out their depth charts.
And while Svoboda was supposed to speak with Jagr about his options Thursday night, there was no indication he intended to prod his client to make up his mind about where he wants to work.
"I don't think he wants to push Jagr," Shero said. "The guy's trying to make a decision about where he wants to play."
First Published July 1, 2011 12:00 am