With the NHL season concluded, attention turns to the Entry Draft next weekend. Since it's unlikely for either team central to this blog to draft a player who will provide an immediate impact, the bigger date on the horizon is July 1, the start of free agency. So let's take a look at the ramifications for these two teams.
I'll start with my bigger area of knowledge, the Stanley Cup champion Penguins. (That won't get old to type.)
Pittsburgh's pending free agents: 10
Salary cap space: Just under $10 million, 14 players signed
Key UFAs: Wingers Petr Sykora, Ruslan Fedotenko, Miroslav Satan and Bill Guerin; defensemen Hal Gill and Rob Scuderi; backup goalie Mathieu Garon.
Priorities: I'd like to say first priority should be re-signing Scuderi. But his performance this season led to a huge spike in his value. After making $725,000 this season, he can be expected to at least triple that value, if not quadruple it. It's highly likely he'll be too expensive for the Penguins to keep.
That means wingers for Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are on the "buy" list. Right now, only Chris Kunitz and maybe Max Talbot are in the mix. But Ray Shero can't break the bank. So, the likes of Marian Hossa, Michael Cammalleri and Martin Havlat are almost certainly out of consideration. Even second-tier guys like Alex Tanguay or Alex Kovalev, or even Brian Gionta or Mike Knuble, could cost too much. Fedotenko could re-sign, as could Guerin. Sykora and Satan are likely gone.
Shero might have to go after someone like Ales Kotalik or Jason Williams. There's just not much money to spend.
I expect the Penguins to be fairly quiet in free agency. They were last year too, except for re-signing their own players, but money is even tighter this time around. The first domino, however, has fallen, as Pittsburgh re-signed restricted free agent-to-be Alex Goligoski to a three-year contract worth $5.5 million on Wednesday. Which, honestly, seems a little steep for me for one half season of good work but could turn into a bargain. I think that hammers the final nail on Scuderi's coffin, and if so, I wish Rob all the best. The Cup wouldn't have happened without him.
There are some in-house replacements for the blue line and backup goalie, but not yet for top-six wingers. Another one- or two-year contract to a couple people might be Pittsburgh's fix.
Minnesota's pending free agents: 12
Salary cap space: About $13 million with 17 players signed.
Key free agents: Five UFAs: wingers Marian Gaborik, Stephane Veilleux, defensemen Marc-Andre Bergeron, Martin Skoula and Kurtis Foster. RFAs include Dan Fritsche, Josh Harding, Benoit Pouliot.
Priorities: I think Chuck Fletcher should try to re-sign Gaborik. Barring that, some other top scoring winger. If Fletcher and Todd Richards want to play up-tempo and aggressive, they need someone who can score.
After that, a top-two center. James Sheppard might yet turn into the center everyone in Minnesota wants - and there's a small precedent set, as Jordan Staal's game improved somewhat once Dan Bylsma took over for Michel Therrien. But Sheppard's possible improvement under a more up-tempo coach shouldn't be relied upon. Same with Pouliot.
Fletcher left a situation that had Sergei Gonchar, Ryan Whitney, Kris Letang and Goligoski - all offensively skilled defensemen - in the organization. Maybe he looks to add one of those types in Minnesota, or maybe he's got one already in Kim Johnsson, whose offense could increase under Richards.
Otherwise, the defense corps appears capable. Just need to add a couple pieces. What to do with Harding is a question, whether he'll be traded or re-signed, so a backup goalie might be necessary as well.
Maybe Fletcher just tears everything down and starts over from scratch (relatively), which would lead to some growing pains. The Wild won under the old system but doesn't have the pieces yet for the new one. The question is whether he tries to win now or if he reconstructs the system to fit his ideals.
So, I really have no idea what Minnesota will do.
Things should be fun in two weeks, though I for one am in no particular hurry to get there, but I know I'm in the minority on that. Plus, who knows what things will look like on July 1 with possible trades at the draft.
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