Count me as someone who is not looking forward to July 1.
Granted, those who know me know that over the last 15 years, I've had exactly seven cheerful, optimistic thoughts. So I'm not exactly one to talk to when the subject involves "hope" or "wishful thinking" or whatnot. I believe that train of thought is worthless. But that's just me. Those of a brighter disposition can do what they want.
This time, I'm thinking I might be justified.
See, when the Penguins acquired the rights to defenseman du jour Dan Hamhuis, my first thought was, "There goes Sergei Gonchar." Then a strange thing happened. Somehow, somewhere, someone implanted the notion in my head that maybe, just maybe, Pittsburgh could sign both Gonchar and Hamhuis.
Such a scenario would continue to leave the top-six winger position vacant, but Hamhuis would help shore up a porous defense that became horribly exposed in the playoffs. It could work, I thought. Strength down the middle at center and at defense and the Penguins will be fine. Stopping goals was a bigger problem than scoring them.
So, I hoped. And I'm an idiot. A disappointed one.
Doesn't look like Gonchar or Hamhuis will sign. One wants more money and years. One wants to be somewhere else. Both can probably get more money elsewhere.
Therein lies Pittsburgh's problem. The Penguins have a lot to offer free agents. A team that's just one year removed of winning the Stanley Cup. A nice new arena. A good city with a strong fan base.
But not money. Not a lot of that to go around. Enough for one or two big players unless they want to break the bank. If that's what it's going to come down to, Ray Shero will likely miss out on the top targets, and there might be more holes in the lineup than before. Even Bill Guerin, Jordan Leopold and Mark Eaton might not return.
Instead of being excited about the start of free agency, I approach noon July 1 with dread. It just feels like it'll be a bleak summer for my Penguins, which is not how I approached the last two offseasons.
Maybe I'm wrong. We'll find out in the next few days. But I'm not getting my hopes up.
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