A memorable season capped off by coming within two wins of a Stanley Cup title now descends into a summer of uncertainty. The Penguins have a number of free agents that most teams would salivate over. We know for sure that the team leaving the ice at Mellon Arena on June 4th will not be the same team traveling to Stockholm for the opening game come October.
I looked over the Pens upcoming free agent list and added my thoughts on what general manager Ray Shero should do.
Unrestricted Free Agents- Forwards
Kris Beech: Let him go. The second time around, it didn't work out as he got hurt early on.
Pascal Dupuis: Re-sign. Brought energy to the lineup after being acquired in the Marian Hossa deal.
Adam Hall: Re-sign. Faceoffs were a killer for the Penguins this season. Hall is a skilled centerman who can win draws when needed. Left for dead last fall until a previous Nashville connection with Ray Shero allowed him a tryout with the team.
Connor James: Re-sign. Speedy winger seems to be destined as a career minor-leaguer.
Georges Laraque: Re-sign. BGL has said he'd love to stay in the 'Burgh and is a great bodyguard for the Pens young stars.
Gary Roberts: Let him go. As much as an inspirational player Roberts is, he had a couple of bad breaks this season injury-wise
Jarkko Ruutu: Re-sign. Every team needs a pest to get under the skin of the opposing team. Ruutu does this amazingly well, not to mention he's got some hockey skills, limited, but some.
Nathan Smith: Re-sign. Coming off a career high in goals and points. Big center-man who could see himself in a Pens uniform in the future.
Jeff Taffe: Let him go. Showed he's a hard-working player, but it might be a numbers game that forces him out, especially with some guys in Wilkes-Barre ready for primetime.
Restricted Free Agents- Forwards
Tim Brent: Re-sign. Productive season and AHL playoff campaign.
Jonathan Filewich: Re-sign. Saw his numbers drop this season, but he's a big winger who's capable of putting up some big numbers.
Ryan Stone: Re-sign. Good depth player. Another center in the Pens system who can hopefully play on the wing if he makes the NHL on a consistent basis.
Unrestricted Free Agents- Defensemen
Mark Eaton: Let him go. Injuries have hampered him in his two years with in Pittsburgh. He's a steady presence on the blueline, but more of a presence on injury-reserve.
Alain Nasreddine: Re-sign. Career minor league gives the young guys a veteran presence in the locker room.
Unrestricted Free Agents- Goaltender
Ty Conklin: Re-sign. To me, ConkBlock is the #2 MVP of the Penguins this season. He saved their butts through that amazing December/January stretch. I'm not sure many teams would consider him a full-time #1 goaltender and probably think of his play this season as a flash in the pan. He'd be a better choice at backup than Dany Sabourin.
Restricted Free Agents- Goaltender
Marc-Andre Fleury: Re-sign. Before people bash him and his Stanley Cup performance, let's remember, the kid is just 23 years old. He's already had a 40-win season and a helluva Cup run under his belt. Fleury has improved his positional play and rebound control greatly over the last three seasons. Yes, he's got much more to work on before he becomes a regular Vezina Trophy candidate, but that will come with experience.
Now, the big three UFA's...
Brooks Orpik: Re-sign. Early in his career, I wasn't a fan of Orpik. He took dumb penalties and looked lost at times. Since then, he's matured and grown into a solid defenseman who's responsible in his own zone. He also has the makings of a leader and became a cult figure after "The Shift" in Game Three.
Ryan Malone: Re-sign. He's a Pittsburgh boy, so hopefully a true hometown discount could come into play. He's developed into a quality power-forward and his guts showed during Game 5 of the Stanley Cup that he's not afraid to park himself in front of the net. It would be nice to see the Malkin-Sykora-Malone line continue to gel for a second year. I'd also hope the chance to continue playing with the talent of Pittsburgh would sway him to want to get a deal done to stay.
Marian Hossa: Let him go. This comes with a twist. I would no doubt love to see Hossa return to the Pens, but at what cost? Is he willing to take below market value to stay and contend for a Stanley Cup for the next couple of years? Or, is he interested in taking more money? I'd imagine the short time he was in Pittsburgh, he realized what it's like to have more than one quality player around him. But, I'd rather he walk so Pittsburgh has money available for guys like Jordan Staal, Evgeni Malkin, as well as the other free agents this off-season in Orpik, Malone, and Fleury if he won't take a largely discounted offer.
The Penguins will be the team to watch come July 1st when the free agency period opens. Their future could go either way with what goes down this summer. Will Ray Shero keep the core together for a few more years and continue to be a Cup contender? Or will money restraints keep the Penguins from capitalizing off their recent success?