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Unknown Futures

The Penguins 2011 class of free agents, nine unrestricted and two restricted forwards, consists mostly full of grinders, role players and secondary scorers with character, heart, desire and ability to win.

But with a commitment to 17 players that are taking up about $55 million in cap space next season, the Penguins have a lot of negotiating to do in the next month. Even though the salary cap is expected to increase from last season’s limit of $59.4 million, there is not much space to spare. As long as the Penguins want to keep their core of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Marc-Andre Fleury and Jordan Staal together, Ray Shero will have to continue being creative. Free agency begins July 1.

Tyler Kennedy, RW
Restricted; Cap Hit: $725,000
The Penguins’ most prominent restricted free agent, Kennedy is currently in talks with the team, and reportedly asking for two million dollars annually. After a sub-par first half of the year, Kennedy emerged in a big way when Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby were injured, piling up a career best 21 goals and 45 points by the end of the season. The Penguins would like to keep the speedy, hard-working right wing, but are supposedly more comfortable paying him about $1.5 million – around double his 2010-11 salary. If Kennedy and the Pens don’t strike a deal by draft weekend, June 24-25, he could be dealt.
Verdict: Finding his game means TK may have priced himself out of Pittsburgh. Unless he is willing to take less than market value, he’ll be traded before July.

Dustin Jeffrey, Center/Wing
Restricted; Cap Hit: $509,444
Jeffrey made the best of his opportunity with the big club, scoring 7 goals and 12 points in 25 NHL games before missing the rest of the regular season and playoffs after he tore his ACL in March. Considering he’s 23, played less than one-third of a season, and is currently rehabbing a serious injury, the Penguins should be able to re-sign him without much trouble. Being able to keep Jeffrey, who earned a permanent spot with the Penguins last year, will also make parting with more experienced free agents more palatable. He is a part of the organization’s bright future.
Verdict: Will be signed before July 1st deadline.

Craig Adams, Right Wing
Unrestricted; Cap Hit: $550,000
The Penguins definitely want to sign the shot-blocking, penalty-killing defensive forward. According to Adams, he wants to stay in Pittsburgh as well. Adams certainly deserves more than what he made in 2010-11, a salary which was just above the league minimum. Adams is another member of Pittsburgh’s league-leading PK unit. Of the 4 goals and 11 assists he had last season, two goals and two assists were scored on the penalty kill.

Pascal Dupuis, Wing
Unrestricted; Cap Hit: $1,400,000
The Penguins have opened contract negotiations with the 32-year-old forward, a valuable penalty killer who was a consistent presence on Sidney Crosby’s line along with Chris Kunitz last year. Both he and Kunitz complimented the Pens’ No. 1 center through the first half of the season, and Dupuis scored 17 goals, recorded 37 points and was a plus 16. To stay with the Penguins, he’ll probably have to settle for around what he’s making now. If he’s lured away by more money, the Penguins still have James Neal ready to play with either Crosby or Malkin, not to mention Eric Tangradi waiting to make the permanent jump to the big league.
Verdict: A toss up. Shero is obviously trying to keep him, but in the end everyone but 87, 71, 11 and 29 is replaceable. Just ask Ryan Malone.

Mike Rupp, Center
Unrestricted; Cap Hit: $825,000
The 31-year-old forward is represented by the same agent as Dupuis, and is also talking with the team about signing another contract. The Ohio native, who recorded 9 goals and 8 assists last year, has expressed a desire to stay in Pittsburgh. Like everyone else, where he fits in with the limited cap space Shero has to work with will determine whether or not the Pens sign him.
Verdict: If he doesn’t receive many offers as a free agent, and is willing to come back for around the same salary, expect to see Rupp mucking and grinding with Craig Adams next year.

Max Talbot, Center
Unrestricted; Cap Hit: $1,050,000
A fan favorite who will always be remembered for scoring the game-winning goal in Game 7 against Detroit, Talbot will probably have superstar money thrown at him when he becomes a free agent. The thing is, his playoff heroics have been followed by two lackluster seasons, so don’t expect the Penguins to try to top any offers. They simply don’t have the cap space. And while he might start playing at a higher level again elsewhere, signing him to a multi-year deal is a risk. Surely fans, teammates and Talbot himself will be sorry to see the two part ways, but losing him won’t be a major detriment to the team.
Verdict: Talbot will end up being overpaid – but not by the Penguins.

Arron Asham, Wing
Unrestricted; Cap Hit: $700,000
Though injuries forced him to miss much of the season, Asham showed how valuable he can be during the playoffs. He led the Pens in scoring during their first-round series against the Lightning, proving his strong postseason performance with Philadelphia in 2010 was no fluke. Just like Tyler Kennedy, though, playing well means he may want more than the Penguins have to offer.
Verdict: Asham was overlooked as a free agent last year, which allowed Shero to scoop him up. After the Tampa series, that mistake won’t be made two years in a row. This is probably goodbye for number 45.

Eric Godard, Wing
Unrestricted; Cap Hit: $750,000
In 19 games last season, the Pens’ enforcer recorded three assists while racking up 105 penalty minutes. The NHL also handed him a 10-game suspension for leaving the bench to defend Brent Johnson against Islander forward Michael Haley.
Verdict: He is a great teammate and enforcer, but not a priority.

Chris Conner, Wing
Unrestricted; Cap Hit: $550,000
Like Jeffrey, Conner impressed during his opportunity with the Penguins. The speedy forward worked hard every shift and recorded seven goals and nine assists. While his offensive production isn’t too impressive, Conner could always be counted on to create energy and chances on the ice. Unlike Jeffrey, Conner is not young—not for a hockey player at least—and has never really been in the Penguins’ future plans the way Jeffrey and Tangradi are. Even if he doesn’t receive competitive offers on the open market, it’s doubtful that he is one of Shero’s priorities this summer.
Verdict: No need to re-sign Conner. WBS is well stocked with players who can fill in when the team has injury trouble.

Alexei Kovalev, Wing
Unrestricted; Cap Hit: $5,000,000
If the two measly goals he scored in his brief time with the Penguins wasn’t enough to seal Kovy’s fate with the team he said he wanted to end his career with, Dan Bylsma benching the 1,000-point scorer in the last minutes of Game 7 against Tampa was a guarantee that we won’t see number 72 in a Penguins jersey again. The only question that remains for Kovalev now is if any NHL team will acquire him.
Verdict: Kovalev will be joining Jaromir Jagr—who also will not be a Penguin next year, despite what you may have heard—in the KHL.

Mike Comrie, Center/Wing
Unrestricted; Cap Hit: $500,000
Comrie is another player who will not be in Pittsburgh next year. A promising training camp was followed by a disappointing season. The 30-year-old spent most of the year recovering from hip surgery, and only scored one goal, an empty net tally, during the last game of the regular season.
Verdict: Another team will sign Comrie to the same one-year, league minimum deal the Penguins offered him last year.

Brett Sterling and Nick Johnson, Wings
Unrestricted; Cap Hit: $500,000 each
Sterling and Johnson played seven and four games with the Penguins this season respectively. Sterling, a natural goal-scorer, recorded three goals and two assists in seven games with the big club. Johnson, 25, one of the Penguins’ more highly touted prospects, only played in four NHL games, tallying one goal and two assists. His opportunity was cut short by a concussion he sustained in February.

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