Coming into today the Pens watched four of their defensemen - Sergei Gonchar, Mark Eaton, Jordan Leopold and Jay McKee - skate into unrestricted free agency.
General Manager Ray Shero had discussions with the agents of Dan Hamhuis (whose rights they'd acquired) and Gonchar, but couldn’t come to terms with either; Gonchar wanted a three year deal and the Pens didn’t want to go that far with a 36 year old defenseman who’s missed 79 games with injuries in the past two years. And Shero couldn’t dissuade Hamhuis, experiencing unrestricted free agency for the first time, from testing the waters.
Shortly after the free agency period opened, Gonchar found the Ottawa Senators,who were willing to give him that third year, as well as a no trade clause and a $500,000 raise on his last contract (up to $5.5 million per year). Hamhuis ended up going back to his home of British Columbia, to join the Vancouver Canucks on a monster six-year contract worth $4.5 million per.
Shero quickly re-shuffled his priorities and snagged Zbynek Michalek. Michalek will fill a role last played by Rob Scuderi: the shot-blocking, tough, defensive-minded defenseman. Last season Michalek finished 16th in the league in blocked shots and played an impressive 4:06 per night on the penalty kill. At 27 he’s young and worthy of the five year deal he received from Pittsburgh. He’s also a right-handed shot, which is a prize in a league where most defensemen shoot left.
Then Shero took Sergei Gonchar’s $5 million per year and he gave it to Paul Martin, formerly of the New Jersey Devils. Martin, 29, is a smooth-skating defenseman who handles the puck well and is the epitome of the “post-lockout” defenseman. He would have played for Team USA in the Olympics this winter, but his season was cut short when he broke his arm, ironically in a game against the Penguins, off the stick of Bill Guerin.
Just like that, with two signings, the Penguins have used $9 million of their approximately $11 million of available cap room. But they’ve locked up two stellar defensemen and have certainly upgrade their most needed position.