September 23, 2008
I can't tell if the venerable Damien Cox of the Toronto Star is trying to make the Pittsburgh Penguins feel guilty for spending millions after going Chapter 11 as a franchise, or for having the nerve to pay some of the best young players in the world to stay in Pittsburgh until 2013.
They still have the young players and they may well all still be improving. But affordable? Well, just. The formerly bankrupt Penguins, who host the Maple Leafs in exhibition play tomorrow night, are pushing right up against the NHL's $56 million salary cap. There's no turning back now.
GM Ray Shero has committed to a group of players that includes Malkin, Fleury, Orpik, captain Sidney Crosby and defenceman Ryan Whitney, all of whom are 27 or younger and are now locked up through the 2012-13 season. By next summer, they'll be joined by forward Jordan Staal, who is slated to become a restricted free agent in June.
The cost of paying so much to so few, as Tampa Bay found out with its now disbanded Big Three, will be instability and yearly turnover with the other 60 per cent of the roster. This summer, the Pens lost unrestricted forwards Gary Roberts, Ryan Malone, Jarkko Ruutu, Marian Hossa, Georges Laraque and Adam Hall, as well as goalie Ty Conklin.
Three reasons why this is nonsense:
1. I've had trouble understanding Penguins fans' automatic ire when writers claim Marian Hossa as a huge loss heading into this season, but this helps clarify their feelings for me. The Penguins didn't lose Hossa; they barely had him in the regular season, rented him for the postseason and were more than willing to pay him to return. It wouldn't have been the right financial decision, but don't use Hossa as an example of roster instability if the team was willing to sign him and he instead chose the Detroit Red Wings for one season.
2. The evoking of the Tampa Bay Lightning in relation to the Penguins' current situation is shoddy logic. It assumes Pittsburgh has handed out a Brad Richards contract, which it hasn't. It assumes Penguins ownership will lock up the checkbook and handcuff Shero like the Bolts' outgoing ownership did to Jay Feaster, which they won't. Most of all, it assumes the Penguins will mismanage their draft picks and young talent as badly as the Bolts did; their refusal to trade a pick back to Tampa in the recent Andrej Meszaros negotiation proves that the Penguins won't.
3. Finally, what exactly would Cox or anyone else critical of their cap situation have the Penguins do? They've managed to get market value for Marc-Andre Fleury ($5 million cap hit) and Ryan Whitney ($4 mil); slightly less for Sidney Crosby ($8.7 mil), Evgeni Malkin ($8.7 mil) and Brooks Orpik ($3.75 mil). Every one of those players is signed through 2013 and beyond.
That's one hell of a core, and I'd rather have that foundation than stability on the third line.
About Cox's assertion that "60 percent of the roster" will be turned over every season: This is a bad thing? Check out the UFAs for next summer: Sydor, Gill, Satan, Fedotenko, Sykora, Scuderi, Beech.
Dear God, not Kris Beech!
And how handcuffed are they really? On paper, the Penguins have no mobility with their roster; at the trade deadline, when the cap hits are lower and the financials have shifted during a long season, there's a very good chance that another Hossa-like rental could end up on Sidney's wing.
I couldn't vehemently differ more with the notion that the Pittsburgh Penguins are somehow in a position to fail because they have two of the top three centers in hockey signed; two top-pairing defenseman signed; and a burgeoning star in goal (and not just because he might be on my fantasy team) signed. There are too many teams in the NHL that overpay role players and then face cap hardship. Each case is unique; the Penguins are doing the only thing they should be doing with their payroll.
Just for poops and giggles: What, exactly, happens if Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen don't drink the Winged Wheel Kool-Aid with their salaries? Because then Hossa will really be one-and-done in Detroit.