2011 Free Agency Recap
Tuesday, 07.05.2011 / 9:30 AM
Features By Michelle Crechiolo

Now that the dust has settled from the 2011 NHL free agency period, Penguins fans can rest easy – and be excited for next season.

That’s because Penguins general manager Ray Shero has locked up a scary-good looking roster of 12 forwards, seven defensemen and two goaltenders for the 2011-12 campaign.

The Penguins are still one man short of the 23-player maximum, but they have about three months (and $2,137,500 in cap space) to fill that void – not to mention a number of capable players in the system (Dustin Jeffrey, Nick Johnson, Eric Tangradi and the newly-signed Colin McDonald, to name a few) who will likely vie for the spot.

The Penguins began the offseason on incredibly strong footing. Thanks to some strategic maneuvering and planning over the past year by Shero, the aforementioned seven defensemen (including top-four blueliners Brooks Orpik, Kris Letang, Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek) and two goalies (team MVP Marc-Andre Fleury and capable backup Brent Johnson) were already signed to one-way contracts through next season entering this summer.

With such utter security on the back end, Shero could focus solely on filling out Pittsburgh’s forward lineup entering this summer’s free agency period – a task much more easily fulfilled simply because of the larger supply of players at that position.

So with seven forwards inked through the 2011-12 campaign, Shero had to get busy locking at least four more forwards to ensure he would have a four-line rotation set in stone.

In order to avoid dependency on a thin 2011 free agent class, Shero set his sights on first attempting to re-sign his own players – who had already proven their worth as Penguins – that were set to test the waters come July 1 if both sides could not reach an agreement before that point.

And Shero certainly worked his magic, as he was able to re-sign four key players by noon on the dot of that day to very reasonable deals – an achievement that’s even more commendable considering how lean the free agent pool shaped up to be.

Most notably, Shero convinced Tyler Kennedy and Pascal Dupuis to forego potential unrestricted free agency – where they certainly would have drawn lucrative offers on the open market, as both players had phenomenal 2010-11 campaigns – to stay in Pittsburgh.

In addition to re-signing valuable role players in Craig Adams and Arron Asham, Shero filled out his forward lineup with the addition of veteran winger Steve Sullivan, a scoring winger who’s compiled 692 points (266G-416A) over 892 career games and who will surely thrive alongside Pittsburgh’s skilled centers.

Shero and Penguins assistant general manager Jason Botterill also continued to bolster the entire organization’s depth by re-signing forwards Nick Johnson and Ryan Craig while adding forward Colin McDonald and defenseman Boris Valabik.

McDonald and Valabik should be instrumental members of Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (WBS) and could make legitimate cases for time with Pittsburgh.

While Shero didn’t rule out signing any more players, he believes that his group, for the most part, is set.

“We’re set up pretty well,” he said. “I like our team. I think we all know that the key to our team this year is getting (Sidney) Crosby and (Evgeni) Malkin back and having those guys play with (Jordan) Staal a full year. That would be the best news we could have.

“I’m glad we signed the defensemen we signed last year. We’re set on defense. We’re set in goal. Our forward group, getting these guys healthy is the main thing for me right now.”

Craig Adams
Arron Asham
Matt Cooke
Sidney Crosby
Pascal Dupuis
Tyler Kennedy
Chris Kunitz
Mark Letestu
Evgeni Malkin
James Neal
Jordan Staal
Steve Sullivan

Deryk Engelland
Kris Letang
Ben Lovejoy
Paul Martin
Zbynek Michalek
Matt Niskanen
Brooks Orpik

Marc-Andre Fleury
Brent Johnson

NAME: Nick Johnson
DETAILS: One-year, two-way contract worth $550,00 at the NHL level.
QUICK ANALYSIS: Johnson, 25, appeared in four games for Pittsburgh this past season, posting three points (1G-2A) before suffering a concussion that sidelined him for the remaining 23 games of the regular season and playoffs. The versatile, two-way winger spent the last three-plus seasons with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (WBS) and has notched 50 goals, 94 points and a plus-46 rating in 169 career games with the team. Johnson has the size and the skill to compete at the NHL level – expect to see him making a viable case for time with Pittsburgh.

NAME: Craig Adams
DETAILS: Two-year contract extension with an average annual value of $675,000.
QUICK ANALYSIS: The Penguins locked up one of their heart-and-soul players when they re-signed Adams. Adams is a two-time Stanley Cup winner (Carolina, 2006; Pittsburgh, 2009) that embraces his role as a fourth-line grinder. He’s the type of player you want on the ice in the waning seconds of Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final (which actually happened) and never shies away from blocking shots or being physical. He finished first among forwards with 64 blocked shots and ranked fourth with 171 hits. To top it off, he’s one of the Penguins’ premier penalty killing forwards.

NAME: Ryan Craig
DETAILS: One-year, two-way contract worth $525,000 at the NHL level.
QUICK ANALYSIS: Craig was named captain of Wilkes-Barre/Scranton by an unanimous players’ vote last season, his first with the organization. Who wouldn’t want a player like that back in the fold? In addition to leadership, the veteran forward ranked second on the team with 48 points (19G-29A) in 71 games. He added a team-leading (tied) three goals and a plus-7 rating, while ranking second with seven points (3G-4A), in 12 postseason contests.

NAME: Pascal Dupuis
DETAILS: Two-year contract extension with an average annual value of $1.5 million.
QUICK ANALYSIS: Incredibly valuable signing for the Penguins. In re-signing Dupuis, Pittsburgh ensured they would have one of their most versatile players back in the lineup. Dupuis scored 17 goals last season – fourth-best on the team – while moving anywhere from the first to the fourth line. Dupuis, who uses his speed to his advantage on both sides of the ice, thrived on the penalty kill – scoring a team-leading four shorthanded tallies. He also provided some much-needed consistency in an adversity-riddled season, missing just one game for the birth of his fourth child. Finally, Dupuis also provides an important veteran presence in an already tightly knit group.

NAME: Arron Asham
DETAILS: One-year contract extension worth $775,000.
QUICK ANALYSIS: Although he played just 44 games last season due to injury, Asham will be entering the 2011-12 campaign healthy and ready to go. He’ll be coming off an outstanding playoff performance where he was arguably the Penguins’ best player, leading the team with three goals and tying for the team lead with four points in seven games. Bringing back the feisty winger ensures the Penguins will have a measure of toughness and grit every time Asham is in the lineup.

NAME: Tyler Kennedy
DETAILS: Two-year contract extension with an average annual value of $2 million.
QUICK ANALYSIS: The biggest signing of the summer for Shero. The negotiations with Kennedy went down to the wire, as the forward’s two-year extension wasn’t announced until the clock struck noon on July 1. But the wait was well worth it, as the 24 year old is coming off the best season of his four-year career. He thrived in the expanded role and increased minutes that came with injuries to the forward lineup, where Kennedy established single-season highs across the board in goals (21), assists (24), points (45) and power-play goals (7). He was a restricted free agent this summer, and no one would have blamed him for wanting to test the market after the fantastic season he had. But Kennedy wanted to stay in Pittsburgh, and Shero made him a reasonable enough deal to ensure that happened. Now Kennedy will have (at least) two more years to continue growing as a player under the guidance of the Penguins coaching staff.

NAME: Steve Sullivan
DETAILS: One-year contract worth $1.5 million.
QUICK ANALYSIS: Commendable pickup for Shero, already acquainted with Sullivan – who had spent the last six seasons with the Predators prior to signing with Pittsburgh – from his time in Nashville as assistant GM. Not only will Sullivan, 36, add invaluable experience to the Penguins’ roster – he’s played in 890 career regular-season games and 44 playoff contests – but the speedy, skilled forward has posted some big numbers over the course of his career. He’s amassed 266 goals, 416 assists and 682 points, with a pair of 31-plus goal seasons and five 20-plus goal seasons under his belt. Sullivan is a natural winger with plenty of smarts, who should thrive alongside Pittsburgh’s skilled centers.

NAME: Colin McDonald
DETAILS: One-year, two-way contract worth $525,000 at the NHL level.
QUICK ANALYSIS: An impressive addition to the Penguins organization, as McDonald led the American Hockey League in scoring last season with 42 goals through 80 games. McDonald, 26, can fit in anywhere from the first to the fourth line while being utilized in all situations – power play, penalty kill, four-on-four and shootouts. His versatility will make him an integral part of Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (WBS), and may give him a chance to compete for time at the NHL level. In 306 career AHL games, McDonald has posted 76 goals, 60 assists and 126 points. The 6-foot-3, 205-pound McDonald played two games at the NHL level with Edmonton during the 2009-10 season, scoring one goal.

NAME: Boris Valabik
DETAILS: One-year, two-way contract worth $550,000 at the NHL level.
QUICK ANALYSIS: Valabik will be a welcome addition to the WBS defensive depth chart with the departures of Corey Potter, Andrew Hutchinson and Steve Wagner. Valabik possesses immense size at 6-foot-7 and 245 pounds, and the stay-at-home defenseman uses it to be an aggressive, punishing presence on the ice. Overall, the former first-round pick of the Thrashers in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft (10th overall) has plenty of experience. He has appeared in 184 AHL regular-season games, notching 31 points (4G-27A) and 633 penalty minutes. Valabik has also collected seven assists and 210 penalty minutes in 80 NHL games with Atlanta from 2007-10.