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Team's major role players should test free agent market in NHL

Penguins/NHL Videos

Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Left wing Matt Cooke, among the NHL’s top penalty killers, likely would have to accept a pay reduction and shorter term contract than he would prefer to return to the Penguins next season.
Thursday, July 4, 2013, 7:39 p.m.

The Penguins could lose two key role players from their 2009 championship team today with NHL free agency set to begin.

Left wing Matt Cooke and right wing Craig Adams are eager to return to the Penguins but can sign elsewhere starting at noon Friday.

Adams has yet to receive an offer from the Penguins, who have maintained that they are interested in bringing the penalty killing specialist back.

Cooke, also among the game's elite penalty killers, made it clear following the season that he would like to return.

However, accepting a pay reduction from his previous deal — and agreeing to shorter term contract than he would prefer — appears the only way for Cooke to return.

Cooke earned $1.8 million per year during the past three seasons.

General manager Ray Shero has spoken numerous times with each of their respective agents, but no deal has been reached.

The Penguins currently are just $4.1 million under the salary cap for the 2013-14 season. That number is slightly deceiving because Shero prefers to keep the Penguins at least $1 million under the salary cap during the summer, leaving wiggle room for any in-season moves that may arise.

However, the Penguins don't intend on ignoring possible suitors Friday.

Team owners Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle give Shero the freedom to spend to the salary cap. Also, according to the NHL's collective bargaining agreement with the league's players' association, NHL teams are permitted to spend 10 percent over the salary cap during the summer.

The Penguins, theoretically, could acquire a player Friday that would put them over the salary cap. They would be required to trade a player before the beginning of next season to get under the cap.

Speaking of trades, the Penguins have displayed little interest in re-signing their other unrestricted free agents, many of whom they recently traded for. Players likely to sign elsewhere this summer include right wing Jarome Iginla, left wing Brenden Morrow, defenseman Douglas Murray and defenseman Mark Eaton.

Iginla, Morrow and Murray were all added to the Penguins' roster in late-season acquisitions that were very much deals rooted in the short term. Shero acquired them to help the Penguins win the Stanley Cup in 2013, knowing full well that signing them this summer was no guarantee.

With the Penguins already spending significant money this summer — center Evgeni Malkin, defenseman Kris Letang, left wing Chris Kunitz and right wing Pascal Dupuis have received new contracts worth a combined $160.55 million during the past three weeks — only so much remains for the role players.

Teams like the Penguins that annually spend to the salary cap are attempting to adjust to the new cap figure, which is set for $64.3 million next season.

Despite a lackluster free-agent class, plenty of moves will surely be made Friday.

Given that only Philadelphia and San Jose possess less salary cap room than the Penguins, Shero figures to make only minor moves, barring a trade.

Josh Yohe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @JoshYohe_Trib.

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