Penguins re-sign Adams, say bye to Iginla, Cooke
All three members from what was considered hockey's finest third line are gone.
Replacing their production won't be easy and financially might not be possible for the Penguins.
A year after center Jordan Staal was traded to Carolina and a week after right wing Tyler Kennedy was dealt to San Jose, left wing Matt Cooke has left Pittsburgh after five controversial years, inking a three-year, $7.5 million deal with the Wild.
It became clear Friday afternoon that Cooke wouldn't return, as general manager Ray Shero never mentioned his name during a news conference. Cooke, who overcame stretches of what was considered by some to be dirty play, later signed with Minnesota.
Shero did mention right wing Craig Adams and signed him an hour later. Adams is returning to the Penguins for two years at $700,000 per season.
Bringing back right wing Jarome Iginla never was seriously considered by the salary-cap strapped Penguins. He signed with Boston — for whom he refused to play in March — for $1.8 million in base salary, though the deal could rise to $6 million with incentives.
“It's all about cap space,” Shero said.
The Penguins, who have sacrificed financial flexibility and depth to lock up their stars, possess very little.
Following the Adams deal and the decision to acquire defenseman Rob Scuderi, the Penguins are less than $700,000 from reaching the salary cap, which is set at $64.3 million. Qualifying offers to restricted free agents Robert Bortuzzo and Dustin Jeffrey figure to put the Penguins over the cap.
Shero isn't concerned. Teams are allowed to exceed the cap by 10 percent during the summer, so long as they are in compliance before the season begins.
Trading one of their defensemen — possibly Matt Niskanen and his $2.3 million salary — seems inevitable, given the depth there and a lack of bodies at forward.
“We have three months to get cap compliant,” Shero said. “We have certain decisions to make. I'm not going to go too fast here unless something presents itself.”
Even without Iginla, the Penguins' top two lines should be as formidable as any, not to mention Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal, Chris Kunitz, Pascal Dupuis and Beau Bennett are locked up for at least four more years.
The bottom-six forwards, however, remain an issue.
Cooke and Kennedy are gone, and free agent forward Brenden Morrow almost certainly isn't coming back. The Penguins spoke with former Detroit role player Dan Cleary, but negotiations never came to fruition.
It appears center Brandon Sutter and forward Jussi Jokinen, who will have part of his $2.1 million contract picked up by the Hurricanes, will represent two-thirds of the third line. The right wing remains a mystery. Zach Sill, a forward at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, and newly acquired Harry Zolnierczyk will have an opportunity to make the team, but neither has the pedigree to suggest they will become a consistent third-line scorer in the NHL.
Adams will find himself back on the fourth line.
“He plays a big role on our penalty kill,” Shero said. “He brings grit to the fourth line.”
Adams' agent, Neil Sheehy, and Shero had been talking for two weeks.
Shero has many bold moves in recent months. He intends on being patient for the remainder of the summer, reducing his team's salary structure while perhaps adding one more bottom-six forward.
“Things can change pretty quickly,” he said. “Right now we're going to be careful as to where we're going in certain areas.”
Note: The Penguins bolstered their AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre by signing Chris Conner, Andrew Ebbett, Nick Drazenovic and Bobby Farnham to two-way contracts.