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Penguins acquire defenseman Hamhuis' rights from Flyers

| Saturday, June 26, 2010

LOS ANGELES — Sergei Gonchar has company on the Penguins' blue line.

However, the Penguins might not have either Gonchar or their newest acquisition — defenseman Dan Hamhuis — next season.

General manager Ray Shero sent a 2011 third-round draft pick to the Philadelphia Flyers for the rights to Hamhuis — like Gonchar, a free agent July 1 — near the end of the first round of the NHL draft Friday night.

It was a bold — albeit risky — move for Shero to land Hamhuis, whom last week the Flyers acquired from Nashville, along with a seventh-round pick, for defenseman Ryan Parent. Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren said he "couldn't come to an agreement" with Hamhuis, who is seeking a long-term contract and a guarantee of top defensive responsibilities.

"I'm going to see if I can reach him and try to sell him on the merits of playing in Pittsburgh," Shero said of Hamhuis, who is represented by agent Wade Arnott.

Hamhuis is a two-way defenseman who can work on a top power-play unit, said Shero, who was Nashville's assistant general manager when Hamhuis was drafted 12th in 2001.

Speculation that Hamhuis, 27, is the hand-picked replacement for Gonchar, 36, was not lost on Shero. However, he said contract talks with Gonchar's camp were "not dead."

Earlier in the day, Shero met briefly with Gonchar's agent, JP Barry. Term is a sticking point. The Penguins have been hesitant to offer the three-year deal Barry seeks. Shero said the Penguins' offseason planning included a scenario in which they would retain Gonchar and add "a strong defenseman."

"It all depends on the numbers," he said.

With eight impending free agents, including Hamhuis, the Penguins are about $10 million under the NHL salary cap, which next season is set for $59.4 million. After learning of the Hamhuis acquisition, Barry said he believed Shero was under the impression "he could keep both" defensemen. He added that negotiations with Shero regarding Gonchar weren't "far apart."

Gonchar and Hamhuis would be among the most sought-after free agents in a market strongest at defense. Retaining both players would leave little cap space for the Penguins to chase a top-notch wing. Keeping both would signal the likely end with the Penguins for defenseman Mark Eaton and trade-deadline acquisition Jordan Leopold, both of whom are impending free agents.

The Penguins would have cap room to keep both if Gonchar or Hamhuis signed and the other wasn't retained.

The only NHL-regular defensemen under contract for the Penguins are Brooks Orpik, Kris Letang and Alex Goligoski. Orpik is recovering from sports hernia surgery but is expected to be ready for training camp in September.

The Penguins expect prospect Ben Lovejoy, who recently signed a three-year deal, to earn a roster spot in camp. Lovejoy has appeared in 14 NHL games.

Letang, 23, and Goligoski, 24, combined for seven goals and 16 points in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

"I liked what their playoffs brought — higher production level, more confidence with the puck and dictating the game with their skill," coach Dan Bylsma said. "I expect you'll see that right from the start (next season), which would be a significant improvement from the start of last season."

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