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Eaton becomes latest to leave Penguins

| Saturday, July 3, 2010

No upgrade is without glitches, and that includes the Penguins' new-look defense.

The loss Friday of defenseman Mark Eaton to the New York Islanders on Day 2 of NHL free agency will be felt next season, even though the Penguins signed long-term deals with defensemen Zbynek Michalek and Paul Martin on Thursday.

"I look at this as a good opportunity," Eaton told New York reporters. "When I signed with Pittsburgh four years ago, they were in a similar situation as an up-and-coming group, and I'm looking forward to contributing."

Eaton, 33, is the third defensive regular from last season to sign elsewhere during free agency. His two-year deal at $5 million total is in line with contracts signed by former teammates Sergei Gonchar (Ottawa) and Jordan Leopold (Buffalo) in that each player received annual raises.

Eaton and Gonchar snagged $500,000 bumps, while Leopold jumped by $1.25 million.

Eaton provided the Penguins with occasional offensive punch during his four-year tenure (seven goals and 31 points). However, Pens general manager Ray Shero agreed that his contribution to the franchise's transformation from bottom-feeder to title contender went beyond Eaton's reputable shot-blocking expertise and sound own-zone positioning.

"Mark was really a quiet leader for us," said Shero, who was the assistant general manager when Eaton played with Nashville. "He bought in four years ago, and he contributed on and off the ice. He's a real pro. The Islanders are getting a great guy."

The Penguins are getting an intriguing forward in Ryan Craig, who signed a one-year deal of the two-way variety. He would count $500,000 against the cap if he plays in the NHL next season.

Craig, 28, spent the past five seasons with Tampa Bay, although he played only three of his 184 NHL games last season and did not produce a point.

"He's a guy who's had some success at the NHL level," Shero said. "He's a big body (6-foot-2, 220 pounds). We're going on his full body of work. It will be interesting to see him in training camp."

Former Penguins forward Adam Hall serves as an example of an unheralded veteran who won a regular roster spot with a strong training camp in 2007.

The second day of free agency wasn't very busy for Shero, whose cap space is around $2 million after signing Michalek and Martin. He didn't rule out adding "maybe a veteran guy at some point," but said that the player - likely a winger - won't be "a high-priced guy."

A trade was not ruled out, although Shero said he would "take the weekend on that decision." He stressed nothing was imminent with either a trade or free-agent signing.

Right wing Bill Guerin, who had not signed with another team as of last night, is seeking to play one more season at his previous salary ($2 million), and he would prefer a return to the Penguins.

The busy lead-up to free agency contributed to the halting of coach Dan Bylsma's search for a new top assistant to replace Mike Yeo, who is the new coach of AHL Houston. Shero said Bylsma engaged some potential candidates at last weekend's NHL Entry Draft.

"There are some candidates," he said. "Dan will get back to it next week. There's no rush."

Additional Information:

Gone so far

Players who spent at least part of last season with the Penguins but have signed elsewhere through two days of NHL free agency:

Mark Eaton (2nd defensive pairing): Islanders (2 years/$5 million total)

Sergei Gonchar (1st defensive pairing): Senators (3 years/$16.5 million total)

Jordan Leopold (3rd defensive pairing): Sabres (3 years/$9 million total)

Sources: Tribune-Review reporting,

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