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Pens secure Goligoski for three years

| Thursday, June 18, 2009

Alex is a Go-Go for the Penguins.

By agreeing Tuesday to a three-year deal worth $5.5 million, defenseman Alex Goligoski will not become a restricted free agent on July 1. His new contract was announced by the club on Wednesday.

"Honestly, I'm just happy we got it done early," Goligoski said while driving from Pittsburgh to his summer home in Minnesota. "I know the season just ended, but I can't wait for training camp. This shows how much confidence they have in me."

Goligoski, 23, will count $1.833 million against the NHL's salary cap every season on the deal. The cap for next season is expected to be near the $56.7 million total from the recently wrapped campaign.

The Penguins will be near that total, with $35.15 million committed to centers Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby and Jordan Staal; defensemen Brooks Orpik and Sergei Gonchar; and goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury.

Gonchar, 35, will become an unrestricted free agent next summer, and the Penguins have made securing the long-term services of him, Goligoski, Kris Letang among their top offseason priorities.

Letang, 22, will become a restricted free agent on July 1, 2010.

The Penguins will open discussions regarding long-term extensions for him and Gonchar on July 1 -- and they are optimistic of reaching terms before year's end.

General manager Ray Shero could not be reached for comment. He was on a flight to Las Vegas with team personnel, and Malkin and Crosby. Those two players are finalists for year-end individual honors at the NHL Awards Show.

Goligoski impressed Shero in several ways last season.

Because of season-opening injuries to Gonchar and Ryan Whitney, he appeared in 45 games through Feb. 2. Goligoski led defensemen with six goals and 20 points at the time of his return to AHL affiliate Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

Despite only a year of professional experience, Goligoski was not out of place on the Penguins' two power-play unit during Gonchar's absence.

Shero said then that Goligoski's minor-league stint was because the Penguins owned eight defensemen with NHL experience, and seven with one-way contracts.

"We know he can play at this level," Shero said at the time of Goligoski's demotion in February. "That's not the issue."

The Penguins' faith in Goligoski's long-term future was evident by their willingness to trade Whitney on Feb. 26 -- sending a prized 26-year-old puck-moving defenseman to Anaheim for winger Chris Kunitz and prospect Eric Tangradi.

While at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Goligoski scored twice and recorded 18 points in 26 games, and, according to former Penguins assistant general manager Chuck Fletcher, also handled himself in a professional manner.

After recording six points in nine Calder Cup playoff games, Goligoski returned to the Penguins and played in two Stanley Cup playoff games during the second round against Washington because Gonchar was out with a knee injury.

He will enter training camp in September with a firm slot among a top six that will include Gonchar, Orpik, Letang and Mark Eaton. Two regulars from last season -- Rob Scuderi and Hal Gill -- are unrestricted free agents on July 1 and unlikely to be retained by the cap-strapped Penguins.

Goligoski is confident he will help soften the blow of those potential losses.

"I know all the guys, so I'll be very comfortable in the room and on the ice," he said. "There is a pretty high standard with this team. You're talking about the Stanley Cup champions, but I feel like I can bring something to the team that can maybe help us repeat."

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