Pens plan to take ride on free-agent train
The Penguins apparently will not be content to let the free-agent carousel pass them by. They plan to go for a ride or two.
That's what general manager Craig Patrick said Tuesday, the first day of the NHL's free-agent season. The Penguins, who slashed payroll last season, obviously are in no position to sign a superstar, but they plan to add some quality to their roster in a fiscally responsible way.
In what Patrick said was an effort to free up money, he let 10 players become unrestricted free agents yesterday. The majority of those gained their freedom because the Penguins did not make them a qualifying offer (a 10-percent raise) on their last contract.
"We left ourselves fairly flexible, so we could get a couple of players if the price is right and if the conditions are right," Patrick said. "We're going to sit back and take a look at the market and hopefully make some moves."
One unrestricted free agent who would love to play for the Penguins is veteran defenseman Ian Moran, whom Patrick dealt to the Boston Bruins at the trade deadline last season. Moran has returned to his home in Pittsburgh and is hoping that Patrick and coach Eddie Olczyk can find a spot for him.
Moran spent the better part of eight years with the Penguins.
"If Craig and Edzo are interested, I'd definitely like to be back in Pittsburgh," Moran said. "But I'd be surprised if anything happens on the first or second day."
Patrick and Olczyk said it's too early to make a decision on Moran or anyone else.
"I think we're definitely going to be looking at a lot of things, a lot of scenarios," Olczyk said. "I think the world of Ian. He can do a lot of different things, but I can't say Craig and I have talked about any certain guys. I'm sure we'll talk about Ian Moran and about a lot of other players."
Other teams, like the Penguins, were less willing than usual to retain restricted free agents with a mandatory 10-percent raise. That makes for a bigger pool of available players. It could take some time for things to shake out, but it's definitely a buyers' market. The Penguins are eager to see who is available after the bigger names are snatched up.
A factor that could work against Moran is that the Penguins already signed one veteran defenseman, Marc Bergevin, as a mentor-type for the team's younger defensemen. Still, there is opportunity. The Penguins have just five defensemen under contract who finished last season drawing an NHL salary: Michal Rozsival, Josef Melichar, Dick Tarnstrom, Bergevin and Dan Focht. Tarnstrom, who signed a qualifying offer, could go to arbitration. Brooks Orpik and perhaps some other younger players figure to be in the defense mix at training camp, as well.
Patrick said he wasn't sure if defenseman Richard Lintner would accept the team's two-way offer, which picked up the option on his $650,000 NHL salary but would pay significantly less in the minors.
Olczyk on Lintner: "When we got him, I made a lot of phone calls and knew the type of player he was. It was pretty much feast or famine. He did some good things, and there are some areas he needed to improve. He didn't play bad forward, with his hands and his skill level. He has skill, which is something in today's game -- to be able to make a pass, jump in, give and go -- that is very important."
Moran, who turns 31 on Aug. 24, played 78 games last season and had no goals, eight assists, a minus-18 rating and 48 penalty minutes. His average ice time was 18:23 per game.
If he signs with the Penguins, Moran probably shouldn't expect a raise on the $750,000 he made last season. His agent, Steve Bartlett, said that a few teams called about Moran yesterday. The Penguins were not among them, and Moran has ruled out a return to the Bruins. Bartlett said he planned to contact Patrick either yesterday or today to gauge the Penguins' interest.
Meanwhile, the following players signed qualifying offers: forwards Ramzi Abid, Matt Bradley, Rico Fata, Milan Kraft, and Toby Petersen; defensemen Micki Dupont, Robert Scuderi and Tarnstrom; and goalie Sebastien Caron.
The following players became unrestricted free agents: defensemen Joel Bouchard, Shawn Heins, Jamie Pushor and Hans Jonsson; goalie Robbie Tallas; and forwards Alexandre Daigle, Mathias Johansson, Ville Nieminen, Vladimir Vujtek and Kent Manderville.
The Penguins picked up the $650,000 option on defenseman Richard Lintner's contract and have tendered qualifying offers (10-percent raise) to the following restricted agents, thereby retaining the right to match any offer those players might receive from another team. In the NHL, it's nearly unheard of for a restricted free agent to switch teams. The players:
- Ramzi Abid
- Matt Bradley
- Sebastien Caron
- Micki Dupont
- Rico Fata
- Milan Kraft
- Toby Petersen
- Robert Scuderi
- Dick Tarnstrom
The following players have qualified for unrestricted free agency:
- Joel Bouchard
- Alexandre Daigle
- Shawn Heins
- Mathias Johansson
- Hans Jonsson
- Ville Nieminen
- Jamie Pushor
- Robbie Tallas
- Vladimir Vujtek
- Kent Manderville