Earlier in the week, former Pittsburgh Penguin Jaromir Jagr said that he had the best years of his career while playing in Pittsburgh. With the media the way it is, it of course stirred up a conversation about a possible return to the ‘Burgh for Jagr. While those rumors have slowed down over the past few days, the talks about which free agents the Pens need to retain are heating up. The Penguins are coming off a surprising season without their “two-headed monster”, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, which allowed lesser known players to showcase their skills en route to a 4th place regular season finish in the Eastern Conference.
The possible free-agents that the Penguins have to decide whether or not to retain are: Craig Adams, Arron Asham, Mike Comrie, Chris Conner, Pascal Dupuis, Eric Godard, Dustin Jeffrey (restricted free-agent), Tyler Kennedy (restricted free-agent), Alex Kovalev, Mike Rupp and Max Talbot. Each of these players played a pivotal role in the successful season the Pens had. But with the salary cap in place, the Penguins won’t be able to afford to keep everyone.
While I’m a fan of each of these players, I’m going to narrow it down to the five I feel are the most important to re-sign for next season and beyond.
1. Craig Adams – Adams was claimed off of waivers in 2009 by the Penguins from the Chicago Blackhawks, and what a pickup he has become. The casual hockey fan may not recognize Adams’ name or realize his value. Adams has been instrumental on the penalty kill and is a lock-down defensive forward. Adams’ price tag is favorable to the Pens also as he made the league minimum of $550,000 last season. While he is the key free-agent in my eyes, I wouldn’t go higher than $700,000 for him. I think he’ll return to the Pens, but there is a chance that a new General Manager may want to make a name for himself and make a splash by snagging someone like Adams.
2. Mike Rupp – Rupp is a fourth-line grinder who plays hard all the time. We saw late in the season and in the playoffs that the line of Rupp, Adams and Asham was the Penguins’ best. Rupp provides a big-body to put in front of the defender’s net and I feel he could be used on the Penguins’ power play unit as a screen in front of the opposition’s goalie (it couldn’t hurt the power play anymore, could it?). At 6’5, 230 pounds, Rupp is also a physical force that will step in to protect his teammates. Rupp is a do-it-all type of player whose value is under appreciated.
3. Pascal Dupuis – Dupuis saw his scoring drop with the absence of Crosby, but his familiarity with Crosby makes him a must-have. Whether it’s a line of Crosby, Neal and Dupuis or any other combination they want Crosby to have, I think Dupuis is a perfect fit for him. He’s a good third-option on the line and plays great on the short boards. He also serves as one of their top penalty killers. Dupuis and Talbot are the same player in my book and if I can only choose one, as much as I love Talbot’s energy and skill, I’ll take the more affordable and more productive Dupuis.
4. Mike Comrie – I know, he was hurt all year and only scored one empty net goal in the last regular season game, but let me explain this pick. Comrie game to the Penguins last year making the league minimum and is a natural scorer. The plan was to have Comrie on a line with Malkin and Jordan Staal, or have him center the third line. Ten games in, Comrie had hip surgery and didn’t return until the last couple weeks of the regular season. Comrie was hurt when he got here and tried to play through the pain and the Penguins could sign him for the same price as last year and let a healthy Comrie play. I think that they need to keep the same approach as they had with him going into last year and let him prove he can play the whole season and be the scorer they thought he was. He could be the steal of the bunch by this time next year. Plus, having Hilary Duff in town doesn’t hurt either.
5. Chris Conner - Coach Dan Bylsma is a huge fan of Conner and there is no way he will let him leave. Conner comes with a cheap price tag of $550,000 and won’t see a substantial raise, but always made things happen when he was on the ice. In 60 games, Conner had seven goals and nine assists and displayed a good game along the boards and did an outstanding job with forechecking. Although undersized at 5’8, Conner hasn’t let that slow him down and is an intricate piece to the Pens’ future.
About the Author
Written by Michael Waterloo
I'm currently pursuing my Master's degree in Communication and Journalism from Clarion University. I currently work for Ohio Valley Athletics where I serve as the West Virginia Football Beat Writer and cover West Virginia Men's Basketball as well. I'm a big Pittsburgh Pirates, Philadelphia Eagles, Pittsburgh Penguins, Pitt Panthers and Oregon Ducks fan. Follow me on Twitter at @MichaelWaterloo or visit www.ovathletics.com