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Insider Only A LOOK AT PENS’ FREE AGENCY

Eight Penguins players will be unrestricted free agents come July 1. Most will do the club a favor by departing.
It’s tough to imagine any circumstance where the Penguins keep Ruslan Fedotenko or Alexei Ponikarovsky. Jordan Leopold or Jay McKee might be retained at minimal cost, but probably not.
That leaves four players subject to debate.
*The Penguins will not be able to afford Matt Cooke. They should have signed Cooke when they could have, but now they can’t. He’ll get a year more than the Pens offer and at least a half-mil more per year than the Pens offer.
You can’t pay a third-line wing what Cooke will get, especially when you need first- and second-line wings. GM Ray Shero replaced Jarkko Ruutu with Cooke. Now he’ll replace Cooke with somebody else. No big deal.
*I can’t picture a scenario where Mark Eaton doesn’t return. He’s a good fit for the Penguins, the Penguins a good fit for him. Give Eaton two years at, say, $2.2m per. Easy.

*Sergei Gonchar provokes interesting debate. But one thing seems beyond argument: The Pens cannot, and will not, give Gonchar three years at $5m per. That’s reportedly what Gonchar wants. He’ll get it elsewhere, but not in Pittsburgh.
Gonchar’s expertise at running the power play is legendary. Yet the Pens’ PP underachieved the past two seasons.
Gonchar had a terrible stretch run. He made “old guy” mistakes at the point and appeared feeble physically. Some accused Gonchar of tanking once Kris Letang got his new deal. A source close to the Penguins thinks that’s true – kind of. Gonchar wasn’t pouting. He just figured he wasn’t coming back, so he played in a style designed to avoid injury. Gonchar minimized physical contact, and it hurt his play.
Then, of course, Gonchar and Evgeni Malkin practically sprinted to Germany to play for Russia in the world championships. Russians first, mercenaries second, Penguins third. Doesn’t make Gonchar and Malkin unique. It just makes them Russians.
The Pens should offer Gonchar two years at $4.5m per, do so knowing he’ll turn it down, then move on. That’s life in the cap lane. Alex Goligoski can run the power play. The Gonchar spot is the position Goligoski is most familiar with.
(Quick sidebar: What hurts the power play most is the fact that two players insist on playing the same spot, creating undue traffic and literally running into each other occasionally. More at a later date.)
*I’ve heard Bill Guerin wants to play one more year, he wants to play it in Pittsburgh, and he’ll take a reduced rate and a reduced role to do so. Sounds good, but…
Would Guerin really accept a reduced role? Mark Recchi said he would, but didn’t, and it caused discord. Guerin can’t play a regular shift on the top two lines. He’s too slow to keep up with Malkin or Sidney Crosby. If Guerin is really willing to be a third-liner, that’s one thing. But is he?
Guerin is known as a leader. But he’s known as a clubhouse lawyer, too. There’s a reason he’s played for eight teams.
I’d love to see Guerin stay. But Shero needs to know exactly what he’s getting. Remember, too, Coach Dan Bylsma is known for deferring to Guerin. Guerin could wind up a first- or second-line winger whether he should be or not.
Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM (105.9).

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Mark Madden

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