Penguins management has spoken to a number of agents this week whose clients are in the final year of their contract with the Penguins.
The week before the trade deadline is when GM’s look to sign impending free agents who they regard as priorities.
While Pittsburgh’s focus remains on Sergei Gonchar, the team has informed Matt Cooke’s representative that he is a priority for the Penguins and they intend to work out a long-term deal.
While a deal is unlikely before March 3rd, indications are the Penguins are willing to go up to three years with a slight bump in pay to keep Cooke around.
Pittsburgh has reached out to Cooke’s camp this week just to begin preliminary talks and see where they value him. Cooke who is in the final year of a two year deal worth $1.2 million per season, took less money to sign with Pittsburgh in July 2008. Cooke is believed to have had a preference to play in the Eastern Conference due to the less travel.
Cooke, 31, is having a career year with 12 goals and a plus/minus rating of +12. Among the strongest supporters of Cooke is head coach Dan Bylsma who has a significant amount of input on personnel decisions.
While Cooke and Gonchar have been tabbed as priorities, Pittsburgh has a few difficult decisions to make on potential free agents of their own.
One of them is defenseman Mark Eaton. Eaton, 32, is highly regarded in the organization, especially by GM Ray Shero who surprisingly gave Eaton a 2 year contract worth $4 million on July 1st, 2008.
This after Eaton signed a two year deal worth $1.6 million per season in July 2006 and only appeared in 35 games in 2006-2007 and 36 games in 2007-2008 for the Penguins.
It was a deal that caught many by surprise and those close to Eaton say he is very loyal to Shero because of that.
However, Eaton’s future with the team is up in the air despite the Penguins only having two defensemen signed for next season. Whether he returns will depend on money.
Pittsburgh may not be in position to give Eaton another contract in the $2 million range with a potential raise due for Kris Letang. Pittsburgh also has a potential Eaton replacement in their system in defensive defenseman Brian Strait who has drawn rave reviews from members of the Penguins scouting staff.
Not to mention the development of Ben Lovejoy who is NHL ready and Robert Bortuzzo who some in the organization feel could push for a spot in the lineup by next January.