The Inside Scoop
The Pittsburgh Penguins hockey operations staff are in the final stages of their evaluations and plans pertaining to free agency which begins on July 1.
This years group of free agents is extremely deep with defensemen but there is a sparse group of forwards, most importantly wingers.
For a team like the Penguins that are actively seeking a long-term winger for Sidney Crosby, they are not going to find that winger in free agency.
However, here are five wingers that are believed to be of interest to the Penguins and more free agency notes.
1. LW Alexei Ponikarovsky, (6-foot-4, 220 lbs)
Age: 30 | 09-10 Salary: $2.5 million
2009-2010 Stats: 21 goals – 29 assists – 50 points
Latest Buzz: Ponikarovsky struggled mightily with the Penguins during his short tenure, but the Penguins remain interested in retaining Ponikarovsky, multiple team sources have confirmed.
However, the Penguins are only willing to go two years which won’t get it done.
Ponikarovsky is believed to be seeking a multi-year deal in the 3-to-4 year range and interest is expected to be high for the 20 goal scorer, if he hits the open market.
A deal between the Penguins and Ponikarovsky before July 1, is regarded as highly unlikely.
2. C/LW Matthew Lombardi, (6-foot-0, 195 lbs)
Age: 28 | 09-10 Salary: $2.3 million
2009-2010 Stats: 19 goals – 34 assists – 53 points
Latest buzz: Good offensive ability and excellent speed that would make him a good fit in the Penguins uptempo-system. Lombardi also adds versatility as he can play wing and center.
A player of interest but the Penguins are a unlikely suitor as interest will be high and Lombardi is believed to prefer to play center over wing.
Lombardi made $2.3 million in 2009-2010 and is likely to push $3 million per season. It’s hard to imagine the Penguins going beyond two years at $2.5 million per season.
Industry sources indicate Lombardi is expected to be a top target of the Washington Capitals who are actively seeking a 2nd line center.
3. Ray Whitney, (5-foot-10, 180 lbs)
Age: 38 | 09-10 Salary:
2009-2010 Stats: 21 goals – 38 assists – 59 points
Latest Buzz: Executives and scouts around the league believe that the 38 year old can play at a high level for another season or two. There was enough interest from the Pittsburgh at the trade deadline, that the Penguins are expected to look into Whitney.
One thing Pittsburgh has going for them is that they are believed to be on a short-list of teams that Whitney is highly interested in playing for.
However, the veteran forward is seeking at least a two year deal, something Pittsburgh wasn’t interested in giving Billy Guerin last off-season who was also 38 years old and coming off a 20+ goal season.
Price would have to be right
Colby Armstrong (Age 27) – Made $2.4 million last season and is seeking a raise. Interest is expected to be high if he keeps his demands down.
At the right price I’m told Pittsburgh would be interested. For a reunion to happen, both sides would have to make some concessions.
On Pittsburgh’s end, they would have to go at least three years, and on Armstrong’s end, he would have to take a pay cut and sign for around $2 million per season. Armstrong remains very close friends with Sidney Crosby and Max Talbot.
Raffi Torres, (Age 28) – Despite making a strong play for Torres at the trade deadline, I’m told that Pittsburgh’s interest in Torres is lukewarm.
Torres scored 19 goals last season and made $2.75 million in 2009-2010. Stock has plummeted after scoring zero goals in 20 games (including playoffs).
Some around the league believe Torres will have trouble getting a contract in the low $2 million range.
Alexander Frolov – After Ilya Kovalchuk and Patrick Marleau, Frolov is the most gifted goal scorer on the market.
At age 27 he has 168 goals.
There is not a lot of interest in Frolov around the league due to his demands and character issues. Frolov made $4 million per season in 2009-2010 and is seeking upwards of $4.5 million per season. Pittsburgh will not be a player for Frolov.
Not a good feel yet
Two wingers I get a lot of emails about from fans is Atlanta’s Maxim Afinogenov and Phoenix Coyotes winger Lee Stempniak. At this point i don’t have a good feel regarding Pittsburgh’s interest on either front.
The Penguins had no interest in Afinogenov last off-season when the opportunity was there to sign Afinogenov to a tryout contract. At the trade deadline the Penguins expressed no interest again.
Coming off a 61 point season, Afinogenov is seeking a multi-year deal and a significant raise over his $800,000 salary.
Stempniak, 27, scored 28 goals last season. Pittsburgh covets a right handed shot but Stempniak made $3.5 million last season.