The Pittsburgh Penguins off-season blueprint is to add two impact defensemen in an attempt to revamp their defensive core. The Penguins last season, ranked 20th in the league in goals against.
The team has been given a prime opportunity to accomplish that goal by holding negotiating rights with defenseman Dan Hamhuis and Sergei Gonchar before other teams can bid on the services of those two.
However, it appears the Penguins will strike out with both defenseman, at least before July 1.
The 2010 free agent class of blueliners is a strong one, headlined by Sergei Gonchar, Paul Martin, Dan Hamhuis and Anton Volchenkov.
Those four represent the top tier group of defensemen set to enter free agency.
From Pittsburgh’s standpoint, if they don’t land one of those four, the Penguins off-season will likely be seen as a disappointment.
There is a good group of defensemen behind the top-4″ who can help any team but don’t have the abilities to impact games like a Sergei Gonchar or Paul Martin.
Ottawa’s Anton Volchenkov enters the market as a wildcard. League insiders indicate Jay Grossman the agent for Volchenkov is seeking upwards of $5 million and a term of 5-to-6 years. Some believe that teams won’t invest that kind of money into a player who struggles in the transition game and is one-dimensional.
He’s a player that a number of teams would want on their roster but at a $5 million a year price tag remains to be seen.
At the top of Pittsburgh’s wishlist is clearly Sergei Gonchar and Dan Hamhuis, along with New Jersey’s Paul Martin. Assumming the Penguins fail to make any movement on the Gonchar front today, Pittsburgh’s efforts are expected to be with Martin when the clock hits 12:00 p.m. tomorrow.
Martin like Gonchar and Hamhuis, projects to drawy heavy interest tomorrow. The New Jersey Devils are also making a strong attempt to keep Martin.
Meanwhile, behind those three, indications are the Penguins have a backup plan with 4-to-5 mid-tier defensemen believed to be on their radar.
Defensemen Jordan Leopold and Mark Eaton remain in the Penguins plans as fallback options.
Two other defenseman we’ve heard rumblings about in the past 24-48 hours, include Phoenix defenseman Zbynek Michalek, and Buffalo’s Henrik Tallinder.
Michalek, 27, stock is very high around the league. Not physical but an excellent shot blocker and very good in transition.
Phoenix is making a strong attempt to keep Michalek who made $1.5 million last season.
Tallinder, 31, plays a Mark Eaton type of game but impacts a game more. However, it appears unlikely that Tallinder will land in Pittsburgh.
Tallinder, 31, made $3.25 million and it’s hard to imagine Pittsburgh would commit upwards of $3 million to sign Tallinder who is a marginal upgrade over a Mark Eaton.
Three intriguing players to keep an eye on include Kim Johnsson, Willie Mitchell and Pavel Kubina.
Johnsson, 33, made $5.3 million last season. Injuries have hurt his stock but could be a great bargain in the mid-to-high $2 million range.
Mitchell, 33, made $3.5 million in 2009-2010. Appeared in 48 games last season due to injuries. Had 12 points and a plus-13 rating. Another good bargain at the right price.
Kubuna, 33, is third among UFA defenseman in points last season with 38. Made $5 million per season in 2009-2010. He is still an impact defenseman but not at his current price.
One depth the defenseman on the cheap the Penguins could give a look is Detroit’s Andreas Lilja.