Veteran defenseman has a sense of loyalty towards GM Ray Shero
While the Pittsburgh Penguins are in the middle of what they hope to be a third straight appearance in the Stanley Cup Finals, Penguins management has already laid out the framework for their off-season plans.
Penguins GM Ray Shero enters what may be his toughest off-season during his tenure with the Penguins.
Pittsburgh has 15 players signed for the 2010-2011 season for a cap hit of approximately $46 million, which gives Pittsburgh only about $11-12 million to spend this off-season.
One valuable player that has been lost in the shuffle is defenseman Mark Eaton.
Eaton, 32, is in the final year of a two year deal worth $4 million.
Eaton future with the Penguins will be dictated on by two things; Sergei Gonchar and Eaton’s reluctance not to seek one last big pay day.
The Penguins did not approach Eaton about an extension prior to the deadline but have a strong interest in retaining Eaton. The issue is whether there will be enough dollars to go around.
Sergei Gonchar will dictate just about everything this off-season. Talk around the team is that the Penguins will first look top lock up Gonchar to a multi-year deal in the range of $3.75 – $4.25 million. A steep paycut from Gonchar’s salary of $6 million and $5.5 million.
If Gonchar is surprisingly retained, Pittsburgh will have to go younger to fill other holes with the likes of Ben Lovejoy and a veteran defenseman or two on the cheap.
If Gonchar is not brought back, plan B is for Pittsburgh to retain Jordan Leopold and Mark Eaton for a total cap hit in the range of $4 million.
That would give Pittsburgh the opportunity to continue to develop Robert Bortuzzo and Brian Strait. Both are promising defensemen who need some more time in the minors but are on the fast track to being NHL ready.
According to a source close to Eaton, the veteran defenseman is torn on his future. Despite minimal talks, Eaton’s camp has a general idea of what the Penguins can and can’t offer.
Eaton who turns 33 in three days, also enters what will likely be his last big pay day. Eaton will be highly coveted from the likes of Washington and New Jersey and the intrigue of at least exploring the free agent market is clearly there.
A possible advantage for Pittsburgh is Eaton has a sense of loyalty to GM Ray Shero, per the source close to Eaton.
Coming off two injury plagued seasons, Shero signed Eaton to a two year – $4 million deal in 2008, a $400,000 bump in salary. A salary that shocked many around the league after Eaton appeared in just 35 games in 2006-2007 and 36 games in 2007-2008.
Eaton suffered a major knee injury in December 2007 that ended his season.
Eaton according to the source feels fortunate of the deal he was given by Pittsburgh and took it upon himself to earn his new deal.