At the end of the season the Pittsburgh Penguins will have 5 of the seven defensemen currently on the roster go to free agency unless Ray Shero starts signing them. Along with the biggest salary, Sergei Gonchar is the biggest question mark in the bunch. Shero and Gonchar’s agent JP Barry (you know, the guy who snuck Evgeni Malkin out of Russia) had talks in September and didn’t come close on numbers.
Out of the five shown above, all are Unrestricted Free Agents except Kristopher Letang who is a Restricted Free Agent. As far as salary demands go, Letang is probably the only one that could legitimately ask for a larger salary and I cannot see the Penguins signing him for more than what they pay Goligoski right now which is around $1.833 Million a year. He is probably worth it, but he needs to gain some confidence on the ice if he is ever going to ask for bigger money.
If Shero can’t sign Gonchar for what he likes, Goligoski will fill in just as good if not better as an offensive defensemen and on the power play. There is something to be said for the relationship that Malkin and Gonchar have and all the help Gonchar gave Malkin assimilating into the Pittsburgh culture, but eventually they will need to cut the tie, just like Sidney Crosby did with his crutch friend/teammate Colby Armstrong.
Don’t be surprised if you see Gonchar go to the LA Kings for winger Alexander Frolov sometime in the near future. Shero is probably anxious to clear up the Gonchar situation sooner than later and not loose good players like he did waiting for Hossa.
Martin Skoula was signed as a fill in player and has done that quite well. He started out shaky, but has really started to turn it around, maybe he likes the system. Shero would probably be best served seeing if Skoula can handle the pressure of the playoffs before doing anything other than a one year extension at the same rate.
Jay Mckee is a good solid defenseman that probably could be signed for the same amount and probably is happy just to be on a winning team. I can imagine that blocking that many shots in a losing cause could take a toll on him.
Which leaves us with Mark Eaton. This guy is an enigma. If he is healthy he plays well, he is not flashy, and does his job just fine. He is not a great defenseman he is not a poor defenseman. Is he worth $2 million a year? Probably. He is not worth more and not definitely not worth less.
Shero has his bases covered as far as being able to bargain with any of them considering his two aces in the hole – Ben Lovejoy and Nate Guenin who both filled in admirably when the defense broke down earlier this fall.