It is my sincere hope that 10 months from now, this post will have been rendered utterly meaningless. My sincere hope that we'll be basking in the sun on Grant Street watching Crosby and the Pens gallivant among the throngs of adoring fans. My sincere hope that the Stanley Cup once again bathes in the Lemieux family pool.
But I also know that there are 29 other teams in this league who want to take it away.
If it ends up that the Cup goes elsewhere, it would lead to an extremely interesting offseason. Here's why:
Everyone knows that the core is in place: Crosby, Malkin, Fleury, Orpik, Letang, Staal for the forseeable future (at least 3 years). We all know what that core group is capable of. The Pens will be in the hunt for the Cup year in and year out.
With the signings of D Paul Martin (5 years at $5 mil/per) and Zbynek Michalek (5 years at $4 mil/per), Ray Shero has put the Penguins in a very narrow cap gap for the 2011-12 season, with already over $50 million against the cap for that season.
2011 will be the offseason of the role player. The group that doesn't make the headlines, but always make the plays. It's what the Ray Shero Penguins have been all about: the talented core and the cast of misfits that knows nothing more than how to help win games. It's a proven formula for success. But what happens to the core if the misfits leave town?
An individual look at who could be gone come July of 2011:
Pascal Dupuis (currently makes $1.4 mil/year):
If you watched Pens hockey at all last year, then you understand exactly how important Pascal is to this team. A lighthearted favorite of both fans and fellow Penguins, Pascal's contributions on the ice in 2009-10 went far beyond his 18 goals and 38 points. Dupuis is an exemplary two-way forward with great speed, a hard shot, physical play and a simple desire to never be outworked. Dupuis turned 31 in April, and another year like last would cause his price tag to rise considerably from his current $1.4 million. Could someone give him a deal that at 32 years of age, he couldn't refuse? Absolutely. Make no bones about it though, you don't win a Stanley Cup without a guy like Pascal Dupuis.
Max Talbot (currently makes $1 mil/year):
Talbot will always be a hero in these parts. His Game 7, Cup-winning goals etched so deeply in our collective memory. Talbot shows all signs of a player who would love nothing more than to play out his entire career in Pittsburgh and then retire to Carson City Saloon in the South Side. Last year, Talbot struggled through a painful shoulder injury, and it showed. Once his shoulder had healed come playoff time, we began to see glimpses of the old Max. Talbot's contract situation is an interesting one. It's easy to forget how young Max still is (turned 26 in February). If Max were to stay healthy and have a season that could approach 15-20 goals (he was always a great goal scorer in Juniors), he could very well price himself out of Pittsburgh's range. The prospect of watching Talbot skate around in another team's jersey is about as appealing as a colonoscopy, but it's not out of the realm of possibility
Tyler Kennedy (currently makes $850K/year):
In what many thought could be a breakthrough year, Kennedy struggled at times last season. At first glance, Kennedy seems like a Pascal Dupuis type player: can score goals, very physical (more so than Dupuis) and always tenacious. However, there are times that Kennedy can look lost on the ice. Of all the potential free agents after the season, Kennedy has the most to prove. If he can start to find the net consistently on that third line, another team will peg him as a top 6 forward.
Craig Adams (currently makes $550K/year):
There's a reason that the Stanley Cup follows Craig Adams. He probably won't garner a ton of interest on the free agent market, and his age prevents the Penguins from having to give him a long-term deal. Sign him. Sign him. Sign him.
Mike Rupp (currently makes $825K/year):
I have no explanation for Rupp's goal explosion during the beginning of last season. The guy never scored more than 6 goals in any previous season, and last year he had that in November. Crazy. We all grew to love all the things we hated about him when he was with New Jersey. Who can forget Rupp shoving that dude through the zamboni doors against Ottawa in the playoffs? Classic.
Eric Godard (currently makes $750K/year)
Great fighter, pretty good around the puck (for an enforcer). Just not necessary to winning a Cup. Definitely the most likely of this group to be gone.
Sure, we're not looking at losing Malkin, Crosby, etc. But most Pens fans can tell you the importance of players such as Talbot, Adams, Dupuis and the likes. But with contract situations and the potential of young talent knocking on the door (Tangradi, Johnson, Connor, etc), it could lead to a very different Penguins team in 2011-12. Undoubtedly, Shero knows this too. He's proven himself to be an exceptional judge of both talent and character, and I have all faith that he'll do everything in his power to win.
He's probably going to need it.