Based on his Yeoman-like work in the Stanley Cup final – particularly a goal-denying leg save at the end of Game 6 – a lot of teams are going to want to get into the Rob Scuderi business this summer.
The Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman is eligible for unrestricted free agency come July 1 and will definitely get a big raise from the $712,500 salary he brought in this season. His play in the post-season has earned him mentions for the 2010 U.S. Olympic team and though he is a priority for re-signing in Pittsburgh, the Pens don’t have a lot of room left under the cap for next season and sacrifices will have to be made.
So what’s the best move to make if you’re Scuderi? Stay put, sir. You’re literally playing for the best team in the league and with Pittsburgh’s core, that ranking won’t waver too much in the next few years.
Bolting a Stanley Cup champ for greener (as in the color of money) pastures is certainly a nice reward for a job well done, but it certainly hasn’t helped the on-ice careers of those who have made the leap in the past.
Patient Zero in this scenario is Carolina’s Matt Cullen. After the slick center helped the Canes to their one and only Cup, he departed the Triangle for the bright lights of Broadway, where he instantly didn’t fit in with the Rangers, despite a four-year, $11.2 million contract. Cullen’s production dropped in the regular season, then took a nose-dive in the playoffs, where he managed just four points in 10 games after netting 18 in 25 during Carolina’s run.
The experiment was such a failure that the Rangers dealt Cullen back to Carolina last season, where his numbers have been better, despite injury woes limiting his games played. As Paul Maurice and Erik Cole found out this year, sometimes there’s no place like home, assuming that home is in Raleigh.
Maybe it’s expectation that dooms free agents. Two members of the 2004 champion Tampa Bay Lightning found that out once the lockout was solved. Defenseman Jassen Cullimore and goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin both signed nice deals with the Chicago Blackhawks only to flounder in Chi-town: The Bulin Wall’s goals-against average went up a full goal, while Cullimore’s plus-minus dropped to a career-worst minus-24 from plus-8 in Tampa.
Ironically, Khabibulin rebounded this year with the Hawks, helping them to their best season in more than a decade. Cullimore, now in Florida, was sturdy for the Panthers last season, though his numbers this year suggest the 36-year-old’s career is winding down.
It took a couple years for the ex-Bolts to get back on track, so maybe that’s a little comfort for Ryan Malone, who didn’t win a Cup in Pittsburgh, but certainly got championship money from Tampa this season (he even got his dad a job with the team).
Playing on a bad Bolts squad, Malone’s numbers and play dropped, even though his previous playoff run in Pitt was such a success. There’s no point dumping on Tampa’s new braintrust again about its “all offense, no defense” team-building strategy, but Malone was certainly the centerpiece of that spate of signings.
But back to Mr. Scuderi.
Yes, you will probably be able to find a team out there willing to give you in excess of $3 million per season over several years, but that team may be dreadful. Take $2.5 million a year in Pittsburgh and you’re going deep in the playoffs again next year.
For further proof of why this is the best course of action, look no further than your recently vanquished foes, the Detroit Red Wings: The only attrition after Motown’s Cup win in 2008 came from retirements (Dallas Drake, Dominik Hasek) and the merciful waiving of Kyle Quincey, whose game took off in L.A., thanks to a weaker defensive depth chart.
Money or Cups? You rarely get both.
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Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey’s Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Mondays and Wednesdays, his column – The Straight Edge – every Friday, and his prospect feature, The Hot List appears Tuesdays.
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