Penguins Sign Paul Martin, Zbynek Michalek On First Day Of Free Agency, Will Have To Try Harder To Screw Up In Their Own Zone Next Year

Hey, it’s nice to have one Pittsburgh team that isn’t afraid of free agency, isn’t it? I say this with all due respect to the Duce Staley signing, of course.

The Pens massively solidified their defensive corps with a two-headed signing of the Devils’ Paul Martin for 5 years, $25 million, and Phoenix’s Zbynek Michalek, for 5 years, $20 million. The signings instantly fill the Pens’ most glaring, immediate need: Reliable defensive defensemen.

I really like these signings, and not just because it’s exciting when your team spends a lot of money on new dudes (though that too). Martin is a responsible defender from a notoriously structured organization, but he’s also extremely mobile, makes smart plays, can man a second power-play unit, and moves the puck extremely well. He’s coming off an injury-marred season, but it was a broken arm, which isn’t theoretically lingering, and he’s played in at least 70 games every prior season in his career, so I’m not worried.

Michalek, I’ll admit, I know almost nothing about except secondhand info; the Pens signing him instead of Hamhuis essentially boils down to them choosing a dude I barely know on a team I never watch instead of a different dude I barely know on a team I never watch. Michalek has a reputation as a shut-down, stay-at-home defender, which I don’t question, but I’m skeptical whenever anyone is described as a “great shot-blocker,” because all too often — as in the cases of Jay McKee, Jason Smith, and even Mark Eaton to an extent — guys are described as “shot-blockers” because they don’t have many other noticeable skills. In this instance, though, I’ll give Michalek the benefit of the doubt for his universally outstanding defensive reputation, and for the fact that he’s still only 27 and likely entering his prime as an NHL defenseman.

This gives the Pens tremendous depth at the blue line, with a 2010-11 defensive depth chart that looks something like this:

1. Orpik, 2. Martin, 3. Letang, 4. Michalek, 5. Goligoski, 6. Lovejoy, 7. Engellund, 8. Skoula-type veteran free agent

If Martin and Co. are healthy, that’s a potential Stanley Cup caliber defense. And, if Goligoski develops positively (and isn’t traded), the Pens could very conceivably boast 3 defensemen on the 2014 U.S. Olympic team, which isn’t particularly significant, but cool nonetheless.

The downside, of course, is that the Pens now have $9 mil of cap space locked in for the next five years towards two defensive defensemen (plus another $3.75 for Orpik), which leaves them precious little wiggle room to add a goal-scoring winger. They currently have about $2 mil of cap space remaining with their current roster, and that’s not taking into account the $1 mil or so Shero likes to set aside as a cushion for in-season dealings.

This begs the obvious question: How much would ‘hitting the net’ classes for Tyler Kennedy cost?

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