How ironic that the same thing that saved the Penguins as a competitive franchise is now forcing Ray Shero to disassemble a Stanley Cup finalist?
Remember the early part of this decade when the Penguins were forced to part with stars such as Jaromir Jagr, Alex Kovalev, Martin Straka, Robert Lang and Darius Kasparaitis? They reaped the likes of Ross Lupaschuk, Richard Lintner, Martin Strbak, Rick Berry and other borderline NHL-caliber players in deals involving those players.
There was one reason those moves were made. The Penguins couldn't afford to match the offers those players would get from teams with seemingly unlimited financial resources like the Stars, Rangers or Flyers. There was no salary cap to level the ice. The NHL was very much like Major League Baseball in that there were two distinct classes of franchises.
Then came the lockout. As dark and empty as that time was for hockey fans, it might've been the best thing to happen to the sport. It forced the NHL and NHLPA to institute a salary cap. It put the Sabres, Oilers and Penguins on the same ice as the Maple Leafs, Avalanche and Red Wings. Because of the cap, the Penguins were able to become competitive again by bringing on the likes of Petr Sykora, Sergei Gonchar, Gary Roberts and Marian Hossa through free agency and trades. (Getting to draft guys like Sidney Crosby, Marc-Andre Fleury and Evgeni Malkin probably helped too.) Without the cap, Ryan Malone and Brooks Orpik probably would've been dealt to someone like the Red Wings for draft picks or prospects at the trade deadline. (Sound familiar Pirates fans?) Instead, the cap allowed them to play Detroit for the Stanley Cup.
But now, the cap is taking some pieces out of the puzzle. It's the reason Hossa and Malone will probably be wearing different uniforms next season. It's the reason over half the Penguins' roster will potentially be different next season.
And that's a good thing. Were it not for the salary cap, we're watching Crosby, Fleury and Malkin walk to the Rangers or Maple Leafs after six or seven seasons simply because of money. The Penguins would become like the Pirates and essentially operate as a glorified farm team for franchises with deeper pockets. It would be an endless cycle of drafting high, developing prospects and eventually dealing them to the Red Wings and Flyers for prospects or draft picks.
You might be feeling down seeing some of your favorite players leave town this way, but you should realize this is happening for reasons that are beneficial for teams like the Penguins. It's just a little bit ironic as well.
EMPTY NETTER ASSISTS
-Dave Molinari examines the deal that sent Ryan Malone and Gary Roberts to Tampa Bay a little bit more.
-Ron Cook says the Penguins' free agents have every right to get paid.
-Rangers forward and former Penguin Jaromir Jagr still doesn't know where he'll play next season.
-Former Islanders goaltender Wade Dubielewicz, who always seems to give the Penguins trouble, will play in the Continental Hockey League in Russia next season.
-The Sabres are looking for a physical, hard-hitting defenseman. Hmmm... Wonder where they could get one of those?
-Eric Duhatschek points out the Lightning's new owners were the driving force behind the Malone/Roberts deal.
-Gary Roberts' agent said his client isn't against the possibility of playing in Tampa Bay next season.
-The Lightning is so eager to sell top overall draft pick Steve Stamkos to its fan base, it forgot he was a right-handed shot.