Pop quiz, Pittsburgh: Let’s say you enjoy your job and love your co-workers. One day, your boss comes into your office/cubicle and tells you that you have a spot with the company for another year, but you have to take half your normal salary.
Sure, you have some money in the bank, but you also have 4 kids to put through college. You could jump ship and make even more money at a competitor, or you could take it on the chin and stay with your friends for another year at half the price.
What would you do?
You’d be blinded by the money, and that’s why you’ll never be a legend like Bill Guerin.
The NHL free agency period is in full swing, and even though big names like Marian Hossa and Marian Gaborik have moved to new clubs, changing the landscape of the NHL, the off-season’s savviest deal was signed a week ago.
By signing Bill Guerin to a low risk, one year, $2 million extension, Penguins GM Ray Shero negotiated the NHL’s best off-season deal before the free agency period even began on Wednesday.
Forget Guerin’s experience and the immediate effect his calming presence had on line mate Sidney Crosby – $2 million for a first line winger and 20+ goal scorer is almost unheard of.
That’s Mark Eaton money.
The departed Ryan Malone, who so many Pens fans pined for before Guerin’s arrival at last season’s trade deadline, makes a comparatively astronomical $4.5 million per season.
The recently re-signed Alex Goligoski, a man who has played in 1,137 less NHL games than Guerin, will make almost as much against the salary cup next season.
“Wait, I make as much as Mark Eaton? DOH!”
The loyalty and character Guerin showed by signing this deal should make him a legend in Pittsburgh no matter what happens next season.
It’s a shame that Penguins fans spent so much of their gusto and creativity worshipping old “Scary” Gary Roberts. Roberts’ legend was mostly fabricated and his impact as a locker room leader was an outright myth.
What Would Gary Roberts Do? Score 3 goals in 38 games for the Penguins, then take the money and run to Tampa Bay by capitalizing off of a hyperbolic, hold-me-back, hold-me-back tough guy image. In retrospect, his piety is questionable.
Like a frat guy hopped up on Red Bull/vodkas and clove cigarettes, Gary Roberts was always just about to kick your butt, before his friends held him back.
Pittsburghers wasted all their best tall tales on Roberts. Guerin is the real grizzled war hero, the true chewer of nails. His presence in the locker room was immediate and transformative. But don’t take my word for it. Listen to Penguin grinder Matt Cooke’s appraisal of Guerin’s impact on the team:
“Great guy in the room, great team player, huge for team morale,” Cooke told reporters in April. “That was something we wanted even more than getting him to come here and score goals down the stretch. We needed him to come in and have a presence in the [locker] room, and he’s done that.”
After winning a second Stanley Cup and losing a few teeth in the process, Guerin had every right to take an inflated deal in Los Angeles or Tampa Bay and spend the first half of next season in a lather of Banana Boat oil on a permanent cerveza buzz.
Instead, Guerin will forgo the security of a multi-year contract to grind out an 82-game season in Pittsburgh, all for the promise of getting to first-base with the Stanley Cup one more time.
Oh, and the 38-year-old agreed to endure a season of face washes, slew foots, bodychecks, slashes and Atlantic division brutality at a two-and-a-half million dollar discount.
Billy should probably hold off on getting those Chicklets replaced until next summer.
The impact of this deal cannot be overstated. It’s one thing for the Penguins to replace a winger for Evgeni Malkin on the cheap. But had Guerin not re-signed, the challenge of finding proven, reliable wingers for Malkin and Crosby on such a limited budget may have sunk the Penguins’ title defense before it even got off the ground.
Now the Penguins have more than $5 million to replace Fedotenko and Scuderi, as well as a competent goaltender to backup Marc-Andre Fleury, who shouldered a heavy workload of 86 games last season. There’s also a solid chance – based on his excellent performance in the Cup Finals – that he will play for Team Canada during the Vancouver Olympics during the mid-season break in February. Even for a 24-year-old, all of this grind will eventually take its toll.
Fleury has to be tired. The Pens need a capable backup to start the season.
No matters who the Penguins add this month, the important thing is that the top line will stay in tact. Now Crosby will have a full season to develop a rapport with Guerin and Chris Kunitz. This is the first time in Sid’s career that he’s had two stable, capable wingers heading into training camp.
Forget the mediocre wingers who remain on the market, the best from the Penguins’ existing players may be yet to come. If Chris Kunitz can rekindle the magic he showed in front of the net after joining the Penguins at the trade deadline, he could easily score 30 goals on Crosby’s wing.
Guerin will remain the steady performer – the calming, patient presence in the locker room and on the ice that Sid the Kid needs.
I have to admit, I rolled my eyes when Evgeni Malkin took the stage during the Penguins’ victory parade and opened his speech with “First, Billy Guerin – one more year!”
At least that’s what I think he said. Might’ve been something about borsch soup.
In the afterglow of a Stanley Cup victory, anything seems possible. But once the roar of the hometown crowd goes quiet and is eventually replaced with the persistent voice of an agent, players rarely ever take the “hometown discount.”
Sometimes players will decide to not take as much of a raise to stay with a winning franchise, like Brooks Orpik last season. But for Guerin to take money off the table to stay in Pittsburgh is a testament to both Guerin’s character and the outstanding reputation of Mario Lemieux’s organization and head coach Dan Bylsma.
From the top of the organization on down to the players, the Penguins are class acts.
Ask a Penguins fan why they love the team so much, and they’ll likely tell you, “the players seems like regular guys – just like you and me.”
But Guerin is far from average. The loyalty, commitment and character he showed in taking $2 million off the table to stay in Pittsburgh are traits we can only hope to strive for in our own lives.
That’s love right there. This 4th of July weekend, raise a pint for Bill Guerin – a new Pittsburgh hero.