A Penguins blue line that has struggled with staying healthy this season took another hit yesterday when the team announced that defenseman Rob Scuderi would be out indefinitely with a broken ankle, an injury which he sustained in Saturday’s 4-1 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs. The team noted that the injury would require surgery and that there is currently no timetable for return.
Making it worse, the injury came just after star defenseman Kris Letang returned from a knee injury that saw him miss the first three weeks of the season. All in all, Pittsburgh’s defensive corps has been healthy for all of about four periods so far, and while the Pens are certainly no stranger to playing with their star players injured, it doesn’t make the situation any easier to swallow.
As I’m sure anyone that’s reading a Penguins blog like this would know, Scuderi was Pittsburgh’s big free-agent signing over the summer, inking a four year, $13.5 million contract back in July after a four-year stint with the Los Angeles Kings. He was a key member of Pittsburgh’s Cup victory in 2009, and many were ecstatic when the shut-down defenseman returned home to finish out his career with the team he helped lead to victory five years ago.
However, there were many others (myself included) that we’re not as keen on the idea of committing $3.5 million against the cap for four years to an immobile defenseman who would be almost 40 when the contract expired. I had a feeling from the get-go that this would be a contract that would come back to hurt Pittsburgh in the end, and, sadly, it looks like my prediction has already started to come true.
Before I go any further, let me preface with saying that I don’t think Scuderi is worthless. In fact, I think he is still a serviceable third or fourth defenseman on a lot of the teams in the NHL. So it’s not that I had a problem with the asset so much as I did with the conditions of the deal. Just to give you an idea, Scuderi’s $3,375,000 cap-hit is comparable to that of many defenseman that are quite a bit younger than he is, including Kris Letang, Dan Girardi, and Johnny Boychuck. Yes he’s still solid, but compared to those three? No way.
The bottom line is that this is the contract that GM Ray Shero should have given ‘Scuds’ back in 2009 when he was a free agent, but instead he chose to go with Paul Martin. Giving the same contract to a player five years too late and expecting the same results is complete lunacy, and the team is begging to pay the price.
You may say that “Well, it’s not like he’s playing bad. He just got injured. There’s no way anyone could have predicted that,” and to be honest, you’re probably right. After all, Kris Letang has been injured several times in the past two seasons, and he’s come back from every one and been effective, right?
The difference here, once again, is age. No matter what position or style you play, your body simply can’t recover as quickly and effectively once you age, which Scuderi has. Obviously no one planned on Scuderi going down, but the fact of the matter is that when you’re dealing with a player in his mid-thirties, you have to almost expect that a decline in both health and production is inevitable, so throwing three and a half million at a guy who will more-likely-than-not be on and off of IR the remainder of his career is not a smart business decision.
The one silver lining in this is that Scuderi going down basically guarantees more ice time for rookie Olli Maata, as well as extended looks for Robert Bortuzzo and possibly even Simon Despres should management decide to go with him instead of Deryk Engelland.
I hate to say I told you so, but, ya know…
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