Over the next few weeks I will be writing a series analyzing the 11 Penguin free agents. Each article will focus on a players value, fit with the organization, and estimated cost of re-signing. Keep in mind that the NHL salary Cap is expected to jump from $59.4 million to $62.2 million next season. The increase will inflate every free agent’s value.
Best remembered for his Stanley Cup Final heroics, Max Talbot is the Penguins’ answer to Bill Mazeroski. The similarities between Pittsburgh’s game seven legends stop there though.
Talbot’s journey since his career defining moment has been anything but Hall of Fame worthy.
In the two seasons since Talbot led the Penguins to a championship, his statistics have decreased dramatically. The Canadian forward has only produced 10 goals and 28 points in his last 127 regular season games. That total is less than of any of the Penguins’ top five 2010 opening day defensemen over the same span.
Talbot’s drought also includes five streaks of at least 10 games without a goal–two of those streaks have lasted 25 games or more.
Living up to his billing as a big-stage performer, the 27-year-old’s playoff game is one area that has not suffered. Over his last 44 playoff games, Talbot has accumulated 11 goals and 23 points–good for .52 points per game. That average is better than all but four Penguins who have been apart of the last last three Pittsburgh playoff runs.
So, the question of re-signing Talbot comes down to this: How much is playoff performance worth?
Free-agents included, the Penguins roster 15 players with Stanley Cup Finals experience. Of those players, only Talbot and Mike Rupp have scored Stanley Cup winning goals. Rupp, who did it with New Jersey in 2003, became the first player in NHL history to net a Stanley Cup winning goal as his first playoff goal.
Remember though, Stanley Cup clinching goal scorers do not always become playoff studs. Since the 2003 Finals, Rupp has only scored four points in 39 playoff games.
Drawing from the Rupp example, is playoff scoring luck or skill? An important question to answer with free agency approaching.
Talbot’s impressive post-season point production is valuable, but how rare are playoff heroes?
Joel Ward of the Nashville Predators currently leads the NHL Playoffs with seven goals. He has never scored more than 35 points in a campaign and only played in six playoff games prior to this season.
The Tampa Bay Lightning’s Sean Bergenheim is in a similar boat. He is playing in his first playoffs and has never scored more than 15 points in a season. Yet, as he is tied with Ward for the Playoff lead in goals, Bergenheim is only making $700,000 per year.
This trend is not indicative of only this season either. Last year, Philadelphia’s Ville Leino, on a salary of $800,000 per year, finished seventh in playoff scoring.
Since Talbot’s salary is already $1.05 million, all three of these players make less than what his off-season contract offer will most likely be.
There is more to the story though. How important is it to have role players score in the playoffs?
Only five of the top 25 playoff scorers in the Penguins Stanley Cup year did not rank as a top five regular season scorer for their club. Those five players, however, belonged to either Detroit or Pittsburgh–both Stanley Cup Final teams.
Does that prove that the studs dictate the playoffs, the role players dictate the playoffs, or that Detroit and Pittsburgh both found the right playoff performers? You be the judge.
Role scoring is important, but the stars determine how far the Penguins will go. The top three Penguins scorers during the Stanley Cup run were Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Bill Guerin–they ranked first, second, and fifth in regular season scoring for the Pens.
Even with the salary cap bump, the near $2 million offer Talbot is likely to receive is a lot for a role player–no matter what his playoff production is. Some team will make a high offer because they like his playoff performances and value the fact that he never had room to expand his game in Pittsburgh. Keep in mind though, Talbot only has 3 goals over his past 20 post-season games–roughly his regular season average. The Penguins are also not short on third and fourth line players.
Role players that chip in a solid playoff performances are rare, but not impossible to find. Ray Shero has already proved this by leading the Penguins to two Eastern Conference Championships.
If Talbot is willing to ink for $1.5 or less, he is a solid sign. Otherwise, the money can be put to better use. Ultimately, don’t expect to see no. 25 wearing a skating Penguin crest next season.