It's Christmas in July for hockey fans when you sit by your television waiting to hear the news that your favorite National Hockey League team has signed the most sought after free agent. It's the excitement that you only felt as a kid when you woke up to find that Santa had brought you exactly what you had wanted. For Pittsburgh Penguins fans the top of the wish list included unrestricted free agents Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. As the free agent market opened at noon on July 1st, a slow day of free agent signings was as deflating as receiving an ugly sweater as a Christmas present.
Penguins GM Ray Shero didn't just sit back as he waited anxiously for a decision on whether the Penguins would finally sign a winger for Sidney Crosby or whether the Penguins would significantly upgrade their defense. The Penguins made some significant minor league signings for their AHL affiliate Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins to solidify a team that could be playing hockey well into June of 2013 and into the Calder Cup Finals.
The Pittsburgh Penguins were the most active in the first 24 hours of free agency adding depth in the signing of multiple two-way contracts. After re-signing WBS starting goaltender Brad Thiessen on June 30th, the Penguins signed UFA Jeff Zatkoff out of the Los Angeles Kings organization. With the AHL affiliate Manchester Monarchs, Zatkoff recorded a 21-17-1 record with a goals against average of 2.49 and a save percentage of .920. Zatkoff will assist Thiessen with the goaltending work load and will be a solid starter if Thiessen is ever called up to backup in Pittsburgh.
An unexpected move by Ray Shero was re-signing veteran enforcer Steve MacIntyre, who split time in both Pittsburgh and Wilkes-Barre this season. Playing just 12 games at the NHL level and 24 in the AHL, Shero must have been impressed by MacIntyre's locker room presence. Arguably the era of the enforcer is slowly coming to an end in the NHL, but MacIntyre is still a valuable presence at the AHL level especially in terms of mentoring and teaching teammates to protect themselves.
Dylan Reese, an Upper St. Clair native has joined his hometown team singing a one year two-way contract. Reese had a strong season playing a shutdown defensive role in the New York Islanders organization playing 28 games at the NHL level and recording 7 points.
Upgrading at the forward position the Penguins added Riley Holzapfel, who recorded 37 points in 57 games split between the Syracuse Crunch and the St. John's IceCaps. Holzapfel is an original second round draft pick of the Atlanta Thrashers in 2006. The Penguins also added some veteran experience with Trevor Smith, a center who recorded 69 points with the Norfolk Admirals on their way to winning the Calder Cup Championship. Smith knows what it takes to win at the AHL level and will lead as an example as well as being a solid option as a call up in the risk of injuries to forwards in Pittsburgh. Warren Peters who played with the Minnesota Wild at the NHL level was signed to a one year two-way contract recording 5 points in 58 games with 54 PIM. Peters has relatively good faceoff numbers and could be competitive in contending for a four line role in Pittsburgh.
The biggest move made by the Penguins with the opening of the free agency market was singing Tanner Glass to a two-year contract worth an average annual value of $1.1 million. The twenty-eight year old Glass will fill the role left by former Penguin Arron Asham who signed with the New York Rangers to complete a journey through all five Atlantic Division teams. Glass spent the 2011-2012 season with the Winnipeg Jets setting a personal high recording 16 points in 78 games played. Glass ranked 10th in the NHL with 246 hits and spent a significant amount of time on the penalty kill averaging 1:46 minutes of shorthanded ice time. Glass will be a great presence playing a third or fourth line role alongside the likes of Penguins forwards Joe Vitale and Craig Adams.
The 2012 free agency market hasn't had the high intensity and frenzy of years past with the biggest names still without a contract. For hockey fans it's like waiting for your parents to wake up on Christmas morning and waiting for the moment when you get to open the biggest gift under the tree. We're still waiting to see if Santa has delivered to the Pittsburgh Penguins.