The most exciting moments of hockey off-seasons come when a team lands a big, expensive free agent. Yet, nine times out of ten in sports, splashy deals fail miserably (see: the Dan Snyder era with the Washington Redskins). Just look at last summer; while Jay Bouwmeester made headlines when he signed with the Calgary Flames, it turned out his former Florida Panthers teammate and backup goalie Craig Anderson ended up being the coup.
Now, sure, we’ll still be more fixated on the Ilya Kovalchuks and Evgeni Nabokovs of the world, but that doesn’t mean PHT will forget the smaller names entirely.
One of those guys you won’t hear a whole lot about in most circles is Czech winger Petr Sykora.
There’s a good reason why Sykora’s name will only come up in the most obscure free agent conversations. His one year with the Minnesota Wild was a borderline disaster, scoring three points in only 14 games played before he was waived in late January. He suffered from concussion problems and never made much of an impact. The fact that no one claimed him is obviously a bad sign, too.
While it’s quite possible that the wayward winger might retreat to the KHL, I wonder if the Pittsburgh Penguins should consider giving him a chance at retribution on the cheap. My guess is that Sykora would garner even less than the $1.6 million he received from the Minnesota Wild (although, again, the KHL could potentially overpay him). The forward and goalie ranks are filled, but the team needs to bolster its defense with Brooks Orpik, Kris Letang and Alex Goligoski being the only experienced blueliners under contract.
Aside from that whole “career free-fall” thing, there might also be some residual bitterness festering from the Penguins scratching Sykora during the 2009 Stanley Cup run.
It might not be the most realistic option, then, but the salary cap (and Sykora’s lack of other choices) could make compromise at least feasible. There’s two simple reasons to make it work: Sykora is a natural goal scorer and he developed genuine chemistry with Evgeni Malkin. It’s too simplistic to say that Sykora was the difference between Malkin being an Art Ross winner and just a point-per-game guy, but he certainly benefited from having a 25-goal guy on his line.
He’s not a crash-and-bang hitter. He rarely leads his team in hustle points or defensive acumen. If Sykora isn’t scoring goals, he’s nearly useless.
Yet, despite all of those flaws, Sykora being back in black and gold could be a solid if unspectacular move. As long as he’s cheap and can accept the fact that he might be a healthy scratch every now and then.