Whitney reaches terms with Penguins on backloaded deal

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins made the first move to
keep their core group of young players together, reaching terms
Sunday with restricted free agent defenseman Ryan Whitney on a $24
million, six-year contract that will pay him most of his money at
the end of the deal.

Ryan Whitney


Pittsburgh Penguins


Whitney is to make $2.5 million in the 2007-08 season, with his
salary rising from there. By backloading the contract, the Penguins
improve their ability to re-sign stars Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin
and Jordan Staal before they become free agents in five or six
years, yet stay under the salary cap.

Giving Whitney a six-year contract assures the Penguins of
keeping him for at least one season past when he would have become
eligible for free agency.

Whitney finished sixth among NHL defensemen with 59 points (14
goals, 45 assists) last season, and has 20 goals and 77 assists in
149 career games. Whitney and Sergei Gonchar give the Penguins two
of the NHL's top offensive defensemen, with Gonchar getting 13
goals and 54 assists last season. Gonchar has three seasons
remaining on his $25 million, five-year deal.

With rookie defenseman Kris Letang apparently ready to play in
the NHL after getting a brief trial at the start of last season,
the Penguins would like to add another veteran defenseman who
doesn't need to score a lot. Among those on the market is Detroit's
Danny Markov.

The Penguins also reportedly agreed to two-year deals with forward
Petr Sykora and defenseman Darryl Sydor.

With Crosby winning the NHL scoring title and MVP award last
season, and Malkin and Staal enjoying excellent rookie seasons, the
Penguins made the playoffs for the first time since 2001. They won
47 games after winning only 22 in 2005-06, the fourth best
turnaround in NHL history.

Whitney had left wrist surgery in April but is expected to be
ready for the start of training camp in September.