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McKee, Goligoski have big shoes to fill

Monday, 08.24.2009 / 3:00 AM / 30 in 30

By Dave Lozo - NHL.com Staff Writer

They say defense wins championships, but when you think about the Stanley Cups won by the Pittsburgh Penguins, the names that come up are Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, Ron Francis, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

Not a defenseman in the bunch.

But without the contributions of stay-at-home defensemen Rob Scuderi and Hal Gill, who left via free agency for the Los Angeles Kings and Montreal Canadiens, respectively, there's no way the Penguins would have won the Stanley Cup last season. Just ask GM Ray Shero.

"We don't win it without those two guys," Shero told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

"They were two great players for us all year long and especially in the playoffs," defenseman Mark Eaton said. "They did it so effectively. It's going to be tough shoes to fill, but with the salary cap era, it gives some guys a chance to have a more prominent role or a chance for some young guys."

Well, break out the shoehorn for Jay McKee and Alex Goligoski.

Shero signed McKee, a defensive defenseman in the mold of Scuderi, to a one-year deal at the start of the free-agent period. McKee led the St. Louis Blues and was seventh in the League with 185 blocked shots last season, 21 more than Scuderi in 12 fewer games. They are nearly the same age (McKee is 31; Scuderi is 30), but McKee comes at a bargain price after the Blues bought out the final season of his contract.

"They did it so effectively. It's going to be tough shoes to fill, but with the salary cap era, it gives some guys a chance to have a more prominent role or a chance for some young guys."
-- Penguins defenseman Mark Eaton

"It's no secret I'm still getting paid by St. Louis. My main objective was to find a winning team," McKee told the Kingston (Ontario) Whig Standard. "But unless that team is interested in what you bring, it can't happen. But Pittsburgh called and they were trying real hard to get me there. They lost a couple of defensive guys with similar attributes (Gill and Scuderi), so it worked out kind of perfect.

"I just hope to fill their needs."

Shero filled another need in June on defense by signing Goligoski to a three-year, $5.5 million contract. He's not the defensive mountain that the 6-foot-7, 250-pound Gill may be, but the 5-11, 180-pound Goligoski showed he's ready to be a full-time NHL player by filling in nicely for the injured Sergei Gonchar at the start of last season.

Goligoski finished with 20 points (6 goals, 14 assists), which was good for third among rookie defensemen. The Kings' Drew Doughty and the Bruins' Matt Hunwick led the way with 27 points. But Doughty (81 games) and Hunwick (53 games) saw a lot more playing time than Goligoski (45 games).

Goligoski was excited to get a long-term deal.

"I wanted to stay a Penguin for a long time," Goligoski told Pittsburghpenguins.com. "The way they treat you here and with this group of guys here, I think we can be a contender every year. I want to be a winner so it was an easy decision. I'm glad we were able to get (the contract) done early. It's just really exciting right now."

Shero was happy to be able to keep Goligoski.

"Alex is a skilled young defenseman and a tremendous skater, and we are pleased to sign him to a multiyear deal as we continue to build our young core," Shero said. "He gained some valuable experience this season and made contributions to our Stanley Cup run. He is another example of a great future here in Pittsburgh."

It's never easy to step into the roles of players who were so instrumental in winning a Stanley Cup, but Goligoski and McKee seem ready to give it a try.

"I just want to go there, fill a role and do something special," McKee said.

Winning back-to-back Stanley Cups would certainly qualify as special.

Contact Dave Lozo at dlozo@nhl.com

Quote of the Day

With this being the last year [at the Coliseum], we'd love to try to get back to the dance like we did against Pittsburgh and prove ourselves and go even further. It's an important year.

— New York Islanders coach Jack Capuano