PITTSBURGH (AP) -The Pittsburgh Penguins made the first move to keep their core group of young players together, reaching terms with restricted free agent defenseman Ryan Whitney on a $24 million, six-year contract.
Whitney is to make $2.5 million in the 2007-08 season, with his salary rising throughout the years. 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 while staying under the salary cap.
Whitney's six-year contract assures the Penguins of keeping him for at least one season past his eligibility for free agency.
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. He 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 added another veteran defenseman who doesn't need to score a lot when they agreed to a two-year deal with Darryl Sydor.
The Penguins also announced a deal with forward Petr Sykora, re-signed defenseman Rob Scuderi and signed goaltender Dany Sabourin.
Sydor, 35, once one of the league's top offensive defensemen, had 5 goals and 16 assists with Dallas last season.
Sykora, 30, a speedy skater and playmaker, had 22 goals and 31 assists with Edmonton last season.
Scuderi, 28, played in 78 games last season for the Penguins.
Sabourin rejoins the Penguins' organization after serving as a backup to the Vancouver Canucks' Roberto Luongo last season. Sabourin went 2-4-1 with a 2.63 goals-against average in nine games last season. He had played with the Penguins' Wilkes-Barre/Scranton farm team in 2005-06, setting a team record for wins with a 30-14-4 record.