Riley Sheahan happy to be back with Penguins on one-year deal
His contract negotiations took some unusual twists and turns in the past few days, but center Riley Sheahan never had any desire to leave the Penguins this offseason.
So he was happy when he signed a one-year, $2.1 deal to stay with the team Wednesday.
And get this: He was happy with the term of the contract, too.
A lot of players in his position would have craved the stability of a long-term deal. Sheahan had no problems placing a one-year bet on himself.
“I think this contract worked best for us,” Sheahan said. “If I can stay the same as last year, improve in some areas, maybe I can put myself in a position for next year to sign a different sort of contract. A one-year contract, there’s no definite security, but the position I’m in and the position we’re in as a team, I think it gives me a good option, a good way to find success.”
That’s a remarkable show of confidence for a player whose self-belief had to be shattered a year ago at this time. That’s when he was coming off going almost an entire season, right up until the final game of the year, without scoring a goal for the Detroit Red Wings.
Now, he’s coming off a career rebirth with the Penguins. After an October trade from Detroit, Sheahan put up 11 goals and 32 points in 73 games. He found a steady role as a bottom-six center and key contributor on the penalty kill. He’s in a good place professionally.
“For sure,” Sheahan said. “Other than the little chunk of games right after I got traded, I think I settled down and found my spot and found my groove. I think I was happy with the way things went. Obviously we would have liked to be playing a little longer at the end of the season, but on a personal level, the way the guys were, coaching and management, I just think it was a good fit. I really enjoyed myself.”
The twists and turns in contract talks developed over the last week or so.
Not wishing to expose themselves to a possibility of an unexpected arbitration bill in August, the Penguins decided not to give Sheahan, a restricted free agent at the time, a qualifying offer by a Monday deadline.
Sheahan, theoretically, could have played hardball with the Penguins, waited until July 1 and sold his services to the highest bidder.
He never considered such an option. It just wasn’t that kind of negotiation. General manager Jim Rutherford kept Sheahan’s representatives apprised of the team’s intentions every step of the way – they never wanted to lose the 26-year-old center – and a deal was struck Wednesday.
“I’ve definitely been sitting by my phone the last three or four days,” Sheahan said. “I don’t want to say it was stressful, but you never know what can happen. I think we’re glad that it’s all done and we figured something out. I’m definitely happy to stay in Pittsburgh.”
In a 180-degree turn from last summer, Sheahan’s return leaves the Penguins solidly set down the middle of the lineup, with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in the top two center spots and Derick Brassard and Sheahan in the bottom six.
It looks to be a strength of the team.
“You’ve got guys who fit into different roles,” Sheahan said. “They take pride in that. I think that’s what can make our team so effective. If we can pepper teams with four lines and be tenacious and stay after them and just keep going, keep going, I think that’s what is going to make us dangerous.”
One of Rutherford’s stated goals for this offseason was to put together a fourth line with a little bit more scoring punch.
It’s now clear he never intended to achieve that goal by swapping centers. Instead, change will come on the wing.
Perhaps Rutherford will shop for a bottom-six winger who can score in free agency. Perhaps he’ll hand the job to prospects Daniel Sprong, Zach Aston-Reese and Dominik Simon.
Sheahan said he’d have no complaints if he ends up centering a couple of kids this fall.
“I don’t mind it at all,” he said. “It’s fun playing with the young guys that we have. They provide a lot of energy and they’re good guys.”