Scuderi: Free agency is always in the back of the mind

PITTSBURGH -- Last postseason, the Pittsburgh Penguins had a "defensive defenseman" who logged big minutes, solidified the blue line and had many in the NHL expecting him to hit the jackpot as an unrestricted free agent in the summer.

His name was Brooks Orpik, and he tripled his annual salary by re-signing with the Penguins for six years.

In 2009, the same scenario is playing out with Rob Scuderi. He's tied with Sergei Gonchar in leading the team in even-strength average ice time (17:50) and he's fourth on the Penguins in total ice time per game (20:36) for the postseason. The career Penguin had a career year in the regular season with 16 points and a plus-23.

"I've gotten better as a player," he said. "But I've always played the same way. I'm a very, very under the radar type of guy. You may not notice it right away, but over the course of time, I guess it seems like I gain more recognition. My teammates always appreciate what I've done for the team. That's the most important thing."

But the postseason hasn't been a friendly one at times for Scuderi, who is a plus-1 overall and a minus-3 so far against the Detroit Red Wings.

According to NHL Numbers, Scuderi made $725,000 this season. He's considered one of the top defensemen of the unrestricted free agent market. He's on the radar right now, on the biggest stage of the season. Is the future weighing on him?

"I wish I could say it's never in the back of your head, but it is your livelihood. It is your job," he said. "It is in the back of my head, [but] I'm trying to just win this game tonight. Whatever's going to happen in the offseason is going to happen."

Will his performance in the Finals affect his market value?

"I'm sure it does," Scuderi said. "I guess you see it every year from successful teams. Maybe that'll be a part of it, but I'm not thinking too much about it. I'm thinking about Game 4 tonight."

The task becomes tougher for Scuderi tonight, as Pavel Datsyuk is expected back for the Detroit Red Wings. (Pittsburgh Coach Dan Bylsma said the team is game-planning tonight with the expectation he'll be in.) But the Penguins defenseman said his approach won't be dramatically different, Dats or no Dats.

"He's a talented player, but it's kinda late to make major changes in the way you play this game," said Scuderi.

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