Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Mark Friedman said talks didn’t take very long to get an agreement on a contract extension. And then he missed the call Sunday to tell him about it because he was sleeping. Nevertheless, he’s thrilled to be locked into a two-year, one-way deal.
Friedman, a feisty, energetic type who has played just 36 NHL games, signed the extension Sunday. It kicks in next season and carries an AAV of $775,000. The “one-way” part of the deal means he’s not as likely to get shuffled off to the American Hockey League.
“You guys happy? Two more years of me,” Friedman nearly sang to reporters as he bounced into a press conference room Monday after the Penguins practiced at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex.
He’s got personality to spare, this guy.
Perhaps the Penguins got things rolling on an extension after seeing Friedman – who has been a spare part most of the season with the top six defensemen mostly set and heathy — play eight of his 20 games this season within the past month.
He had his only goal of the season during that stretch, to go with four earlier assists. He also showed some speed, physicality, a touch of skill and an ability to get under the skin of some larger opponents, including a fight against Carolina’s Vincent Trochek.
Or perhaps the extension is related to Penguins general manager Ron Hextall’s affinity for him dating to their days together with Philadelphia.
Regardless, Friedman couldn’t have been happier when he woke up Sunday, checked his phone and saw he had missed a call from agent Ian Pulver. “I called him back and got the news.”
The security, Friedman said, “is nice going into the summer knowing you’ve got two years under your belt to just keep growing as a player and a person. I’m just really excited for the next two years.”
Many players get rewarded in such a way at a younger age. Friedman is 26.
“Only playing 36 games in this league, especially at 26, isn’t easy, but I just want to keep growing,” he said. “I feel like I’ve done that so much this year.
“Parts of my game I think I could continue to get better on … would be focusing on defense first, not being so eager to jump up into the play and creating odd-man rushes against and picking my spots when to get under guys’ skin. I think I’ve done a pretty good job of that.”
Friedman feels like he fills a specific role with the Penguins that suits both parties.
“The systems here in Pitt are good with my style. It fits with me,” he said. “A lot of it’s about jumping up in the play. I bring an edginess, a grittiness, to a team that needs it sometimes, and I like my role. So I’m really excited about the two years.”
The Penguins, like a lot of teams, often extend less experienced players for a season so they can continue to prove themselves. Friedman’s two-year deal reflects some trust on the Penguins’ part, particularly since it takes him a year beyond what would have been his initial eligibility for unrestricted free agency.
“It’s real nice for [Hextall] to show some confidence in me, and the staff. I’m super excited it’s two years and one-way,” Friedman said.
“It brought a smile to my face. I got pretty emotional [Sunday] because of the journey I’ve been on. It’s not easy. You’ve just got to grind. I’m very thankful for it.”