PITTSBURGH (AP) -The Pittsburgh Penguins were one of the most improved teams in NHL history last season. General manager Ray Shero believed they needed to get even better to challenge for the Stanley Cup.
The Penguins, not resting after their turnaround season, signed two former Stanley Cup winners Monday in right wing Petr Sykora and defenseman Darryl Sydor. The signings add another proven scorer and some more protection for young stars Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal - and some playoff experience to one of the NHL's youngest teams.
The Penguins won 47 games last season after winning only 22 the season before, and their 47-point improvement was the fourth best in NHL history. Despite having the second-best regular season in club history, the Penguins were eliminated in five games by eventual Eastern Conference champion Ottawa in their first-round playoff series.
``My phone rang at 12:01 (Sunday) and Petr's agent was the first call I got saying Petr's first choice was Pittsburgh,'' Shero said. ``He just loved playing here, he loved the atmosphere ... and seeing the dynamics of the team and where it is this year and some of the kids.''
The first two days of free agency proved unexpectedly busy for the Penguins, who kept rising star defenseman Ryan Whitney by giving him a $24 million, six-year contract. They also brought back goaltender Dany Sabourin as Marc-Andre Fleury's backup after he spent part of last season with Vancouver and re-signed defenseman Rob Scuderi.
After reaching terms with the 30-year-old Sykora and the 35-year-old Sydor on $5 million, two-year contracts, Shero cited the Stanley Cup experience they will bring to a team that previously had only three players who have taken more than a few shifts in the postseason.
Sydor won the Cup with Dallas in 1999 and Tampa Bay in 2004 and Sykora starred on New Jersey's Cup-winning team in 2000.
``Any time you can add a multiple Stanley Cup winner to a team like ours, it is a bonus,'' Shero said.
Sykora has 26 goals and 33 assists in 88 career playoff games while twice playing in the Stanley Cup finals. He was also with the 2003 Anaheim team that lost the Cup in seven games to New Jersey.
``I think he'll be a very good fit in our top two lines,'' Shero said. ``I'm not sure where he'll play but he gives us another element on the wings. ... He was always a very good player in the playoffs.''
Sykora tied for the Edmonton team lead in scoring with 22 goals and 31 assists last season, playing in all 82 games - the seventh time in his career he has scored 20 or more goals. Sydor had five goals and 16 assists in 74 games with Dallas, where he has spent most of his career.
Adding Sydor deepens the Penguins on the blue line, where they already have Sergei Gonchar, Whitney, Mark Eaton, Brooks Orpik, Scuderi and rookie Kris Letang, who figures to stick with the club in 2007-08.
Whitney's contract is back-loaded, meaning he'll get more money at the end - after the salary cap rises and the Penguins expect to be making more money in their new arena. The Penguins are gambling he'll keep improving, as he did by raising his scoring production from 32 points in 2005-06 to 59 last season.
``You don't find many 6-foot-4 guys with that kind of talent very often,'' Shero said. ``We're fortunate to have him for a long time. This is a group I want to keep together, if we can.''
The Penguins also took a run at signing defenseman Scott Hannan, who left San Jose for Colorado, and forward Paul Kariya, who left Nashville for St. Louis. Both signed deals the Penguins felt was beyond their price range.
But Shero also took pre-emptive action before free agency, signing veteran forwards Gary Roberts and Mark Recchi to one-year deals on June 22. The Penguins were concerned the 41-year-old Roberts, who had seven goals and six assists in 19 games after being dealt to them by Florida last season, would prove attractive on the open market despite his age.
The Penguins anticipated they could bring back the 39-year-old Recchi, who was their No. 3 scorer with 24 goals and 44 assists last season but slumped late in the season. Bringing back Roberts wasn't as certain, and now they've got Sykora to go with him.

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