Penguins Free Agents. What I believe should, could, and might actually happen.
With a season shortened by injury and playoff upset, the Pittsburgh Penguins are looking to the offseason with discontent. While there are a lot of expectations for this club, there are also a lot of free agents. The problem is that all of the penguins free agents are at the forward spot and some of these guys are Pittsburgh heroes, but in the cap era sometimes even heroes must move on. The cap is expected to rise to almost $62 million, but I will be a little more conservative and place the cap amount around $60.5 million.
First off, these are the players currently under contract for next season.
Forwards - Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal, James Neal, Chris Kunitz, Matt Cooke, Eric Tangradi, and Mark Letestu.
Defense – Brooks Orpik, Kris Letang, Paul Martin, Zbynek Michalek, Matt Niskanen, Ben Lovejoy, and Derek Engellend.
Goaltender – Marc-Andre Fleury, Brent Johnson
When adding their contracts for next season the Penguins have a total of $55,645,833 of cap taken up. That leaves only a staggering total of $4,854,167 for a roster that only has eight forwards signed, taken the apparent cap raise of 1 million. Of these players there are only two Restricted Free Agents in Tyler Kennedy and Dustin Jeffrey. While the other ten are unrestricted some have strong ties with Pittsburgh, the coaches and organization not fans.
It is becoming more apparent as time passes that this team will not be able to retain a lot of these players and fan favorites as well as good locker room guys will have to be shown the door.
Max Talbot – The Penguin hero of game seven in the Stanley Cup Final just a few seasons ago will most likely be headed out for a better contract than Pittsburgh will offer. Talbot has seen a drastic drop in offensive production the past two seasons, albeit after a shoulder surgery. Teams looking for good third line guys who play a ton of PK minutes will be after Talbot. He currently has a 1 million dollar contract and has stated he would take a similar one to stay in Pittsburgh, but teams around the league will be offering up to $2 million for a player who is as versatile as Max Talbot.
The era of thugs is almost over and there is not much else to say. His offers will be about as small as his production.
Mike Comrie – While I wouldn’t mind seeing him return for his league minimum contract, the experiment is over. He can be a good player for some other team, but the Penguins are going to go elsewhere.
Alex Kovalev – He said that if he doesn’t win here in Pittsburgh it would most likely end his career. After a great NHL career I think Alex Kovalev will retire in a Pittsburgh Jersey and finally bid farewell to the NHL.
Chris Conner – The small, speedy forward has been pretty good for the penguins and I wouldn’t be upset if he stays, but unfortunately I see him leaving. While the Pens are trying to establish the speed of their game, he doesn’t fit the true grind it out style Coach Bylsma enforces.
While the Penguins love youth, there are still vets needed in a locker room. Some of these forwards have shown what it takes to play on this squad over time and others have shown in brief stints that they have what it takes to make the club next season.
Arron Asham – The guy is only going to ask for his contract to be renewed next season and the Penguins would be smart to resign him. He plays very physical and has shown that he can produce when it counts, all for the great price of just $700,000.
Mike Rupp – The unspoken fourth liner is big, strong, and has moments of great skill. The 31 year old will most likely ask for his contract to be renewed as well and for $825,000 it is another strong signing.
Craig Adams – A waiver pick up right before the playoffs turned out to be one of the best moves by Ray Shero. He makes an almost entry level wage at just $550,000 and will most likely not ask for more than $600,000. Not a bad price for a beast of a penalty killer and one of the most defensively responsible guys in the penguins locker room.
Dustin Jeffrey – The Restricted Free Agent is young, strong, and can flat out play. In just 25 games this season he had 7 goals and five assists while playing everywhere from 4th line center to first line center. His versatility and growth as a hockey player has the penguins drooling. He will most likely get a nice deal for three to four years at roughly $750,000 to $825,000 a season.
Nick Johnson – He didn’t play all too much this season, only 4 games, but managed a goal and two assists. The 6'2" forward has the speed and tenacity to play on this club along with the proper mentality on how to score, get your ass to the net style! The right winger has a ton of talent and many are actually speculating that he will make the club on the top line with Sidney Crosby next season and will most likely sign for either league minimum or just above.
Tyler Kennedy and Pascal Dupuis are the two players that no one knows what is going to happen. Dupuis plays a great two way game with amazing speed, strong back check, and is a great penalty killer. Kennedy is a scorer who upped his game a lot towards the end of the season. He is not good in his own end and has a below average two way game. Kennedy has been rumored to ask for anywhere from $1 mill, to $1.5 mill and wants at least three to four seasons. Dupuis will most likely ask for his same contract, although rumors are circling that he will take less to stay on the club.
Evgeni Malkin is a humble man and after his amazing playoff performance a few seasons ago, he hasn’t been all too healthy. When he went down this season to a knee injury, he called the GM Ray Shero apologizing for it. Ray, in a press conference, stated that Malkin was extremely apologetic and felt that he let down this team by getting injured.
All of this leads to a surprising rumor from that Malkin would be willing to have his contract restructured to add a few more seasons, while removing the league maximum 15% from his contract. This would bring Malkin’s contract down to $7,395,000 per season and would free up another $1.3 million. However, rumors are rumors and one cannot take this into account since no one actually knows where this rumor has been started, damn internet. I think the basis for this rumor was a comment from Malkin stating that he wants to be in Pittsburgh for as long as he can.
Final tally – If the penguins take my laptop gm advise, they will be $1.4 to $1.5 million under the cap for next season with some major needs already addressed. The current lineup could look something like this.
Neal – Crosby – Johnson (Langenbrunner - see below)
Kunitz - Malkin - Tangradi
Cooke – Staal – Jeffrey
Rupp – Letestu – Adams – Asham
Orpik – Letang
Martin – Michalek
Lovejoy – Niskanen
Others include Despres and Engellend. Simon Despres was a first round pick two years ago who has progressed so much that the pens think he can make the roster this season. He is a bigger guy at 6'4" 215 lbs.
Depending on training camp and who looks to make the team, the cap can change with trades of players like Engellend and Niskanen, freeing up some more room for a later trade.
Possible free agents on the Penguins radar – While just about everyone in the city of Pittsburgh believes that the pens will look to their farm team and current free agents to fill out their roster, it is never set in stone to who they will keep or release. If a player turns out to be the right price for the pens, they might just turn around and sign him while letting players like Rupp or Asham find another team. Below are a few players on the market I feel the pens could sign for the right price and would fit their system without too much of a learning curve.
Erik Cole – The 32 year old forward from Carolina can be a great fit here in Pittsburgh. He has a history of producing 50 points a season. The problem is he will probably be resigned by Carolina and if not, the asking price will be out of Pittsburgh’s range, approximately $2,500,000 to $3,000,000.
Scottie Upshall – The 27 year old right winger would be a great addition to Pittsburgh. The former flyer had a few good games against the pens and was shockingly traded a few seasons back. His price tag is currently just over $2 million, but if the team is right and it is not too big of a stretch, Scottie could be back in Pennsylvania, this time on the other side of the state.
Jamie Langenbrunner – 35 years old is not a real selling point for the pens, but his versatility is. He can play right or left wing and has a great presence in every locker room. While he might be too high for the pens right now, they might decide to let a few players walk to sign him. I think the pens could entice him with the promise of playing right wing with Sidney Crosby. He currently makes $2.8 million but since Dallas needs to sign Richards, he will most likely leave. He would be my favorite signing for Pittsburgh and if he is willing to drop to maybe $2.4 or $2.3 the pens might be able to sign him for a three year deal.
All in all I think the Penguins are in good position for next season. With Malkin making strides, he is skating already, and Crosby having no pressure to return until camp, the Pens are looking to be quite healthy next season. Along with the proper moves and resigning this team will be once again competing for a Stanley cup. Thanks for the read, I let this one go a little longer than I thought.