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Penguins Free Agency: What About Marcus? Crosby Not Only Possible UFA

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Pittsburgh Penguins, Tristan Jarry, Marcus Pettersson

It seems a foregone conclusion that Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby will re-up with the team soon after he is eligible at the stroke of noon on July 1. NHL players whose contracts expire after the 2024-25 season may re-sign with their team beginning on July 1, but waiting to sign or jumping at the chance is a game of chicken that may produce some unexpected winners and losers.

What about Penguins defenseman Marcus Pettersson?

Like Crosby, his contract is up after next season, but very much unlike Crosby, Pettersson is not a generational talent who is immediately and forever irreplaceable. Instead, Pettersson is a quiet and steady workhorse, capable of playing on any pairing with any defenseman. He kills penalties, plays big minutes, and every so often, coaches will put him on the second power-play unit just to remind the current point person to do a better job.

On a blue line of all-star talent and question marks, Pettersson is the forgotten middle child. Ever capable. Always dependable.

But what is that worth?

Pettersson, 28, signed a five-year deal in 2020 with a cap hit of $4.03 million, one season after former GM Jim Rutherford had to eat a healthy plate of crow. Rutherford openly spoke of signing Pettersson long-term but put himself in a salary cap bind after the 2018-19 season; the Penguins didn’t have cap space to sign Pettersson to anything more than his qualifying offer of just under $900,000.

Oops.

Pettersson was an RFA without negotiating rights, so it was essentially a take-it-or-leave-it proposition, which Pettersson took. As soon as Pettersson was eligible to sign a new contract (January of the 2019-20 campaign), Rutherford splashed the five-year deal, which was an overpay at the time but a make-good for swallowing the paltry one-year deal.

But now Pettersson is again eligible to sign a new deal, and it seems to be a game of chicken. Should Pettersson wait to see what contemporaries like Brenden Dillon sign for on July 1, or should he pounce on a chance to sign with the Penguins as soon as he is able?

Penguins president of hockey operations/GM Kyle Dubas has the same choice.

This season, Pettersson set a career-high with four goals and 30 points.

What is Marcus Pettersson Worth?

A check around the league for comparable defensemen isn’t easy. How many simply do their job quietly and effectively? Pettersson isn’t overly physical and doesn’t provide much offense, but his breakouts and defensive positioning facilitate the best for the stars around him.

On the top end of the scale, the Vegas Golden Knights have a pair of defensemen with similar characteristics: Brayden McNabb and Alex Martinez. The former makes only $2.85 million, while Martinez’s expiring deal carried a $5.25 million cap hit.

St. Louis Blues d-man Nick Leddy has similar stats to Pettersson, and he carries a $4 million cap hit. In Colorado, Josh Manson is worth $4.5 million.

Dillon is looking for a new deal as his four-year contract with a $3.9 million hit expires. Matt Grzelcyck had a cap hit close to $3.7 million. Joel Edmundson was $3.5 million, and Derek Forbort’s deal at $3 million is also expiring.

So, what’s Pettersson worth? It seems to be between $3.5 and $5 million.

As the salary cap goes up to $88 million for next season, reliable defensemen will see a pay raise with everyone else. Pettersson has every expectation to ask for a bit more money.

In the grand scheme, the Penguins have every reason to hold their ground because Pettersson could be replaced within the same salary range. He’ll be 29 next summer, and that puts him in the danger zone like Jake Guentzel. If the Penguins’ trajectory shifts toward rebuilding, a reliable defenseman with a premium salary is a necessity for winners but only a luxury for others.

It seems Rutherford was a bit generous with his tender, and the value is just coming to level par. Another few years at about the same $4 million price would be fair, but is either side in a hurry to get there?