Offseason Penguins Salary Cap Situation; Free Agents & Improvement
The Pittsburgh Penguins hunt for a new general manager began on Friday afternoon. FSG co-head Dave Beeston said the search would begin immediately following the press conference announcing the terminations of Ron Hextall and Brian Burke.
The new GM will have his or her hands full with an old roster on 35+ contracts, overpaid veterans, and a lack of prospects to cheaply fill lineup spots creating a salary cap jam.
Other than that, it might be a good job.
Next season, the NHL’s salary cap will increase by $1 million to $83.5 million.
The Penguins have seven unrestricted free agents, including top-pairing defenseman Brian Dumoulin, goalie Tristan Jarry, and top-six winger Jason Zucker.
Zucker and Jarry will be difficult to replace, especially for less than their current salaries.
The Penguins have just over $39 million committed to seven forwards.
The Pittsburgh Penguins have five of their top-six forwards under contract for next season, including Sidney Crosby. Talent at the top of the lineup won’t be an issue.
Ryan Poehling, Drew O’Connor, and Alex Nylander are RFAs with arbitration rights. Poehling and O’Connor will probably get raises on their $750,000 salaries, but perhaps not significant increases. Let’s say $900,000 for each.
Nylander also seems worthy of an NHL contract at minimum or close salary. The trio would cost about $2.55 million.
With the RFAs, the Penguins can get to 10 forwards at an estimated cost of $41.6 million. In fact, the RFAs could form a competent fourth line, leaving the new Penguins front office searching for a third line.
The Penguins’ defense could undergo significant upheaval in the offseason, but we’ll deal with the existing cast. Top-pairing defenseman Brian Dumoulin is likely a goner.
The Penguins have six defensemen under contract at pennies under $21 million (20,750,175). In addition to Dumoulin, Dmitry Kulikov is also a UFA.
The Penguins also have Mark Friedman and Ty Smith under contract. We’ll get to Smith’s analysis later in the offseason, but his game has plusses and minuses. His speed is questionable, and his defensive game was sketchy, but he also has plusses. We do think Friedman can be an NHL defenseman.
If the Penguins want to save money, a bargain option like Kulikov, who coach Mike Sullivan seemed genuinely happy to have, could be a perfect option. Kulikov made $1.125 million last season.
The Penguins could have a defense corps that costs less than $23 million.
So far, we’re at $64 million, leaving between $18 and $19 million for the next big question.
Jarry is a UFA, so the Penguins need a starting goalie. Backup Casey DeSmith is under contract for a below-market $1.75 million, so the Penguins can count the backup slot as filled. There are concerns about DeSmith’s slow first half in consecutive seasons, but that’s a problem for another column.
The Penguins have $18 million, which means they can spend on a goalie, whether they acquire one or chase a couple of the 1A-type goalies on the UFA market.
Final Penguins Salary Cap Situation:
Now, we add (trigger warning) Jack Johnson’s $916,667, and we’re down to roughly $17 million remaining, including a cushion for call-ups.
With that money, the Penguins must add a top-four defenseman, a top-six winger, and a goalie. They must also add need to add at least two more forwards on that budget. They’ll need three more forwards if Jeff Carter is not asked back.
The good news is the team can fit under the salary cap with a couple of bargains filling the spots.
Now, actually improving from a non-playoff team to a team that can beat the advancing Buffalo Sabre and Ottawa Senators, in addition to the playoff teams, including the New York Islanders and Florida Panthers, seems another matter. The roster will need to undergo upgrades in speed, tenacity, and youth to be playoff worthy.
Those things don’t come cheap. And you know it won’t come easy.