The Penguins salary cap difficulties earned them a victory Thursday, but the losses are coming. Defenseman Marcus Pettersson swallowed his medicine Thursday after a source told Pittsburgh Hockey Now the two sides “have an understanding.” Pettersson signed a bargain contract for one-year and only $874,125. The amount was far less than any projection models showed or guestimates predicted. That means Pettersson will also be an RFA next summer, too.
Unfortunately for the Penguins, not only will Pettersson need a new contract, so too will Matt Murray, Jared McCann, Justin Schultz, Alex Galchenyuk, Dominik Kahun, Dominik Simon, and just for fun, so too will Juuso Riikola. The Penguins salary cap crunch will not be pretty.
They’re already over the salary cap by about $1 million. Teams have until October to get cap compliant, so some moves will be forthcoming. However, unless those moves are significant, the storm is only going to intensity next summer.
With the potential exceptions of Schultz and Galchenyuk, everyone else will be due a spiffy pay raise. In the case of Murray, Pettersson, and potentially Kahun, the raise will be measured in the millions.
Pettersson took a bargain-basement offer because the Penguins just couldn’t offer more. Next summer, the Penguins will not be as lucky and Pettersson will not be as giving. Bank on that. Pettersson gave up a large chunk of money, but he will need to recoup that value on his next deal.
Some quick guesswork, projections and gut feeling, the Penguins will need an additional $10 million to sign everyone on their wishlist. And that figure does not leave them any room to add additional help. Murray has earned a raise of at least $2.5 million per season and his salary cap hit will rise to about $6 million, or perhaps more. If Jared McCann can score 20 goals and continue to be a spark plug, he will earn at least $3 million annually. Use the Bryan Rust and Brandon Tanev contracts as benchmarks.
Dominik Simon will get a little bump from his $750,000. Kahun could find himself with significant top-six ice time this season. Playing beside Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin typically does wonders for a player’s stats and wallet. Generally, 20 goals will net at least $2.5 million, too.
The Penguins could let Schultz and Galchenyuk walk, but the cost of a top-four right-side defenseman is not going down. Galchenyuk may be one potential to save money; his performance this season will dictate his future salary.
Penguins GM Jim Rutherford’s palms should be sweaty by now.
Pettersson did the team a favor Thursday. Next summer, the favor will need to be returned. Pettersson was in line for close to $2 million per season on a multi-year deal. That figure will rise as Pettersson continues to grow and add physical layers to his game. The defenseman is only 23-years-old. And so next summer, after the Penguins dish the cash to their top priority Matt Murray, and McCann, Pettersson will be next in line.
Does anyone know where the Penguins will find that kind of money?
The salary cap will rise next summer. It’s tough to know by how much, but some excitement in Seattle and the potential that Arizona won’t be a gaping black hole of financial loss should put more upward pressure on the cap. However, the NHLPA’s continued angst over escrow will also temper potential jumps. Players are tired of giving money back to the owners.
The Penguins will be forced to trade players, right? Well, that plan didn’t work out so well this summer. There were no takers for the Penguins offerings. To be more specific, the Penguins will have to make better players available via trade this season and next summer if they hope to clear enough space for the coming salary cap storm.
The Tanev deal is suddenly hanging over the Penguins in a much more ominous way. This summer, Rutherford proceded in a normal manner but the situation changed. Teams with cap space aren’t so easily accepting cast-offs and salary dumps for a little token of appreciation. The price of doing business skyrocketed before anyone realized it.
And so the Pittsburgh Penguins inked Pettersson to a team-friendly deal which will help them this season. Pettersson is a smooth puck mover and responsible defender whose game helped stabilize the Penguins shaky blue line. He will expect to be paid, with a capital PAID, next summer. So too will Murray because starting goalies of his caliber aren’t often available and the Penguins have a small Stanley Cup window remaining; they cannot waste a year or two looking for another netminder.
The Penguins begin their season Friday when training camp opens. For the players and fans, it is literally and figuratively a fresh sheet of ice. When viewed in totality, the Penguins have a lot of changes and moves coming because the salary cap cannot be cleared away like last season memories or disappointments. No, the salary cap doesn’t offer hope. Instead, it holds onto past mistakes like a salty ex in a constant reminder of future challenges.
Rutherford will be forced to make painful sacrifices this season to ice a competitive team next year. And there will be one less player inclined to help with a team-friendly deal.