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Updated Penguins Salary Cap Situation for Malkin, Letang & UFA Needs

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Pittsburgh Penguins, Kris Letang, Evgeni Malkin

After signing a six-year contract on Saturday night, winger Bryan Rust will stick around for a few more years. The Pittsburgh Penguins surprised a few people with the speed and deliberate negotiations. They got a discount, too.

Despite the bargain, the Penguins will spend about $1.6 million more on Rust beginning next season. Fortunately, for fans and all teams, the NHL salary cap will rise by $1 million to $82.5 million next season. That’s not insignificant considering the bloodletting we’ve seen in the last two offseasons due to the flat cap.

Now (trigger warning), the Penguins still have Jack Johnson on the books until 2026, and his cap hit will rise to just over $1.9 million for 2022-23.

So, the Penguins are playing with just about $80.5 million for next season and have just under $24 million to spend. As a financial placeholder, we will assume a top-pair RHD will cost at least $7.5 million.

Forwards: Seven Signed, $33.4 million spent

UFAs: Evgeni Malkin, Rickard Rakell, Evan Rodrigues, Brian Boyle.

RFAs: Kasperi Kapanen, Danton Heinen.

The Pittsburgh Penguins spent just over $49 million on forwards this season. They currently have seven under contract at the cost of $33.4 million. The Penguins have two RFAs, which could prove problematic because they have arbitration rights. Kasperi Kapanen and Danton Heinen are due a Qualifying Offer to keep their rights.

By some miracle, Kapanen’s 2021-22 salary ($800,000) was well below his AAV ($2.75 million). So, his QO will be only $840,000. Heinen, however, is owed a $1.1 million QO.

Kapanen’s salary makes it tempting to give a second chance, but a QO and signing are two different things. No matter how terribly Kapanen feels he performed, an arbitrator will probably award something closer to his AAV than his 840k QO.

The Penguins need five more forwards under contract, assuming that Drew O’Connor and Radim Zohorna can serve as fourth-liners or the 13th forward.

In keeping with last year’s cap formula, the Penguins have about $15 million left to spend on forwards, including a second-line center, a second-line winger, two middle-six wingers, and perhaps a fourth-liner.

Soft Predictions (Don’t hold me to them beyond this week): The Penguins will re-sign Evan Rodrigues for about $2 million. The Mike Sullivan-described “Swiss Army Knife” got lost after Evgeni Malkin returned but showed up in the playoffs. He scored 19 goals and subbed as the second-line center in Sidney Crosby’s absence in Game 6. Neither Heinen nor Kapanen will return. PHN liked Heinen’s playoff series against New York. He had a far better year than Kapanen, for whom it’s probably time to cut bait; a lottery pick wasted. Perhaps Kapanen’s rights have some value on the NHL trade market.

Heinen could again be a bargain middle-six winger in the $2 million range. He scored 33 points in 76 games, including 18 goals. At $2 million or less, Heinen is a good signing. Above that figure, he’s not hard enough to play against.

However, the Penguins need penalty killers. Fewer goals allowed can offset fewer goals scored. The difference with and without Zach Aston-Reese was stark.

The PK dropped two full points in the season’s final weeks, down to 84.4%. Against the Rangers, the PK was abysmal.

The Penguins will have $3 million to replace Kapanen and Heinen with at least one third-line winger who can score 12-15 goals and kill penalties.

The big need is the second line. The Penguins will have about $10-11 million to spend on a second-line center and Rakell, or equivalent winger. Before you start spending that money, a second-line center like Vincent Trocheck will probably command about $6 million, maybe a touch more, in this market.

Rakell made about $3.89 million AAV. Given his eye-opening performance with the Penguins, he’s in line for a raise. A team with a good center but in need of a top-six winger must look at Rakell with a great deal of curiosity. Will $4.5 million get it done? Maybe. Maybe not. He could command $5 million, or a bit more, if a team really liked what they saw.

The Penguins will have substantial money to spend on forwards, especially if they can free themselves of less desirable contracts on defense, but it won’t be enough for everyone you, or they, want.

What did Evgeni Malkin mean when he said, “Good players sign good contracts…I said I’m a rich guy but don’t deserve a $1 million contract…”

Is that $6-7 million? How about $8-9 million?

You can see the math.

Colleague Dave Molinari looked at potential Penguins trade bait, which would change the calculus, too. But don’t forget, every trade needs a partner. Not many teams are lining up to take on Jason Zucker, whose health and recent production slide are major issues with a $5.5 million cap hit.

Defense: Six Signed, $18.975 million spent.

The Pittsburgh Penguins have six defensemen under contract and P.O. Joseph waiting in the wings. They have enough bodies but are missing the top-pair defenseman. Kris Letang looks like a goner.

The Penguins spent just over $27 million on the blue line this season (counting Nathan Beaulieu), so they have money to spend. The question is–how?

Can they find a top-pair defenseman for the $7-8 million range? There aren’t many.

And no, elevating John Marino or Marcus Pettersson is probably a bad idea. Mike Matheson played good top-pair minutes, but he would need a reliable right-side partner also capable of playing against the top lines of the Metro Division.

Goalie: One signed, $3.5 million spent

Tristan Jarry is under contract for one more year. The Penguins will have their pick of a handful of backup goalies, probably in the same $1-2 million range. Perhaps Louis Domingue returns as a third goalie to continue working with Andy Chiodo. Domingue won three playoff games, but his technique was increasingly sketchy.

Casey DeSmith missed the last two playoff runs with injury. It’s fair to say the Penguins possibly win the 2021 battle with the New York Islanders if he were available and probably win the 2022 Round One battle with the Rangers. The Penguins outplayed both New York teams.

Will goalie-conscious Ron Hextall look elsewhere for a backup? Marc-Andre Fleury rumors have already popped up, and will pop up, but run the numbers. Unless Fleury wants a $2 million contract, where will the Penguins get the money without otherwise sacrificing significant needs?

It’s not realistic.

Conclusions:

Hextall needs about $27 million to complete the blue line, barring subtracted salary from trades. That means the Penguins will have $49 million for the forwards crew. So, the Pittsburgh Penguins will have about $11 million to complete their second line after they spend about $4 million to solidify the middle-six depth.

This all translates to between $7-8 million to replace Kris Letang, or sign him. It means about $15 million to spend on five forwards, and a few nickles more than $1 million on a backup goalie.

Every dollar from one column comes to a dollar out of the other.

Hextall hasn’t missed on a player yet. Mark Friedman, Jeff Carter, Danton Heinen, Brian Boyle, Evan Rodrigues and Rikard Rakell outplayed their contracts and acquisition costs. In a few cases, those players outperformed expectations by a wide margin. Louis Domingue also outplayed his expectations.

This offseason, Hextall may be shoved into a gamble or two if the market goes loopy as it did on the last free agent frenzy when prices caught a few GMs, including Hextall, by surprise.

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Pittsburgh Hockey Now Editor-in-Chief, formerly 93.7 The Fan, Sportsnet Hockey Tonight, NHL Home Ice. Catch Dan tweeting @theDanKingerski and the official @pghhockeynow account.

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Jeff Young
Jeff Young
4 months ago

Personally, with the guesstimates above, I would take Trocheck+Rakell over Malkin+Kapanen. And, over last year anyway, save about $3M.

Jeff Young
Jeff Young
4 months ago

BTW, with Zucker’s M-NTC, how realistic would it be to move him? And what would it take?

Dean
Dean
4 months ago
Reply to  Jeff Young

Not much. Buy him out take the hit over 2 years 1.74 this year and next. Next year the JJ hit goes down by a million.

Ed Andrews
Ed Andrews
4 months ago
Reply to  Dean

they still paying for Jack Johnson

Jeff Young
Jeff Young
4 months ago
Reply to  Dan Kingerski

Thanks. Yeah, I figured as much… To move him for a single year would be a high price on our end. Buying out, to me, is less attractive (I hate to see teams waste money) so rolling for one more year seems like the option. If he gets injured again, LTIR.

Dean
Dean
4 months ago

I hope the Pens don’t think like this article. The Pens need to make changes. Can’t keep doing the same things. 1. Rodrigues had a great 1/2 season in 4-5 years. They should never resign him for more than $1M. He is a .25 pt a year player at best and he is not good on the PK. Signing him for more than that would be a Rutherford move. 2. They need to clear out a least 2 of the over paid defenseman and sign a couple shut down defenseman. Even if the two are Doumilin and Marino which they… Read more »

Michael Hanczar
Michael Hanczar
4 months ago
Reply to  Dean

So if we resign these guys, where are the real changes coming? Forget Heinen, Erod and Kappy–we can get cheaper and perhaps better players around the league or WBS.
Look at some of the unheralded stars of the playoffs, they were on the scrap heap recently. Brandon Smith, Colton and Perry were available to anyone.

Dean
Dean
4 months ago

1. The defense is changed with shut down defenders that replace Dumoulin, Pettersson, and Marino. You could save $6 -7M. For example Haden Fluery, under $2M. Cernak from Tampa that has to clear space. $2.95, Ilya_Lyubushkin from Toronto UFA under $2M.

2. You have a legit back up goalie

3. You get a legit top 6 scoring winger for Malkin.

Sal Governale
Sal Governale
4 months ago

Who on WBS is better than Heinen, Erod, or Kapanen? I haven’t seen any NHL ready F’s on that team all year.

Last edited 4 months ago by Sal Governale
Dean
Dean
4 months ago
Reply to  Sal Governale

Not sure about better than Heinen and Kapapen. But DOC or Poulin are easily better than Erod. You have to discount I good 1/2 year out of 5.

James
James
4 months ago
Reply to  Dean

I like this train of thought.
The problems of this year in my opinion were defensive oriented. Malkin and Letang leaving will hurt this team. I really think saving money on a different second and third pair defensive strategy is where the big changes need to be. Keep the band together, reorganize the crew, have a better tour.

Paul
Paul
4 months ago
Reply to  Dean

Kapanen has scored more than 13 goals (20) once in 4 1/2 seasons.

John Gregg
John Gregg
4 months ago

My fantasy trade scenario on D:
Let Letang walk. Sign Josh Manson. Trade Marino for Tyler Myers. That nets about the same salary as we had last season. Manson can be the physical guy with Matheson. Myers can play with Dumo or Pettersson. Ruhwedel, POJ, and Friedman can handle the third pair.

Sal Governale
Sal Governale
4 months ago

Letang needs to go. His game has gotten so far from what it once was and he’s coasted on past accomplishments ever since. He was the worst D on the team in the NYR series. Poor decision making, poor positioning, and absolutely abysmal play on the PP. He tries to force passes, gets caught too deep, let’s guys get behind him, screens his goalie, refuses to carry the puck or dump on PP entries (everyone in the world knows he’s going to drop pass to a F). I don’t think the Pens have the $ to replace him in this… Read more »

Last edited 4 months ago by Sal Governale
James
James
4 months ago

I personally think that the best strategy for the upper management to implement in fixing what went wrong this year, especially in the playoffs, is to take a very logical and methodical approach in dealing with what worked vs what didnt. First tend to the problems and see if there aren’t ways to save some money there and then retain your heralded stars. What i didnt see were offensive struggles in the playoffs. There were issues with SECONDARY scoring during the latter part of the regular season, and playoffs but that began to change as the playoffs wore on. I… Read more »

Ed Andrews
Ed Andrews
4 months ago

lett letang walk you say but there is no defender on the team that is better than him, this team needs defense, Dumo is hurt always, marino and matheson, Petersen is ok realistically Zucker and Kap need to be moved, and what other player has scored goals rust, Guentz, Crosby and Malkin who is going to pickup the goal scoring for Malkin not Erod. I am going to laugh if malkin goes to the caps with Ovie and Kusnest, or Letang goes to Tampa with Mcdonugh possbly retiring, why not trade crosby and carter to let get rid of the… Read more »

Katz is Dumb
Katz is Dumb
4 months ago
Reply to  Ed Andrews

LOL. Tampa can’t afford Letang.

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Jeremy L
Jeremy L
4 months ago

Gotta let Malkin walk. His return killed the team’s systematic play and seemed to have a negative affect on Letang. Maybe his play was a result of coming off a knee injury but at his age and the money that he wants, Letang is the better bet.

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Lars Nelson
Lars Nelson
4 months ago

Malkin is not the problem on his line. He is a point per game player. He had nothing to work with this year. Kapanen was terrible. He needs Rakell to generate offense with. They shine on offense and the other player plays high in the offensive zone. What he needs is a Cheap LW that can lock things down defensively. Those are readily available in free agency. They are currently playing on Stanley cup contenders on 3rd lines. As an example, think of Dupuis and what he did for Crosby. Eventually, he evolved into a 20-goal scorer, but when we… Read more »

David
David
4 months ago

Domingue won 3 playoff games? I give him the OT win. But he LOST 3. And I do mean he lost them. Game 5 and 6 especially.

Mike Donnelly
Mike Donnelly
4 months ago
Reply to  David

Doimingue did lose three games. As did Shisterkin, who was pulled for two games while a very suitable replacement (Gregoriev) was available to replace him. Domingue was in on his own, with nothing close to a reliable backup. No safety net. I say good on him. Almost pulled it off and gave us more than most could hope for. While everyone is playing fantasy GM, I think its time to give him his due. Coming off the bench (the runway, actually) in a double OT game in the playoffs on the road and make 17 saves? Balls of ice. Good… Read more »

David
David
4 months ago

I think if we step back and just think it will become clear that the last 2 playoff 1st round exits were directly due to goaltending. If the Pens get good goaltending this season in the first round, the Rangers are gone in 5. Last year with Jarry, they could have gone far. That is what needs to be fixed the most. Sure, there are other problems, but the goaltending is at the top of the list.

Last edited 4 months ago by David
David
David
4 months ago

If the Penguins replace either Malkin or Letang, or both, they will not be a better team. Get some D guys. And fix the goaltending.

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[…] Updated Penguins Salary Cap Situation for Malkin, Letang & UFA Needs […]

Paul
Paul
4 months ago

Trocheck is a third-line center who will want closer to No. 2 money. Would rather trade for Scheifele, a proven point-a-game scorer who probably will be available. If the Jets want to include Hellebuyck in a blockbuster deal (for Jarry, Marino/Pettersson and another player perhaps?), I would jump at the chance. Hellebuyck wants no part of a rebuild, and it sure seems like the J-e-t-s are headed for one. Time to swing for the fences. A ground-rule double won’t cut it.

Last edited 4 months ago by Paul
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