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Updated Penguins Free Agent Projections; P.O Gets Paid?

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P.O Joseph, Lars Eller, Pittsburgh Penguins game

Two restricted free agents have new contracts. That’s two down for the Pittsburgh Penguins and one to go.

Last month, Penguins president of hockey operations/GM Kyle Dubas got the equivalent of a Groupon when he signed defenseman Jack St. Ivany to a three-year deal at only $775,000 per year and signed Jonathan Gruden to a two-year deal at the same average annual value.

The Penguins are currently projected to have just under $13 million in salary cap space, meaning they have plenty of space for their internal talent, but if they want them is another matter.

Emil Bemstrom is also an RFA who is due a contract, as are unrestricted depth defenseman Ryan Shean and forward Jansen Harkins. Bemstrom seems to be a prime candidate to become a non-qualified free agent (June 25 is the deadline to submit a qualifying offer to an RFA). After the Penguins acquired Bemstrom near the NHL trade deadline for Alex Nylander, his contributions were limited and his impact minimal. Harkins scored precisely zero goals in 44 games, meaning only Shea seems like a good bet to return.

However, the two most significant NHL contributors who are also due contracts remain unsigned: defenseman P.O. Joseph and goalie Alex Nedeljkovic.

It’s been six weeks since the end of the regular season when coach Mike Sullivan rode Nedeljkovic instead of presumptive starter Tristan Jarry for the final month. The Penguins have had plenty of time to engage and sign Nedeljkovic but haven’t done so.

At this point, the signs point to Nedeljkovic hitting the market on July 1.

According to AFP Analytics, Nedeljkovic’s next contract will be affordable but still a bit steep. AFP’s projection and Pittsburgh Hockey Now’s gut-feel line up almost in sync at two years, $2.3 million AAV.

Nedeljkovic, 28, finished with a .902 save percentage, a healthy 18-7-7 record, and, according to Hockey Reference, a subpar -1.6 goals saved above average. The projected contract represents a modest raise on Nedeljkovic’s $1.5 million salary this season.

P.O Joseph, Penguins Trade

Joseph represents a complicated decision. The restricted free agent could sign a longer-term deal, go to arbitration for a short deal, or anything in between.

Dubas has options, including dragging out the negotiating process to give himself a second buyout window. Per the CBA, teams get a second 48-hour window beginning three days after a player settles or receives an arbitration award. The caveat is the second buyout option only applies to players with a cap hit above $4 million who were on the team at the previous trade deadline.

The Penguins boss did the same last summer when he used Drew O’Connor’s arbitration status as a tool in the Erik Karlsson trade talks. The Penguins needed to clear salary cap space and could have used a buyout to do so, which kept Dubas’s options open. O’Connor signed on Aug. 2, shortly before his arbitration case, and four days later, the Karlsson deal was done, too.

Dubas could use Joseph’s arbitration status to open a second buyout window this summer if he were unable to trade a veteran, such as Reilly Smith, or at least use the possibility as a negotiating tool.

Joseph’s later season resurgence bodes well for his next contract. He was the Penguins top-pairing left-side defenseman, playing heavy minutes with Kris Letang after free-agent signee Ryan Graves repeatedly failed in the role. Graves became a healthy scratch before suffering a concussion, and Joseph excelled on the top pair.

This season, Joseph was in and out of the lineup, both with an injury and as a healthy scratch. He played in 52 games, scoring two goals with 11 points.

It would seem that the soul-crushing arbitration process, in which a team lists all of a player’s flaws and negatives, is the last thing Joseph needs in his career development. He’s had enough hockey people along the way slam his game or downplay his value, and having the Penguins do it to him certainly would not help.

According to AFP, Joseph is in line for a two-year contract with a $1.8 million AAV. Of course, the Penguins could sign the young defenseman to a longer-term deal or roll the dice with the bruising arbitration process, too.

Signing Joseph and Shea to the expected values will reduce the Penguins’ cap space to just above $10 million, which is still plenty of space to acquire talent on July 1.

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Rob
Rob
11 days ago

POJ is a 3rd pair D at best, his shortcomings were covered up by increased scoring when he was given 1st/2rd pair minutes at the end of the season. He was a disaster for most of the season. Would rather keep Shea with St Ivany on the 3rd pair – or Graves if we have to… If POJ has any perceived value, trade him now!! The main problem with the D right now is that the Pens have too many 3rd pair caliber LD (Shea, POJ, Ludvig, Graves). LD upgrade is needed desperately, would be my No.1 priority this off-season.

Knobman
Knobman
11 days ago

No way I would sign POJ at $1.8M a year. He has had his chances and is out of time with Pitt. Forbort would be good choice on the third pair and is due for a salary reduction. Gustafsson had a good year with the Rags. Kulikov is playing great with Florida and would be a good get…oh wait a sec. Hakinpaa or Josh Brown would be good on the right side. All are better than POJ and there is a real chance at having a banging third pair. Having a combination of POJ, Ludvig, Shea, and St. Ivany on… Read more »

Eri
Eri
11 days ago

June trade scenarios – Scenario A: Reilly Smith, Tristan Jarry and P.O. Joseph for Colton Sissons and Juuse Saros, Smith seems to be a Western Conference player and NSH would have a goalie long term w/ a reasonable cap hit. Scenario B: Marcus Pettersson for Juuse Saros, NSH needs LD. This one leave a hole on the left side for the Pens, but may be able to be addressed internally and through FA. It sounds as though Saros will be traded by the Preds this offseason.

Vittorio
Vittorio
10 days ago
Reply to  Eri

How bout neither. Saros will cost you more than what the Pens have but apparently you think very little of the whole team so why not just trade everybody for draft picks and from there.

Eri
Eri
9 days ago
Reply to  Vittorio

That is a ridiculous, asinine and unsound statement. Did you watch any Pens games last year? The on-ice product was abysmal, disappointing and gut-punching (sans Crosby) – blown leads, blown multiple goal leads, losing the 3rd period, getting scored on early in the period, late in the period, right after the Pens scored, and the power play not being dominant or at least a positive game changer, in fact it was a liability. I also believe the Pens ended up giving up the most SHG or tied MTL. You know they missed the playoffs too ? Don’t quote any advanced… Read more »

Rick C
Rick C
10 days ago

POJ really? I keep hearing everybody hailing POJs late season resurgence when getting heavy minutes skating with Letang yet complaints about how weak Letang finished the season without anyone really putting 2-and-2 together. Letang’s late season drop off most likely was dur to his baby sitting POJ. A quick check of the with-or-without numbers supports this conclusion. Letang with Pettersson 5-on-5 CORSI: 50.70%, GF%: 57.14% Letang with Graves 5-on-5 CORSI: 50.39, GF%: 54.84% Letang with POJ 5-on-5 CORSI: 46.62%, GF%: 47.37% Mind you, I am not saying Graves, or Pettersson were great, neither would be among my to 10 choices… Read more »

Katzwasrightallalong
Katzwasrightallalong
10 days ago

Was Dubas doing Shrooms with the Bemstrom – Nylander & 6th trade?? Did Sullivan not like Nylander ? Now for a POJ. A very nice guy but more useful to a heavy team which can afford a soft, good skating , underweight 3rd pairing D-man with some skill. For Pgh he’s another guy you can lose with , fail to qualify again , and still have a decent season. If this franchise is this Core and the same PP , and the same Groundhog Day , “get to our game, play the right way, we love this group ” easy… Read more »

Pete
Pete
10 days ago

Keep Sully, Keep Losing!