Penguins face salary cap pressures as Malkin and Letang decisions approach

On the surface, the penguinsSetting a salary cap may not seem daunting.

Ron Hextal has $23.2 million to play with this summer, more than his predecessors Jim Rutherford and Ray Shirou.

Dig a little deeper and you’ll realize that $23.2 million isn’t much after all. Rutherford and Shiro never had this crop of free agents to keep; They never have to wonder if players like Yevgeny Malkin And the Chris Letang They were too old for long-term deals, and they weren’t running the penguins at that kind of fork in the road.

Hextall is already signed Brian Rust With a team-friendly deal of $5,125 per year over six years. That was the first step, but a lot remained.

Let’s take a deeper look.

sweet 16

The Penguins currently have 16 players in NHL List under contract for next season. Of those, 10 are in team-friendly deals or simply don’t have NHL experience to make more money. Here’s what each of these players will count against next season’s cap:

It would be hard to imagine Hextall moving any of them before next season. While anything is possible, it is very clear that these players could make more money on the open market, or, in the case of O’Connor and Zohorna, they could fill a place on the list on the cheap.

Hextall is also dealing with six returning contracts for players who arguably did not perform well enough last season to justify their salaries. The hat hits remain intact for next season:

franchise icons

Hextall spoke very aggressively last week about his desire to keep Malkin and Letang. While his stated preference has always been to keep both, he has spoken enthusiastically about their desire to end their careers in Pittsburgh.

Of course, it wouldn’t be cheap. For the better part of the past decade, owners and litangs have come together to cost the penguins $16.75 million annually (owners $9.5 million annually, litangs $7.25 million annually).

The penguins cannot be expected to hire them for the same combined price going forward. Malkin will be 36 in July and will be removed for a year from major knee surgery. While he’s still a player who counts on points in each game, he’s clearly not the skater he was before. Two owners are willing to play for less money going forward.

Financially speaking, Letang might be the problem. The market has never been more lucrative for the defensive linemen, and Letang is coming off a solid season. He also knows that replacing his minutes will be a very difficult chore. He gave no indication that he, like Malkin, would be willing to take less money. In fact, he would like to increase his salary.

If Malkin and Letang had the same combined cover going forward, Penguins would have 18 players on contract with just $5.5 million of cover space. They still need to sign a handful of players to complete their roster and, ideally, would like to add a seasoned reserve goalkeeper, which could cost more than they would like.

Trade Candidates

Last season, the Penguins pushed their blue streak more than any defensive position in the NHL. While their defensive guys haven’t had a bad season, the penguins will do well to move some contracts for their short and long-term situations.

Peterson and Marino are relay candidates, although it’s hard to imagine Marino trading if Letang isn’t kept. The Penguins are not interested in losing all of their top right-hand men. If Letang returns, though, Marino’s move will look like he’s playing because of his contract.

Peterson struggled in 2021-22. He played very well in the first half of the season but faded in the long run, and his play against his own side is particularly worrying. Since he doesn’t present much of an insult, Peterson’s contract isn’t perfect.

Then there is Dumoulin. One of the most consistent players in franchise history has looked wobbly at best this season. Maybe it was his health. Maybe it was just a bad year. Maybe it was just a year out. Can.

Given the depth of the penguins on the left side and their roof issues, moving the Dumoulin could make a lot of sense. Plus, at some point, the Penguins need to start making room for one of their few prospects who envision as an NHL player.

Wilkes Barre / Scranton Promotions

Pierre-Olivier Joseph is ready to play in the NHL. He’s played in 136 NHL games, 142 if you count postseason. Joseph has never looked out of place in 20 NHL games. He turns 23 in July.

it is time.

Free agent tethered, Joseph will need a new deal, but it won’t be very expensive. If they move him to the left side of their defensive heart and trade either Pettersson or Dumoulin, the Penguins would save about $3 million in cover space that could be allocated to hitting goalscorers or attackers. In addition, they will be younger, and they can use it.

In addition, they will have added an attack-minded defender rather than a player – Dumoulin or Pettersson – who adds very little in this category. The best NHL teams suddenly have a roster full of offensively productive defensive men. The game is changing. Joseph can be of help.

Other players can be upgraded in Wilkes Barre next season. Samuel Boleyn, the team’s first-round pick in 2019, should be ready for his NHL adventure. He disappointed in two NHL training camps and produced a mediocre 16 goals in 72 AHL games last season. However, the striker’s strength was much better in the second half of the season and it will be an affordable option, and the option of the lower six next season.

Others who could get NHL playing time next season: Nathan Legare, Valtteri Puustinen and Alexander Nylander, who is a former first-round pick and will require a new contract.

To keep or not to keep?

Besides Letang and Malkin, the penguins have other players in limbo. Their return may depend on the return of Litang and Malkin, and if they return, on the amount of money.

Kasperi Cabanen And the Danton Heinen Free agents are restricted. Cabanen has been a disaster this season, but some in the Penguins are still fascinated by his physical talent. Heinen had a career year on an inexpensive contract. The Penguins would love to bring him back, but they know it won’t come cheap next season.

Ricard Raquel And the Evan Rodriguez They are the unrestricted, unrestricted free agents who are not called Letang or Malkin. The Penguin loved what Raquel brought to the squad and would very much like to bring it back. However, the finances will be difficult. He’s maxed out at less than $4 million in the past six seasons, and he’s likely to get at least a modest raise. It seems likely that Raquel will only return if Letang or Malkin sign elsewhere, unless of course the Penguins are able to shed some salary between now and the start of the free agency on July 13.

Rodriguez is valuable because he can play center or wing, kill penalties, play on power play and score 20 goals. He’s also one of the most complex players in franchise history and largely didn’t turn up during the second half of the season.

How much money do you give to a man like that? It’s a hard question to answer, but Hextall quickly learns all about tough answers to tough questions.

Final analysis

All About Hextall Take reasonable steps forward. Would it be ideal for Malkin and Letang to return? surely. They can still play at a high level. However, Hextall simply cannot give the duo what they want. It’s not that simple. Penguins require assists in the bottom six, assists on the blue line, a more permanent backup goalkeeper, and a general injection of youthful energy.

Still, penguins, such as Malkin and Litang, are very good. But like older stars, the penguins are not as good as they once were. If Malkin is asking for more than $7 million a year, it wouldn’t be a good idea to get him back. If Letang were asking for anything over $7.5 million a year, that wouldn’t be a good business either. Maybe they can get more on the open market, but that doesn’t matter. This is not about the open market. It’s about making smart decisions for the Penguins and shaping the roster in a way that helps the Penguins go from a group of first-round exits to a Stanley Cup run again.

If the penguins can get it back for a total reduction of $2.5 million or $3 million, they should. They also desperately need to trade one of their $4 million players off their blue streak. Do that, and suddenly they have the money to improve on target and advance into the bottom six, two areas that have held them back for so long.

(Images: Charles Leclair/USA Today)