After a record 15 straight playoff appearances and a seemingly earned 16th, the Pittsburgh Penguins will head into the 2022 offseason with some tough questions about their core. Once the contracts expire, the Penguins will sit with a cap of $51.5 million for the offseason, leaving $31 million in the space, which should seem like a comfortable number. This $51.5 million cap includes the Elite’s $8.7 million cap Sidney Crosbythe star’s $6 million ceiling Jake GuentzelGuardian Tristan Jarryas well as basic front parts jason zucker, Jeff Carterand Teddy Bleuger and all their defenders except one.
The problem for Pittsburgh is who is a free agent. In addition to key attackers such as Bryan Rustthe new acquisition Rickard Rakelland escape star Evan Rodriguesthe Penguins have Yevgeny Malkin and Kris Letang both hitting unrestricted free agency. Currently, there doesn’t seem to be much concern that Malkin or Letang want to leave Pittsburgh, or that Pittsburgh has no intention of re-signing them. However, Malkin and Letang are still high-caliber assets despite their ages (Letang will be 35 to start next season, and Malkin will be 36), and could still demand quite a significant salary. Malkin currently holds a cap of $9.5 million, while Letang has a cap of $7.25 million.
If they were to re-sign for the same cap hits, it would cost the Penguins $16.75 million in cap space, leaving them just over $14 million. Even if the two take cuts to stay in Pittsburgh, the pair will still demand significant pay between the two. Due to a significant raise, UFA forward and standby Bryan Rust, who has 56 points in 48 games with the Penguins this season, and 154 points in 159 games since a 2019-20 season.
Rust, coming off a four-year, $14 million contract he signed before 2018-19 that carries a cap of $3.5 million, is likely to sign somewhere between the 5.5 million cap. million dollars from Zucker and the $6 million cap from Gunetzel. Recent UFA contracts like Brock Nelson, Anders Leeand Kevin Hayes could realistically push Rust above that $6 million number in the open market, but COVID-related issues like the flat cap could push Rust into a comparable group of players like Zach Hyman and Jaden Schwartz. Compared to Nelson, Lee, Hayes, Hyman, and Schwartz, Rust should sit comfortably in the $5.5-6 million range.
Speculating on Malkin and Letang, if the Penguins can re-sign them on slightly reduced caps, perhaps at $8.5 million and $6 million respectively, they would end up with $16.5 million in cash. cap space this offseason, and if they can sign Rust at $5.75 MM, evenly split between Zucker and Guentzel, then they would have $10.75 million left.
Rakell is coming off a six-year, $22.8 million contract that saw an annual salary of $3.8 million. Despite trending steadily down from a career-best 69 points in 77 games in 2017-18, he could still expect a modest increase from his previous salary, especially if he continues to play as well as he does. he’s done it for the Penguins so far, with five points in seven games since the trade. A comparable contract could be the four-year, $17 million deal. Tyler Toffoli signed with the Montreal Canadiens last summer before his subsequent trade to the Calgary Flames (a cap of $4.25 million).
With all of those numbers offered, the Penguins would then have $6.5 million remaining. The problems begin, however, with Evan Rodrigues, who is a waiting UFA who has just completed a career breakout year. It’s hard to speculate what Rodrigues’ next contract would look like as the 28-year-old striker has 17 goals and 23 assists for 40 points in 70 games this season, his previous record being 29 points in 74 games in 2018 -19. . In addition to Rodrigues, the Penguins should re-sign the backup goaltender Casey DeSmithwho has played his part well and could expect an increase from his cap of $1.25 million reached this season.
There is also the question of the pending FRG Kasperi Kapanen, who just signed a three-year, $9.6 million contract capped at $3.2 million. While Kapanen arguably fell short of expectations, his 30 points in 68 games this season should be enough to command at least a similar cap for next season. In an effort to alleviate some cap issues, Pittsburgh could potentially choose to let Kapanen go.
Finally, Pittsburgh will have to complete its list, but is currently looking ahead Danton Heinen hit FRG status and veteran striker Brian Boyle become a UFA. Pittsburgh owns Heinen’s rights as an RFA and could re-sign him for a cap similar to his current $1 million, and while Boyle could go back to the same one-year, $750,000 deal he has. signed last offseason, the 37-year-old could also choose retirement.
One option for Pittsburgh to resolve some of the cap tightening could be a potential Zucker trade. The 30-year-old striker has seen his production drop a bit in recent years and has suffered several injuries during that time. Just a year older at $5.5 million, Zucker may not be hard to move, but the Penguins will likely have to give up an asset to do so.
After taking a deeper look at this Penguins offseason, it’s not out of this world to think that the organization could bring back the same roster it has now, as long as the front office is able to do a good job of it. keep salaries in line with comparable players, and especially if they can work on some lighter cap shots with Malkin and Letang. Also, ditching Kapanen or trading Zucker and his $5.5 million cap could go a long way to solving some of their cap issues. Although the Penguins have ceiling issues, their problems are far from unsolvable, but to maintain a comfortable ceiling situation, some difficult conversations may have to come first.