The Penguins announced Bryan Rust’s new contract extension last night, which is significant in many ways. First and foremost, of course, is that it ties Rust to the Pens for the next few seasons on the six-year deal, and likely makes him a penguin for the rest of the Sidney Crosby era.
Off the ice, the financial ramifications will also have a big bearing on how the team can handle the rest of its offseason. That the Pens are widely praised for securing Rust’s services with a fairly modest $1.625 million raise on his previous contract is no surprise. Pittsburgh has taken a pretty hard line in contract negotiations, and the lack of sufficient supply is the main reason Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang remain unsigned with less than eight weeks now left in free agency.
Basically, if Rust were to return to Pittsburgh, he should have been roughly on a relatively team-friendly salary cap, and $5.125 million for a top player who was right at one point per game. over the past three seasons is certainly a very favorable deal for Pittsburgh.
With Rust in the fold, how does that prepare the Pens for an offseason that still has several key decisions and signings to make? Let’s imagine with the ever-handy CapFriendly to start with what the squad looks like from this point on with players under contract for 2022-23.
Pittsburgh still has nearly $24 million in cap space, which is a good thing because it’s clear they need to bring in a lot more for their roster. That shouldn’t be much of a cause for concern, since the NHL offseason hasn’t even officially started yet, we’re just trying to give an idea of how the roster looks today.
If nothing else, Rust’s return means Pittsburgh’s vaunted front line (who played wonderfully in the playoffs this season) should be intact for at least the next two seasons, given that Jake Guentzel has two years left on his current contract. That support and level of winger for Sidney Crosby should at least help make the Pens a solid team from the start.
There is also always the possibility that general manager Ron Hextall could reset the roster with a trade that could send a player with a significant salary (Jason Zucker, Brian Dumoulin, Marcus Pettersson as candidates for various playing reasons, status of contract and opportunity elsewhere) carries it. In today’s market, cap space is king and almost every team will be more interested in cutting wages than bringing in any, something to keep in mind as well.
But the good sign for the Pens is that they have plenty of wiggle room – $23.958 million, to be exact with the players above and the Jack Johnson buyout against the upper limit of $82.5 million l ‘next year. And the team has 15 players counted above, the regular season limit is 23, but could be as low as 21 or 22.
With Rust back in the fold and at a very acceptable number for the Pens, could they have room to bring back both Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang after all? This scenario seems plausible at this point, but a pay trade-off should happen (and hasn’t happened yet), so stay tuned.
With the issue of star players settled, the next big challenge will be the six-man middle striker group. Paying Rust likely means that a path for Rickard Rakell to return to Pittsburgh has likely dried up, given the team will also still have to sign or replace more second- and third-row players (Danton Heinen, Evan Rodrigues).
Finally, do not lose sight of the situation of the substitute goalkeeper. While it wasn’t Casey DeSmith’s fault with injury, in hindsight and hindsight the Pens lost their last two playoff series largely because they didn’t have a back-up goaltender available for the first round. . Again, nothing DeSmith could really do about it, but this situation shows the importance of two quality goaltenders (as also seen right now in the Carolina and St. Louis playoffs where the goalkeeper No. 2 must have played an important role).
The goalkeeping market was extremely expensive last season, but it could be worthwhile for the Pens to invest some of their newly found cap space in a viable, experienced and capable goalkeeper to join Tristan Jarry for next season.