Our beloved Penguins who just won a Stanley Cup are headed into this coming season with an eerily similar roster aside from the subtractions of Jeff Zatkoff, Ben Lovejoy, and Beau Bennett. Zatkoff and Bennett never had the opportunity to contribute a ton aside from Zatkoff’s win in game one of the opening round. Lovejoy’s only real contributions came in the playoffs and he outpriced himself for the Penguins’ liking.
I know it’s hard to look almost 365 days ahead, but the Pittsburgh Penguins roster next offseason becomes a concerning topic if you are a Penguins fan.
The Penguins obviously lucked out in the free agency department this season not really losing anyone they couldn’t replace. That would be quite nearly impossible next season.
Despite the fact that Chris Kunitz’s contract will come off the books as he will hit free agency, the Penguins will still be in a lot more trouble.
Some notable free agents heading into next offseason…
- Nick Bonino (UFA): $1.9 million
- Oskar Sundqvist (RFA): $700,833
- Conor Sheary (RFA): $$667,500
- Trevor Daley (UFA): 3.3 million
- Derrick Pouliot (RFA): $863,333
- Brian Dumoulin (RFA): $800,000
- Matt Murray (RFA): $620,000
Those seven players listed above have a cap hit providing a grand total of $8,851,666 heading into the final season of their contracts. Just a friendly reminder that Sidney Crosby’s cap hit is $8.7 million alone and Evgeni Malkin’s is $9.5 million.
With those quality names on the list as well as winning a Cup and possibly a second this season, money is going to be coming all of their ways. Most notably Nick Bonino, Brian Dumoulin, and Matt Murray.
Take Bonino for example. Always an overlooked component on a weak team in Vancouver, he was brought to the Penguins in a trade for Brandon Sutter last offseason. He centered the third line throughout the entire season starting off miserably and then missing a month with an injury. He returned to some new linemates, Carl Hagelin and Phil Kessel.
The “HBK Line” became a phenomenon throughout the latter half of the season and was the absolute most productive line in the playoffs, but you don’t need me to tell you that. Bonino showed he’s very capable of centering a line when you give him productive players. Even better for Bonino is that Hagelin and Kessel both are at least second line talents, meaning Bonino is a perfect second line center on any team that doesn’t include Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin down the middle. That should net Bonino a healthy $4 million minimum, double his salary for this season, if he has another outstanding season in 2016-’17.
Brian Dumoulin is another huge piece of the Penguins success who is going to want some sort of pay day heading into the 2017-’18 season.
After having one of the most underrated seasons in recent Pens history, the defensive defenseman has been something the Pens never could’ve expected him to be. A throw-in during the trade that sent Jordan Staal to Carolina, Dumoulin went from barely cracking a spot on the team to playing top line minutes in the playoffs with star defenseman Kris Letang.
The Penguins are really going to have a ton of trouble resigning Dumoulin especially if he is spotlighted on the top pair with Letang throughout the upcoming season. The same type of season where he contributes limited offensively but proves he’s one of the most underrated defenseman in the league could fetch him a nice $3.5-$4 million contract. As aforementioned, he’s no threat to score a ton of goals, but his defense is where the money is made. All that being said, Paul Martin had a ton of trouble scoring in his first full season with the Pens, but his second season when he started to find his scoring touch began making him and unattainable resign for the Penguins. We want Dumoulin back, but at an affordable price.
And last, but certainly not least, Matt Murray’s RFA deal will expire after next season.
You can already tell…Murray is going to be a legitimate NHL goaltender. He almost certainly will be a better goalie than Marc-Andre Fleury if he works out the few kinks in his game. After winning a Cup in his first try, he’s already got leverage.
Another dynamic added to it is the almost foregone conclusion that Fleury most likely won’t make it into 2017-’18 in a Penguins uniform. Whether he is traded in-season or taken during the expansion draft, Flower likely is out of the Penguins crease at some point. When Murray wants his money knowing that Pittsburgh no longer has a franchise goalie on a nearly $6 million cap hit, he will command that if not more since the Penguins will not have $10 million + of their cap spent on goalies.
The Penguins will likely move on from guys like Daley or Kunitz due to age and declining productivity. Even if Daley has another outstanding season in Pittsburgh, I’m willing to bet it would outprice him enough to where the Pens could replace him with Ethan Prow or Lukas Bengsston as in-house options. Kunitz likely will play his final days in Pittsburgh, and possibly all of hockey, this season.
Guys like Sheary, Sundqvist, and Pouliot should come relatively cheap for the Pens liking and hopefully can be resigned.
Even with the departures of Daley and Kunitz’s contract, the Penguins are going to have to make some sort of move to open up extra cap space if they want to keep those three players.
Murray and Dumoulin are almost automatic have-to-resign kind of players. You can afford to lose Bonino but you likely wouldn’t prefer to.
The Penguins will have $32,250,000 tied up in cornerstone players Crosby, Malkin, Letang, and Kessel. Something has to give.
Logically, Evgeni Malkin seems like the guy you’re going to have to move to free up the cap space. Crosby is your franchise center and Kris Letang is your cornerstone defensive player that basically paces how the Pens roll. Phil Kessel seems illogical to trade, especially if you want to resign Bonino to play with Kessel and the Pens got Kessel primarily to help them win and he did that.
Give Malkin his freedom. He loves Pittsburgh and that’s obvious. I can’t imagine that he’d hate being the number one player on any other team aside from Washington with Alex Ovechkin and Chicago with Patrick Kane. You free up the $9.5 million cap hit that will allow you to go out and sign these more necessary guys. As we’ve seen before, when Malkin isn’t playing well, the entire team falls into that category.
Instead of having the constant struggle between Sid and Geno, I’m completely fine with paying Kessel, Sid, and Letang to resign the more necessary players instead of the luxury player in this situation. Matt Murray may command upwards of $6 million on his next deal if he has even the slightest bit of success next season and Fleury may not be a Penguin. I’m more worried about keeping a potential franchise goaltender who is 22-years old than keeping a two headed monster when I can still live happy with myself having 87, 81, & 58 still in Penguin jersey’s for the entirety of their contracts.
So the morale of this fairytale is that everything has an ending. Some are happy, some are sad. It’s unfortunate that the Pittsburgh Penguins’ best chance to win a Stanley Cup going forward may be without Malkin. But Jimmy Rutherford and Mario Lemeuix know a thing or two about winning. In this case, a few added seasons of contending for a Cup sounds better than a closing window with no depth around the stars of the team.