By Andy Rummel
The first of the Penguin signings happened yesterday afternoon. Alex Goligoski signed for 5.5 million over 3 years, with a cap hit of 1.83 million per annum. With the draft right around the corner on June 26th, Ray Shero has little time to waste in attacking the openings on the squad. That leaves approximately 8 million in cap space to sign 7 players (2 Dmen, 1 Goalie, and 4 Forwards). Yes, on the surface that seems pretty tight. For the curious, the Penguins have a payroll of 46.668 million, and the cap ceiling is expected to be at 56.7 million. The final cap number will be announced just before the draft.
There are two remaining positions to be filled on the back line, assuming the Penguins will carry 7 defensemen the entire season. The first is going to be Ben Lovejoy, who is a restricted free agent for the Pens. He played the majority of the past year in Wilkes Barre with an ungodly plus 42 +/- for the season, so there is little reason to believe that there is anything more to be learned in the minors. Look for something in the range of 2 years with an average of 1 to 1.2 million per year. The other position is up for grabs, and anyone’s guess could be gold. I’ve got to believe that Scuderi will be way beyond the Pens cap availability for the position. His open market will be above 3 million per year. I hate to say it, but that is not happening from Pens. Assuming no maybe moves are made with large salaries, Pens will be looking at a budget of under 2 million for that extra Dman. It’s possible that Boucher will take a pay cut from his current 2.5 to 2.0 for the year (and depending, even that discount of 2.0 million might be too high). His offensive abilities would certainly flourish in this system, but it’s a matter of a personal decision for him. The USS Gill will be sailing to another port I’m afraid. His slow moving feet just have no place in Bylsma’s attack hockey. Even though very personable and likeable guy, Hal will be playing somewhere else next year.
With Fleury in Pittsburgh through 2015 with his 5 million per year salary, Pens will need a viable backup. Both Curry and Brown are possible from the Baby Pens. Curry was the call up earlier this year, and is signed through this upcoming year. Brown is a restricted free agent with the Pens, and made 637.5 k this past year. Look for Brown to be in the minors with the Baby Pens, and Curry’s fate will be at the whim of the free agent market. I’m sure Shero would love to get a solid veteran on the cheap. I think this position will be settled after the dust has settled and Penguins know where they stand versus the cap. Conklin is at 750 k and unrestricted free agent, but no one wants to go near the ‘Conklin Jynx’ – he’s been on 3 out of the last 4 Stanley Cup losers. His other team was the Conference Final loser. You definitely have to feel bad for the guy – and not sign him to your own team.
Now this is where it gets really interesting. There are things that are likely and there are things that are completely open to question and conjecture. Let’s start with the assumption that the Pens will sign 13 forwards and keep them with the squad. They have 9 currently under contract, so that leaves 4 open spots. The simple ones – Zigomanis at 600 k and Dustin Jeffrey at 509 k (Jeffrey had a very solid interview session with the Pens when he was up with the big club this past year with a 1G, 2A, +4 performance over 14 games). In theory, that leaves 2 openings at forward. Look for Luca Caputi with the Penguins midway through the season, but not at the beginning.
Say goodbye to Miro and Sykora. They’ll be playing in the KHL next year, or a heavily discounted rate from their past salaries here in the NHL. It’s highly rumored as well that Dupuis will be traded during the draft (3rd or more likely 4th rounder anyone?), and his 1.4 million salary off the books. It’s amazing how a guy can tumble from first line to the bench of a team inside a year. If you consider Malkin’s line 1st line duty (and I kind of do), all three of these players will experience that same fall from grace.
So in the end, with 500k for a goalie and 1.2 for Lovejoy, you have 5.7 million (with Dupuis) for 2 forwards and one Defenseman. Guerin? Fedotenko? Boucher? Do you trade Dupuis, sign Adams for 600k, and have 6.5 million to sign all three? And don’t forget about the option of signing Guerin to a Red Wing’s deal, where he gets a 3 or 4 year deal with the salary dropping off the cliff at the end. He then retires as a Penguin in 2 years from now…2.3 cap hit for Guerin. 2.2 for Feds. 2 for Boucher. Or do you explore other options?
There are a lot of free agents from other teams out there…