Stay or Go? A Look at Pittsburgh’s Pending Free Agents
Ray Shero may be one of the best General Managers the NHL has seen in the last several years, drafting well, trading better and somehow getting the best player in the world to sign under his worth for the rest of his career (Crosby, $8.7 mil per year till 2021). Last season he pulled Jerome Iginla from a surefire deal with the Bruins and didn’t deal a single roster player as he also acquired Brendan Morrow, Douglas Murray and Jussi Jokinen. The best part of the Jokinen deal is that Carolina was left footing half the bill, agreeing to pay a portion of his salary for the next season, and to add a cherry on top, he scored a hat-trick this year on the team that still writes him a check! Jokinen is on the long list of Restricted and Unrestricted Free Agents that Shero will have to make decisions about this year, and it’s not going to be as easy as figuring out how much to pay for their website or how many interns to hire; we’re talking about millions of dollars and the future of the team.
The Big Guns
Thankfully, the big ones are out of the way, as Crosby and Malkin are pretty much locked in for life, but the supporting cast’s contracts are all coming due, and many of them are on the cusp of making NHL money, instead of the entry level contracts they have at the moment. Another piece to consider is the massive jump from $3.5M to $7.25M that Kris Letang will take at the end of this season, and how much space that will eat up in the future, especially since his play hasn’t been stellar of late.
Back to Jokinen, he has been a great asset on every line he’s played on, and his career has gotten a jumpstart on Malkin’s wing. As stated before, the Pens are happy paying half his salary, but when it comes time to pony up the full $3M, will they keep him, hope he signs for less, or let him walk? He’s past his prime, there’s no doubt about that, but he brings a lot to a locker room as a veteran, and he’s a guy who goes unnoticed on the ice until he pops up in the slot and crushes a one-timer goal. The Pens could probably spend their $3 million better, but if he signs for less it’s worth it.
The defense is the biggest question mark coming up, and has some very big names on the cutting floor. A lot of this hinges on whether the Penguins (or any other team) think Letang is worth twice what they are paying him now, and if they want to deal him before the deadline. There are too many variables there, and we could dwell on it forever, so let’s move on to big name #2; Brooks Orpik. Orpik is a fan favorite, and has played his whole career in the Steel City, but he’s also getting older, and can’t lay out that “Free Candy” like he used to. Add in guys like Bortuzzo who have the size and speed to fill Orpik’s role for far less money and Shero might have to offload the veteran blueliner. On the plus side, Orpik is still needed by a lot of teams, and should fetch a great return.
Restricted Free Agents
As far as RFAs go, Jayson Megna, Brandon Sutter and Simon Despres all deserve to be brought back. Megna has a small sample size, but he’s made the most of his short time with the big club, proving to be a playmaker and has impressive speed. Megna has played 14 games in the NHL, and has 6 points, doing the best of all the Penguins call-ups in another injury-riddled season. Sutter may not be progressing quite as quickly as some would like, but the Jordan Staal replacement is doing just fine, and is a worthwhile investment. Despres has been groomed for the Penguins defense, and that’s where he belongs. The Wilkes-Barre system has raised quite the crop of blueliners to take over for the veterans who have moved on or gotten injured, and in some cases, the AHL call-ups have been an improvement. To round out the current D, Niskanen and Engelland are up for new contracts too. Niskanen was a surprising addition to the team as an afterthought to the James Neal trade for Alex Goligoski, but has earned his spot. Engelland already plays for right about the league minimum, so the question is whether they need a guy who drops the gloves more than he tickles the twine.
For a full list of the cap situation and the RFA/UFA deals that are upcoming, please check out the CapCentral page.