The NHL's salary cap expected to rise, Can Pens be active again in free agency?

For those that like to look too far to the future (I admit I'm one of those people), it may be interesting to hear that the salary cap could rise by about $3 million dollars next season, to an upper limit of about $62.4 million, according to the Globe and Mail.


How does this fit into the Pens outlook?  Let's take a quick and dirty look, if you want to, behind the jump.

Currently the Pens have about $51.1 million on contracts next season.  Here's how it would look, in terms of a depth chart:

Kunitz-Crosby-???
???-Malkin-???
Cooke-Staal-???
???-???-???

Martin/Michalek
Orpik/Letang
Goligoski/Lovejoy

Fleury and Johnson

Notable unrestricted free agents: Pascal Dupuis, Max Talbot, Mike Rupp, Eric Godard, Craig Adams, Arron Asham, Deryk Engelland
(Tyler Kennedy and Mark Letestu are set to become restricted free agents)

If young players like Eric Tangradi and/or Dustin Jeffrey can make the jump, that would make for some relatively cheap additions to the lineup.  Other than the top six forwards, GM Ray Shero will have to do a lot of re-stocking of his pluggers, as most of them will either need new contracts or suitable replacements.  Those players tend to be relatively plentiful and cheap to boot-- check out Asham signing for peanuts late in the summer, or guys like Adams who occasionally pop up on the waiver wire from time to time.

Regarding the top six forwards, could this be a time to add a $3 or $4 million dollar winger to play with Evgeni Malkin?  Given that the Pens will have about $11 million to work with, it seems that they could have the cap space to make that a reality.  And since all the important core players are signed (at least) through 2013, adding a high ticket guy from the free agent route would not adversely affect the Pens ability to keep their own young players.

Next summer's potential crop of UFA forwards isn't the deepest though.  Alex Semin is way out of range, he'll get a megabucks deal somewhere.  Simon Gagne could hit the market, but he may command too much to fit in the Pens structure.  Other options could include Matt Moulson, Tomas Fleischmann, Jussi Jokinen or Alex Tanguay -- all have some warts, but any would represent a skill upgrade over current top wingers on the team.  I was going to make a joke about Alexei Ponikarovsky being on the market too, but that's really not funny.

It's still way early to really consider next year's roster, and there's this little thing called the regular season going on, so any exercise in getting too deep into what may or may not happen probably is useless.  However I found it interesting to take a peek at this, on the heel's that the cap might go up a little more than earlier anticipated.

Looking at the Pens contract situation it's clear that they have a lot of money tied up, but for the most part it's going to the right people and there aren't too many holes to fill, especially defensively.  Shero's done an excellent job of locking the core down, and if the salary cap does indeed rise, the Pens will probably get the chance to add some better weapons to that core.

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