This is the concept that everyone wants to debate; in almost every fanpost or new post the discussion is veering this direction anyways, so let's talk roster makeup for next year.
Managing the salary cap is obviously the key to maintaining a contending team. With the "core" of forwards Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal; defensemen Kris Letang and Brooks Orpik; and goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, the Penguins have all their key pieces locked in for several years. This does not come without a price, as those six players take up $33.65, roughly 59% of the expected salary cap of $56.8 (give or take a little). Rounding out the roster with talent will determine whether the Penguins have another long playoff run, or long summer.
Looking at purely salary, let's look at the roster composition of this year's Penguins (meaning who was on the roster the final day of the regular season) compared to who's contracts are coming off the books and who's starting new contracts.
The following players are gonna get more of the pie:
Kris Letang +2,650,000
-As mentioned, Kris with a K breaks the bank for his second contract, going up from his entry level deal (cap hit of $835k) up to the big boy dollars ($3.5 million for the next four years). Given the amount of money he'll make, plus the four year deal, and his still relative youthfulness, he's now a firm fixture as a core player on this team.
Brent Johnson +75,000
-A modest bump for the veteran netminder (from $525k to $600k). For barely above the NHL's minimum wage the Penguins have a capable - if not very durable - backup for the next two seasons.
Total pay increases: $2.725 million
It's not out of the question that some of these guys may be brought back, but for now we're only considering the 2010-11 Penguins as players in the organization that actually have contracts.
Sergei Gonchar -5,000,000
-Been a post-lockout fixture in Pittsburgh and still plays top 10 minutes league wide when healthy. Unless he takes a discount, Sarge probably will command more and a longer term than the Penguins can afford to match.
Bill Guerin -2,000,000
-Reports say the almost 40 year old vet may be ready to hang 'em up.
Mark Eaton -2,000,000
-Good at everything, standout at nothing. The man from Delaware would be a good keep for the Penguins, but perhaps not a must-have one.
Ruslan Fedotenko -1,800,000
-A healthy scratch down the stretch, a return to Pittsburgh doesn't seem something either side would consider
Jay McKee -800,000
-Played well before getting hurt, then seemed to really slow down on the ice. Not the way McKee or the Penguins imagined his stint in Pittsburgh.
Alexei Ponikarovsky app. -414,000 (just pro-rated portion of his contract that Pens had to absorb)
-Might have been in such a hurry to get out of town that he didn't bother to do an exit interview with management if you believe such reports. Even if that's not true, Ponikarovsky bombed in Pittsburgh and almost certainly will be playing elsewhere in the fall.
Jordan Leopold app. -381,000
-Understandably, was a lot more effective pre-concussion, but was generally as advertised. One gets the sense negotiations to bring him back will at least take place if Gonchar goes, but the dollars/term may not match.
Dead weight (Skoula, Bourque, other callups) app. -958,000
Total savings: $14.553 million
Net savings (14.553 - 2.725) = ~$11.828 million
Bottom line, according to Stone Cold: the Pens have about $45 million spent with the salary cap remaining around $56.8 million. With that $~11.8m they must fill the gaps for 3 defensemen and 4 forwards to round out their starting lineup for opening night. These projections do not factor in WB/S regulars like Eric Tangradi, Mark Letestu and Ben Lovejoy that all have good shots at earning NHL jobs on relatively cheap contracts.
Of course, the team must also still address depth issues for mid-season injuries.
If Ray Shero isn't going to consider/be able to move some salary (Chris Kunitz and his $3.725 million is the only meaningful option) then it's going to be very, very tough for the Pens to retain Gonchar. Also, Shero's likely going to have to be creative in finding skill wingers to play with Crosby/Malkin. It may be another patch signing like Fedotenko or Satan was, it may be through youth. Time will tell.