With the Penguins locked into a 4-5 matchup with Tampa Bay and only 1 game in the next 5 days, its hard not to look ahead to next season.
The D corps appears to be set with all 7 signed at least through the end of next season: Orpik, Letang, Martin, Michalek, Lovejoy, Niskanen, and Engelland. The NHL's best goaltending tandem of Fleury and Johnson is also set to return. Regarding the forwards, 8 are currently signed: Crosby, Malkin, Staal, Kunitz, Neal, Cooke, Letestu, and Tangradi. Only Tangradi is on a 2-way deal. That's a total of 17 players and, according to CapGeek, a cap hit of $55.71M.
The cap of $59.40M is expected to rise $3 to $62.40M, largely due to the strength of the Canadian dollar and popularity of Canadian teams (Yea Canada!). The players will just need vote in the 5% escalator, which seems likely.
The roster limit is 23, so the Penguins will have approximately $6.69M to sign 6 forwards. Which 6 will be re-signed? Speculation begins after the jump...The Penguins have two candidates who will be RFAs: Tyler Kennedy (current cap hit: $725k) and Dustin Jeffrey ($509k), and nine candidates who will be UFAs: Alex Kovalev ($5M), Pascal Dupuis ($1.4M), Max Talbot ($1.05M), Mike Rupp ($825k), Eric Godard ($750k), Arron Asham ($700k), Craig Adams ($550k), Chris Conner ($500k), and Mike Comrie ($500k).
Taking a look at projected lines may help determine which holes need to be filled. On St. Patrick's Hooks and Aron V were discussing just this, and Hooks had this to say:
"Next year, I forsee Crosby-Staal-Letestu as the top three centers.
Then you have Kunitz, Neal, Malkin, and one opening for the skill winger positions.
Then you have Cooke as a third line anchor."
Projecting lines with players already signed:
Yes, I just put Malkin and Crosby on the same line. Stay with me...
The #1 priority ought to be re-signing RW Tyler Kennedy. The line of Kunitz-Staal-TK has been excellent. The Penguins do not have the $$$ to sign a proven 25-30 goal winger. That trio has proven chemistry, TK is 20-goal player, and he may be within their budget. (WAG: re-sign at $3M for 2 years, $1.5M cap hit).
Priority #1a ought to be re-signing RW Pascal Dupuis. Dupuis has proven he can play with Crosby well enough to enable Crosby to crush the league in scoring. He's also excellent on the PK and can play either RW or LW -- although he prefers RW -- the forward position of greatest need. A 3rd line of Cooke-Letestu-Dupuis could be excellent defensively (2 penalty killers + the Pens best faceoff man not named Crosby) and each could chip in 12-15 goals. Moreover, Dupuis is "Malkin insurance." Should Geno need additional time to recover from reconstructive knee surgery, Dupuis can move up to the Crosby line. (WAG: re-sign at $3M for 2 years, $1.5M cap hit).
That leaves the 4th line + one utility player:
LW Mike Rupp - Rupp and Engelland will pick up pugilistic duties if Godard is not re-signed (and it seems the time has finally come when the Pens no longer have the luxury of the best damn enforcer in the NHL). Rupp won the "Good Guy" award, so perhaps that is a signal of a changing of the guard. He's been excellent since coming over from New Jersey and although he can play higher up for short stretches, Rupp's a 4th liner at this point in his career. (WAG: re-sign at $1.5M for 2 years, $750k cap hit).
C Dustin Jeffrey - Jeffrey also plays LW, however, there is a logjam ahead of him in Neal, Kunitz, and Cooke. Jeffrey was shredding the A when he was called up and performed very well. Before his season-ending injury, Ray Shero announced that DJ was "here to stay." Using Letestu's contract as a guide, (WAG: re-sign at $1.25M for 2 years, $625k cap hit).
RW Craig Adams - Adams also plays C. Excellent on the PK. A heart and soul type of player. He is trusted by the coaching staff and appears to have earned a new contract, (WAG: re-sign at $1.15M for 2 years, $575k cap hit).
RW/C/LW Max Talbot - Max is the ultimate utility player. "Superstar" can literally play any forward position (except, perhaps, 1C)--and has--without looking out of place. His chemistry and intangibles are outstanding, however, his lack of offensive production will limit what he can expect to receive on his next contract, (WAG: re-sign at $1.5M for 2 years, $750k cap hit).
That's 6 players at a cap hit of $5.7M/year, or $0.99M under the projected cap.
If Tangradi spends another year in the A, the Pens would have more room, and FA's are always an option, however, given very tight cap contraints, their best options appear to be on their current roster.
Projected 2011-2012 lines: