Closing in on the start of free agency, the Penguins are at the center of attention. Penguins fans have been waiting for what seems like forever to find out if Ray Shero and company will be announcing the addition of former Penguin great Jaromir Jagr.
After the jump, we'll take a look at the organization as a whole and look at all of the contracts in both the NHL and AHL. I think that a post like this has been missing amidst the "Jagr Watch" and that now is a better time than ever to take a look through the entire organization and see what we have, and maybe even what we don't have heading into the big day.
According to CapGeek, the Penguins have dished out 38 of the 50 allowed NHL contracts. This doesn't include Jagr, Tyler Kennedy, Dustin Jeffrey or Brad Thiessen which could put the number up to 42. Also worth mentioning is that Tom Kuhnhackl will be returning to his junior team and will not count against the 50-man limit. If the above four are signed, that would leave room for nine more NHL contracts to be handed out, though the Penguins will want to keep some wiggle room in case of injuries, trades, etc.
For Pittsburgh's sake, the Penguins would like to have TK and DJ back for 2011-12. While Jeffrey was extended a qualifying offer worth $550,000 at the NHL level, the Pens didn't give Kennedy one.
From an AHL standpoint, it seems likely that both Wallace and Sterling will test the open market to see if they get a better offer for a faster track to regular NHL duty. I wouldn't mind having Wallace come back for 2011-12. He's a steady two-way forward coming off back-to-back 20 goal seasons. He would be a good depth signing. Sorry, no Sterling finish for 2011-12.
Tweener (1): Simon Despres
Key in-house free agents: Corey Potter
While Pittsburgh's defense is returning everyone from last year's playoff squad, the WBS Penguins have lost their veteran presence. Steve Wagner and Andrew Hutchinson, both offensive defensmen, signed overseas. But that's okay. I think the Pens affiliate could use a solid two-way defenseman to mentor the younger guys and Potter certainly fits the bill. I guess AHL Penguins fans will have to hope Potter doesn't gain much interest from the rest of the league.
NHL (2): Marc-Andre Fleury and Brent Johnson
Key in-house free agents: Brad Thiessen (RFA)
Possibly the most interesting position of need for the AHL squad. Last season's backup, John Curry, has signed to play in the DEL and the reigning AHL Goalie of the Year is a restricted free agent. Thiessen was extended a qualifying offer, but since he knows that Johnson's contract expires after next season, his agent is most likely pulling for a one-way deal in the second and subsequent years of any multi-year contract offer the Penguins might make.
Besides the Jagr news, I don't see the Penguins making too big of a splash in the free agent market for more NHL-ready talent. With about $5.6 million in cap space, if the Penguins sign Jagr (about $2 million), Kennedy (about $2 million) and Jeffrey's $550,000 they simply won't have the money to go after any big name free agents like a Michael Ryder.
For season long coverage of the Pittsburgh Penguins top minor league affiliate, the AHL's Wilkes-Barre Scranton (WBS) Penguins, follow my new blog Highland Park Hockey on Twitter, Facebook, or just visit the website to check in and see how the Penguins of tomorrow are developing.
Guys like Marc-Andre Fleury, Brooks Orpik, Kris Letang, Ben Lovejoy, Deryk Engelland, Mark Letestu, Dustin Jeffrey, Eric Tangradi, and Tyler Kennedy have all come up through the Penguins system and have played for the WBS Penguins.