Pens Re-sign Matt Niskanen to to two year, $2.3 million cap hit

PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 13: Matt Niskanen #2 of the Pittsburgh Penguins makes a pass from the corner against Jeff Halpern #15 of the Washington Capitals during the game at Consol Energy Center on October 13, 2011 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

From the team's press release:

The Pittsburgh Penguins have re-signed defenseman Matt Niskanen to a two-year contract, it was announced today by executive vice president and general manager Ray Shero.

The deal runs through the 2013-14 campaign, and has an average annual value of $2.3 million.

Niskanen, 25, completed his first full season with Pittsburgh in 2011-12, tallying 21 points (4G-17A) and a plus-9 rating in 75 regular-season games. He topped the 20-point mark for the first time since 2008-09 with Dallas, while his plus-9 rating was the second-highest total of his career (plus-22 in ‘07-08). Niskanen added three points (1G-2A) in four playoff games.

The 6-foot, 209-pound Niskanen has played one-plus seasons with the Penguins since being acquired with James Neal from the Dallas Stars on Feb. 21, 2011. During that time he has appeared in 93 regular-season games, collecting five goals, 20 assists, 25 points and a plus-7 rating. He also has four points (1G-3A) in 11 playoff games.

Niskanen wore out his welcome in Dallas, where their fans were pretty happy to see him as throw-in on the Alex Goligoski for James Neal trade. His first year in Pittsburgh was a little choppy to as he adjusted to a new team and system in the middle of the season.

But this past year in 2011-12 was a different story. Niskanen played the most regular season games of any Penguins defenseman and watched as all the other teammates of his went down with injury. He was thrust into second pairing minutes at time, and didn't look out of his element. He was a steady partner despite no shortage of different players- from the rookie in Simon Despres to the rougher but more limited Deryk Engelland.

The cap hit is a bit of a raise on the $1.5 million he made last season, but for a defenseman who can skate a little and play the puck a little, you're gonna see a team pay him at least a little. Two years is also a nice bridge for when Joe Morrow (AHL eligible) could be ready for the show, to say nothing of the seven defensive prospects the Pens have in the pipeline that have been drafted in the first or second rounds in recent years.

But for now, good money for Niskanen at a reasonable term for the team. Everyone figured this deal would get done, and it's out of the way in time for July 1st. And now looking at July 1st, Shero's got a top four of Brooks Orpik / Kris Letang, NIskanen and Paul Martin. With depth guys in Engelland, Despres, Ben Lovejoy all signed to fill out the roster, with young guys Brian Strait and Robert Bortuzzo likely to sign nominal raises on their modest contracts soon.

Is that the defensive lineup the Pens will go with? It'll be known starting tomorrow at 12 noon when the free agency market opens.

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