Fun with Capgeek- where anyone can be a GM, and we're going to make a story out of their "armchair GM" function, which I highly recommend.
There could probably be a different one of these done every day. The more moving parts and assumptions that I make below, the less likely it is to be reality based. Who knows if a team would accept my proposed trade, or if a free agent might receive a better offer, or seek a different market or role to play in.
But, this is my alternate reality, and I tried to stay true to what makes sense in the real world, so let's give it a whirl.
-Ownership doesn't want to pay the expense of a buyout, nor do they think carrying years' worth of dead cap space is a good idea. So we're not going to be able to consider that in this exercise.
-There's clearly a mandate above to prepare a roster with more "grit and character", as well as surrounding Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin with more young talent in the organization.
-The idea is going to be to spread the wealth and get a deeper team too, one that could conceivably roll 4 lines, and not have to shelter any players.
One big trade
The way I see it, with as many long contracts and money tied up for the Pittsburgh Penguins, they are going to need one big trade. Kris Letang is at a low value right now, starting a big contract and coming off a stroke and injury filled season, so it's probably not wise to deal him. James Neal, on the other hand, might be prime for a trade. He's got a limited no-trade clause, but can only block it to 8 teams, so we won't try to deal him to a bottom feeder or some far out market where most seem to want to avoid.
We'll trade him to a team that has a ton of talent, not a lot of high-priced skill, the Anaheim Ducks. The Ducks would love to add another skill option to go along with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, and they need another big-time player to help them in the ultra-competitive Western Conference. After bickering about who to send back to Pittsburgh (they won't budge on Emerson Etem at first, but we insist on Etem or Devante Smith-Pelley in return) they eventually agree to the deal to acquire Neal for speedy forward Andrew Cogliano and the promising young Etem.
Restricted free agency
It shouldn't take much to bring back Simon Despres and Jayson Megna, two restricted free agents that we bring back on qualifying offers. The negotiation with Brandon Sutter is a little more difficult, especially since we now have his potential replacement on hand in Cogliano. Eventually though, Sutter comes back into the fold on a two-year $2.9 million per contract which gives him a nice raise and takes him to unrestricted free agency.
Free Agent Frenzy
Seeking to upgrade the quality of the Penguins, we turn to the free agent market and some under the radar type signings. Dustin Penner loves the West Coast and the beaches of California, but doesn't get a lot of interest from those teams. He is interested in the $2.5 million that we offer on a one-year deal, with the idea to pencil him in next to Malkin. Penner was a productive player with talent before and if Malkin can win a scoring title with Ruslan Fedotenko as his regular left-winger, the space eating Penner shouldn't be an issue.
Still looking to add speed, tenacity and grit to upgrade the roster, we turn to Mason Raymond who had a great year in Toronto (19g, 26a, 45p). Raymond reminds us a lot of a better version of Tyler Kennedy, and that aspect of a fast, skilled winger on the 3rd line would be greatly appreciated, so we more than double his last year's salary and offer him two years in order get him (which, ironically, is the same contract that Kennedy got from the Sharks).
Finally, to fill out the 4th line, we try to contact guys like Daniel WInnik, Brian Boyle, but their contract demands are too high and other teams are willing to offer longer contracts than we'd like to lock into. So I look to Russia where Leo Komarov (formerly of the Maple Leafs) finished up a good season with Dynamo Moscow and the Finnish Olympic team. Komarov reminds us of a Jarkko Ruutu / Matt Cooke type of agiatator- a sub 6'0 player built like a fire hydrant that hustles all over the ice and is a pain to play against. Komarov has also been a productive player in his career, so we make it a point to think of him as a major upgrade over the type of players in the minor league affiliate and worth paying a premium for.
We have to wave goodbye to Matt Niskanen and longtime Penguin Brooks Orpik. Due to market factors and just moving on, it's time to part ways. With off-season shoulder surgeries to Olli Maatta and Derrick Pouliot, we don't expect either to be ready for NHL action on opening night, giving Brian Dumoulin and Simon Despres chances to make the roster and show what they've got.
The trade market for Rob Scuderi is non-existent, and since we can't buy him out, we keep him on the team, hoping against hope that maybe he shakes off his poor 2013-14 season with a marginally better year this year. His experience and PK ability might come in handy with a young blueline.
Given all the turnover, we seek a short-term bridge option, signing Nikita Nikitin to a one-year contract worth $2.55 million. We like Nikitin more than other options because he can play reasonably well in any situation (ES, PP, PK) and expect to bump him down the depth chart once Maatta can return from injury.
Trust in the Young and Injured
We're going to give Beau Bennett a full-time chance in the top 6, on his best and preferred right-wing position. He's got the wheels and vision to be a good fit, in theory, with Sidney Crosby. In now his 3rd professional season, it's time to find out if Bennett can play and stay healthy. Given the cap crunch, there might not be much else of an option. Likewise, Etem (who split time between the NHL and AHL) is going to get a shot on Malkin's wing. If it doesn't work, changes can be made, but with his skill and pedigree Etem could add a lot.
Pascal Dupuis, who had ACL/MCL surgery will be slotted into a 3rd line role to begin the season as he gets back up to speed and deals with the scar tissue and effects of coming back from that major injury. He's a candidate for an increased role, as is Raymond, Komarov and Cogliano, all of which we feel could play in the top 6 in a pinch or when injuries pop up. Similarly, Sutter and Megna are also candidates to play up a line situationally.
This depth gives functionality, in a good way, to slide pieces up and down the roster and not have to rely on 3rd/4th line players playing well above their abilities like last year.
With all the changes our regular PK units will be:
The PP units would be: Kunitz/Crosby/Bennett/Malkin/Letang and Penner/Cogliano/Etem/Dumoulin/Martin (though obviously Crosby/Malkin/Letang will likely play close to 2 minutes)
Capgeek view for the big picture:
CAPGEEK.COM ARMCHAIR GM ROSTER
CapGeek Armchair GM Roster
Chris Kunitz ($3.850m) / Sidney Crosby ($8.700m) / Beau Bennett ($0.900m)
Dustin Penner ($2.500m) / Evgeni Malkin ($9.500m) / Emerson Etem ($0.870m)
Mason Raymond ($2.300m) / Andrew Cogliano ($3.000m) / Pascal Dupuis ($3.750m)
Leo Komarov ($1.650m) / Brandon Sutter ($2.900m) / Jayson Megna ($0.874m)
Craig Adams ($0.700m) /
Nikita Nikitin ($2.550m) / Kris Letang ($7.250m)
Brian Dumoulin ($0.832m) / Paul Martin ($5.000m)
Rob Scuderi ($3.375m) / Simon Despres ($0.851m)
Robert Bortuzzo ($0.600m) /
Marc-Andre Fleury ($5.000m)
Jeff Zatkoff ($0.600m)
CAPGEEK.COM TOTALS (follow @capgeek on Twitter)
(estimations for 2014-15)
SALARY CAP: $71,100,000; CAP PAYROLL: $67,551,292; BONUSES: $68,333
CAP SPACE (22-man roster): $3,548,708
Feel free to make your own and let us know in the comments what you did and the reasons why you think that it will be a good idea and how the other teams and free agents go along with it.