This is a topic I've brought up several times in other threads, but I want to now give it its own space for discussion.
As of July 10, the Pens officially have 18 players signed for the 2014-2015 season. With the news that Jayson Megna was recently resigned to a two-way deal, his addition could put the Pens at 19 players. Problem is, the Pens must fill out their 23 man roster, and have a very limited amount of cap space with which to do it.
According to Capgeek, the Pens are pressed up against the cap pretty closely and will have to, in the words of Jim Rutherford, come up with something "pretty creative" in order to ice a 23 man roster on October 9th when the Pens start the regular season.
Of course, Pens fans have seen star players with big cap hits go down for extended periods of time with a blood clot, stroke, concussion, broken foot, or torn ACL. The availability of any player in the NHL can change at any moment, which not only alters the roster makeup but also the available cap space. Going into the 2014-2015 season, there are a few injuries which could potentially impact the cap situation:
2014-2015 Cap hit: $3.75M
While Dupuis has a well-earned reputation for being incredibly fit, he is getting a bit long in the tooth, and he is coming off a severe knee injury. Moreover, fitness is not the same as healing ability. While there's no doubt that Dupuis will do everything on his end to get back into form, whether his knee completely heals is largely a function of age rather than effort.
Nevertheless, it looks as though he will be available to play come October, though in what role and to what capacity remains to be seen.
2014-2015 Cap Hit: $874,167
After an outstanding rookie season, Maata seemed to fizzle as the toll of playing nearly 100 games wore on the young defender. He went into the offseason needing shoulder surgery, from which he likely won't recover until at least November. He will not be available for the start of the season.
2014-2015 Cap HitL 863,333
The highly touted blueliner was expected to compete for a roster spot in the Top 6 come training camp, but like his companion Maata, will require shoulder surgery this summer. Hopefully he recovers fine and can push for a spot around midseason next year.
With only Dupuis likely available at the start of the season, and Maata to start on the injured reserve list, the Pens roster is:
Chris Kunitz ($3.850m) / Evgeni Malkin ($9.500m) / Patric Hornqvist ($4.250m)
Beau Bennett ($0.900m) / Sidney Crosby ($8.700m) / Pascal Dupuis ($3.750m)
Steve Downie ($1.000m)
Blake Comeau ($0.700m) / Marcel Goc ($1.200m) / Jayson Megna ($0.874m)
Craig Adams ($0.700m)
Kris Letang ($7.250m) / Paul Martin ($5.000m)
Christian Ehrhoff ($4.000m) / Rob Scuderi ($3.375m)
Robert Bortuzzo ($0.600m)
Marc-Andre Fleury ($5.000m)
Thomas Greiss ($1.000m)
CAPGEEK.COM TOTALS (follow @capgeek on Twitter)
(estimations for 2014-15)
SALARY CAP: $69,000,000; CAP PAYROLL: $61,649,125; BONUSES: $0
CAP SPACE (18-man roster): $7,350,875
The Pens have about $7.3.M in cap space remaining to fill the remaining five spots. The most recent reports indicate that both Sutter and Spaling, who are in ongoing contract negotiations, will resign withe Pittsburgh, filling out the final 12th and 13th forward spots, shoring up what looks to be a formidable bottom 6, but carrying subtracting significantly from the remaining cap space. Spaling is seeking a raise, putting his cap hit over $2M, while Sutter could be getting closer to $4M.
With anywhere from $5.5M to over $6M being paid to these two players, the Pens will be left with only five Dmen on the roster, only 20 players signed, and less than $2M to remedy that.
Even though the Pens have a deep and talented prospect pool of Dmen from which to plug those holes on cheap contracts, there is no combination any three of Scott Harrington (cap hit of $589,167), Brian Dumolin ($831,667), Nick D'Agostino ($625,000), Phillip Samuelsson ($550,000), or Simon Despres (currently unsigned) which would fit comfortably within their salary cap.
With this being the case, it seems imminent that the Penguins will have to make room in their current salary structure.
A player like Paul Martin, who does a lot for the Pens but carries a $5M cap hit and has said he wants to test the free agency market next year when his current deal is up, could be traded for a substantial return of picks and young talent.
Fan favorite Rob Scuderi, who will likely contribute about 18 minutes of sub-average defensive play per night on the 3rd pair next season, will be paid $3.375M against the cap hit. Why any team would trade for Scuderi at this point would be a mystery, but getting that contract off the books would go a long way towards stabilizing the Penguins salary cap situation not only this season, but going forward.
Regardless, the Penguins roster as it stands will not likely be the same on opening night. With the team this pressed for cash, a change is not only needed but necessary.