After the dust has settled and the first week of free agent frenzy has closed, let's look at, more or less, the current Pittsburgh Penguins roster as it stands this moment in time.
For now, we'll take Olli Maatta (shoulder surgery) off the season opening the NHL roster, though he should probably be back sometime early in the season, assuming his initial timeline is met. From a capgeek shot of the team right now, let's look at how the Pens have positioned themselves to enter training camp:
Chris Kunitz ($3.850m) / Sidney Crosby ($8.700m) / Beau Bennett ($0.900m)
Steve Downie ($1.000m) / Evgeni Malkin ($9.500m) / Patric Hornqvist ($4.250m)
___________________ / ____________________ /Pascal Dupuis ($3.750m)
Blake Comeau ($0.700m) / Marcel Goc ($1.200m) / __________
Craig Adams ($0.700m)
CAPGEEK.COM TOTALS (follow @capgeek on Twitter)
(estimations for 2014-15)
SALARY CAP: $69,000,000; CAP PAYROLL: $60,775,000; BONUSES: $0
CAP SPACE (17-man roster): $8,225,000
To his credit, one thing general manager Jim Rutherford has done, is shuffle the decks of personnel and only take on one-year contracts for the Pens. This will give the team flexibility and hopefully allow them not to be hemmed in tight salary cap crunches like years past.
Another item that stands out, will be versatility. Pascal Dupuis could well be the part-time (or even full-time) first line winger in his familiar position with Sidney Crosby. Hornqvist could play either wing, which might allow Beau Bennett the chance to play on his preferred right-wing on the Evgeni Malkin line. Steve Downie was once a really effective player with Rick Tocchet "coaching him up". Blake Comeau once scored 24 goals in an NHL season. Marcel Goc is a lot more than just a 4th line center. New coach Mike Johnston ought to have a lot of different pieces to play with and slot throughout the lineup to see which players fit best around the core of Kunitz/Crosby and Malkin.
For 3rd line jobs, the team still has Nick Spaling and Brandon Sutter to bring back as likely restricted free agent returnees. With north of $8 million in available cap space, the Penguins have the funds to comfortably sign both, though it will be important to make sure the amounts make sense for the team moving forward- especially for Sutter who may sign a contract longer than a season. At this point the terms of the Spaling and Sutter contracts are by far the two biggest pieces of the puzzle left to slot in for next season.
On defense, RFA Simon Despres, seems ready to actually finally get a real chance to stick on the NHL roster, with a 6th and 7th spot open. Other young players like Brian Dumoulin, Scott Harrington and RFA Philip Samuelsson will likely compete for the other remaining roster spot, with a possible chance to crack the opening night lineup. Top prospect Derrick Pouliot (shoulder surgery) probably won't make the NHL team out of training camp, but he could be in a position to make his NHL debut at some point in the season too.
The 4th line could be filled out with Craig Adams, or possibly another young player- internally the Pens have Zach Sill and Adam Payerl as options, and externally there's any number of available grinding type free agents that may be able to add a little more skill, experience and production to the 4th line, if another signing could be made.
As always seems the case in the first week of free agency, the Pittsburgh Penguins lost a lot more than they gained with Matt Niskanen, Jussi Jokinen, Brooks Orpik (among others) finding new places to play for a lot more money. However the replacements made, especially Christian Ehrhoff should go a long way in getting the Pens back to where they want to be in building a team around Crosby and Malkin to compete for a return to the Stanley Cup. Signing depth players to one-year deals was smart by Rutherford - in a climate where even guys like Joe Vitale and Deryk Engelland were getting 3 year contracts- and that can't be understated. Now Rutherford just needs to put the final touches on his roster by bringing in Spaling, Sutter and Despres on reasonable deals and the team will be all but set for training camp.