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First look at what the Pens look like next year

We look at who the Pittsburgh Penguins have under contract for next year, and the holes in the lineup that they currently have to fill as they make free agent decisions.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

Independent of what happens to Marc-Andre Fleury, the Pittsburgh Penguins seem like they’re in reasonable good shape against next year’s reduced $64.3 million dollar salary cap maximum.

Going off of Dan Bylsma’s comments yesterday that the team expects Simon Despres and Beau Bennett (both on relatively cheap entry level contracts) to play bigger roles next year, Pittsburgh would have about $9.6 million dollars left. With that money they need to to find a winger for Sidney Crosby, a 3rd line replacement for Matt Cooke (if he is not brought back) and round out their 4th line and add one defensemen.

The team has some internal candidates for those roles- Pascal Dupuis, Jarome Iginla could be brought back for that top line spot, Craig Adams could be retained for the 4th line again and maybe Dustin Jeffrey and Robert Bortuzzo are brought back for depth, but given their shocking defeat in the Eastern Conference finals, they probably will be looking to make some changes too. The roster that took the ice this spring is definitely not going to return for next year.

The only change we deviated from as the Pens stand at this moment, was to use a compliance buyout on Tanner Glass. Glass was terribly ineffective in his role, and only has one year left at $1.1 million dollars. NHL teams get two compliance buyouts this summer and next, to buyout a player for no cap hit. All they have to do is pay the player 2/3 of what’s left on their deal, and poof, the contract disappears from the cap. Buying out Glass would be a cost of over $730,000 to the Pens bottom line, but will earn them the $1.1 million in cap room, valuable space needed in a reduced cap.

Plus from a business model, the salary cap staying low this year ensures a successful business year, it wouldn’t be a shock to the bottom line for the Pens to shell out the buyout, the question would be just whether or not they wanted to. Given how ineffective Glass looked, and the fact that you could probably replace him on the 4th line PLUS get an additional player like Jeffrey or Bortuzzo with the savings, it makes sense to take the financial hit to be in best shape cap wise and is still a reasonable business decision to make.

Below, courtesy of Capgeek, is how the roster looks as of this moment. Remember, even if Evgeni Malkin and/or Kris Letang sign contract extensions this season, it will NOT affect their 2013-14 cap hit, the new cap number doesn’t take effect until their current contract ends, after next season, so all current contract amounts are locked in for next season.

My Custom Lineup
Chris Kunitz ($3.725m) / Sidney Crosby ($8.700m) / ???????????
Beau Bennett ($0.900m) / Evgeni Malkin ($8.700m) / James Neal ($5.000m)
Jussi Jokinen ($2.100m) / Brandon Sutter ($2.067m) / ???????????
??????????? / Joe Vitale ($0.550m) / ???????????
Paul Martin ($5.000m) / Brooks Orpik ($3.750m)
Kris Letang ($3.500m) / Simon Despres ($0.840m)
Matt Niskanen ($2.300m) / ???????????
Deryk Engelland ($0.567m)
Marc-Andre Fleury ($5.000m)
Tomas Vokoun ($2.000m)
Buyout: Tanner Glass ($0.000m)
CAPGEEK.COM TOTALS (follow @capgeek on Twitter)
(these totals are compiled with the bonus cushion)
SALARY CAP: $64,300,000; CAP PAYROLL: $54,698,333; BONUSES: $0
CAP SPACE (16-man roster): $9,601,667

Based off this exercise, it seems the Pens could probably keep Dupuis at the $3-4 million it’s reported that they might be offering him and still have some flexibility in the trade market this summer, should they so choose to be active. Looking at the roster above it’s also very important to remember the penalty kill, the Pens could probably use two more forwards who can play it well, as well as that #6 defenseman spot too.

Having salary cap space can be the best weapon a large market team can have, and though the Penguins have a lot of changes on the horizon, it appears Ray Shero will not be nearly as handcuffed as he was in previous summers (2008, 2009) when he had limited wiggle room against the cap. Now it’s just a matter of how the Pens want to move the pieces around to best setup their team for a run next spring for the Stanley Cup.

There's obviously some huge, potentially shifting pieces, depending on what happens with Fleury and Kris Letang in his contract talks, but as of right now this is how the Pens look. There's some serious work to be done, but the framework for a contender is once again in the works.