Shortly following news that Pascal Dupuis will be cleared to play in the 2015-16 season, news broke that the Penguins won't return a number of other veterans to the lineup this fall.
The team will reportedly part ways with veteran defensemen Paul Martin and Christian Ehrhoff as well as midseason trade acquisition Max Lapierre, all of whom will hit the market as unrestricted free agents.
Max Lapierre won't be back with the Penguins and will be UFA on July first. #tvasports— Renaud Lavoie (@renlavoietva) June 11, 2015
Penguins have decided to go for a full youth movement on defense, won't bring back Martin and Ehrhoff. They'd rather invest on wingers.— Marc Antoine Godin (@MAGodin) June 11, 2015
That's pretty big news for a team that is actively trying to (and very badly needs to) get younger.
Nothing will be official until it is. Via Jason Mackey at the Tribune Review, Martin's agent has said that nothing has been confirmed and that Martin is still open to a return to the team.
However, the team may not be open to his return. That, or the return of his cap hit.
Martin carried a $5 million cap hit in each of his five years with the team since signing in 2010, the second-highest among the group last year. But the need for another $5 million defender with Kris Letang making north of $7 million is minimal -- especially since the prospects are on the edge of not-prospect status. Brian Dumoulin, Olli Maatta and Derrick Pouliot all figure to draw into the lineup in a significant way next year, and Scott Harrington isn't far behind.
Given the Penguins' position against the salary cap (it isn't good), parting ways with Martin, should they do so, would be a move aimed more at cost effectiveness than roster help.
(After all, Martin was the team's top defensemen in Letang's absence and the only puck-mover among the depleted group by the time the playoffs hit).
We can already safely assume the Penguins are splitting with Ehrhoff, whose Pittsburgh home has since been listed for sale, and Lapierre's departure figures to make room for competition at the 4C spot, perhaps for last year's camp standout in Oscar Sundqvist.
And the team might even be able to get a little more out of its UFA players before they go.
Before signing Martin in 2010, the Penguins moved a third-round pick to Philadelphia for the rights to negotiate with defenseman Dan Hamhuis.
Could the Penguins gather up any draft picks in exchange for negotiating rights to their pending UFA defensemen? Given the poor free agent market that's set to headline this offseason, players of the Martin or Ehrhoff ilk will certainly be in demand, age notwithstanding.
Pittsburgh could further their quest to gather up draft picks by moving their rights early, should they be able to.
In any event, the Penguins, by necessity or design, are going to be a much younger team next season. Eventually, all the years of drafting defensemen in the highest rounds had to lead to this point.
The salary cap and the need to target impact forwards through free agency and trade options means finding savings somewhere. That somewhere is the blue line, where the Pens can afford to part with Martin and lean on the talent making its way through the organization.
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