The Pittsburgh Penguins final remaining major signing of the summer has been finalized. Forward Conor Sheary is back with the team, per multiple reports, for three years and $9 million total dollars ($3.0 average annual value for all you non-math majors out there).
At first blush and just for this player and situation, it appears to be a very fair contract. Sheary, 25, is at prime age for point production, and has proven to fit in very well on the top line with Sidney Crosby. Sheary produced 53 points (23 goals, 30 assists) in 61 games last season, ranking him tied-3rd in goals and 4th in points on the team.
As not a usual member (if ever) of the top power play, it was mostly even strength production. Sheary led the entire league with 3.01 Points/60 at 5v5 (min 400 minutes) - beating a top-5 of Connor McDavid (2.89), Jake Guentzel (2.88), Evgeni Malkin (2.82) and Crosby (2.68). Pretty silly to have 4 out of the top 5 ES scorers in the league all on the same team, welcome to Pittsburgh.
Anyways, the Pens have Sheary locked up for his age 25-27 seasons at a very reasonable $3.0 million rate. For his part, Sheary could be hitting the UFA market in summer 2020 and be in-line to become an even richer man, whether that comes from Pittsburgh or somewhere else.
Sheary’s negotiation was a tricky one- if the Penguins wanted to sign him for more years, that likely would have drastically increased the price since it would be buying out UFA years. But at just 105 career NHL games played (and a career single season high of 61), it would have been a risky gamble for the team to buy out his 28+ year old seasons at a premium rate, with a chance that Sheary most likely would not be able to sustain elite-level production. Which, I mean, he’s not going to be expected to league the lead every year in P/60, but going long-term on a forward that isn’t a guaranteed play-driver is still a hefty risk more likely to bite.
From that angle, I think both sides can be very happy with Sheary remaining in Pittsburgh for the next three seasons. For a small, undrafted player who started out on an AHL contract, he’s now got stability and a lot of guaranteed money coming his way, and likely a lot of time riding shotgun with #87 to help make him look all the better. And the team will benefit for having a skilled player locked in for a very reasonable salary that’s actually less than his total share of the total cap ($75m) divided by the 23 man roster (about $3.2 million). The Pens will get to pay Sheary a little less than their mean amount in a roster, which is great since he ought to provide very productive peak scoring years as a top-6 winger.
Overall, here’s how the team is probably looking against the salary cap right now-
Approximate cap space from upper limit in 2017-18: $3.955 million
Forwards (12): Crosby, Malkin, Sheary, Guentzel, Phil Kessel, Patric Hornqvist, Carl Hagelin, Bryan Rust, Scott Wilson, Ryan Reaves, Carter Rowney, Tom Kuhnhackl
Defensemen (7): Kris Letang, Brian Dumoulin, Justin Schultz, Olli Maatta, Matt Hunwick, Ian Cole, Chad Ruhwedel
Goalies (2): Matt Murray, Antti Niemi
Pittsburgh has 2 more dominoes to fall; they’re awaiting the decision of Matt Cullen to return, retire, or sign elsewhere (likely Minnesota) and per the comments of Jim Rutherford, they will be making a trade to add a 3rd line center.
Rutherford indicated he expected to have $2 million for that 3rd line center, and this still looks to be the case. If Cullen comes back (likely at around the $1.0 million he made last season) that probably bumps Kuhnhackl or Rowney from the opening night NHL roster, meaning it’s only a marginal salary cap increase. If Cullen doesn’t come back to Pittsburgh, obviously they’re in better shape for the salary cap but worse shape on the ice since Cullen is arguably the best 4th line center in the game.
It will be interesting to see how fast Rutherford moves now- he was waiting to get Dumoulin and Sheary back and knowing their salaries before making his trade. Now that he has all of his players locked up, attention will turn to rounding out the NHL depth chart with that additional center to replace the departed Nick Bonino.
But, for now, a very fair deal to get Sheary back in the fold for a reasonable $3.0 million. Amazingly, next year’s expected first line of Sheary-Crosby-Guentzel (all Top 5 P/60 from last year) will have a $12.434 million cap hit for the next two seasons. That’s less than the $12.5 million the Oilers will be paying alone for McDavid (once his extension kicks in, in 2018-19), to put that in perspective. Nice cap management over the years for the Pens, and another sign just how team-friendly the Crosby contract was thanks to the rules of the old CBA.