Last week, the news broke that the Pittsburgh Penguins were able to sign forward Patric Hornqvist to a five-year contract extension that will keep him under contract until the 2022-23 season. The deal will pay Hornqvist $5.3 million per season — a slight increase from his current contract of $4.25 million.
Given salary cap increases (next season Gary Bettman expects a bump from $75 million to the $78-82m range), the money per season, particularly in the early season of this contract, isn’t too tough to handle. The length of the contract (Hornqvist will turn 36 in the middle of the final season) sticks out as tougher to handle, but easier to excuse given that by 2022-23 the Pens will be a very different team with a very different mission.
One other interesting note: Bettman has mentioned that if (which really seems like a matter of when) Seattle is awarded an expansion team, it will have the same rules as last summer that Vegas did. These rules included all “no movement clauses” being automatically protected, unless the players agreed to waive. To that end, Hornqvist only has a limited no-trade clause, so if the Pens wanted to he could be exposed in the next hypothetical expansion draft. That’s a smart move by the Pens not to give a NMC to a veteran like Hornqvist, a few years ago this totally would have been within the climate of the league to give such a clause.
Anyway, how will spending this $5.3 million affect Pittsburgh’s salary cap next season? Let’s give it a look with the always excellent CapFriendly leading the charge:
As of now, for 2018-19 the Penguins have nine forwards under contract for a total cap hit of $41.959 million
Notable RFAs: Riley Sheahan, Bryan Rust, Tom Kuhnhackl, Dominik Simon, Daniel Sprong
Notable UFAs: Carter Rowney
— The two big re-signings aren’t even that dramatic given the anti-climatic nature of the NHL’s restricted free agency. Riley Sheahan has had a good season but is about appropriately compensated already at $2.075 million, given his status as a bottom-six player in the league. He shouldn’t be coming in for much more next season.
— Bryan Rust has arbitration rights, but arbitration is a boxcar type of system. The system heavily favors old fashioned goals, assists and points. Rust isn’t bad in any category but he also has missed 20-25 games in each of his four pro seasons, another factor that will weigh against him. Conor Sheary with a 23 goal and 53 point season settled for a three-year deal with a $3 million yearly salary and Rust’s case is pointing to a bit lower than that. Rust will be getting a bump from his current salary but a reasonable one this time around given how the system works.
— Daniel Sprong is a RFA but has no arbitration leverage and should be back for relatively cheap as well, with more of the question being if he shows that he belongs at the NHL level and if the Pens are ready to let him earn more of an opportunity to stay in the show. But that’s a different topic for a different day.
— Vegas retaining $2 million next year of Derick Brassard’s salary really is a lifesaver and something to be enjoyed right through the 2019 playoffs.
— Jake Guentzel on the last year of his ELC is also going to provide a dramatically great points to dollars spent ratio next year. It helps to fit in expensive veterans when a team is able to plug good young players with cheap salaries into big spots and Guentzel will be in that role for one more season in 2018-19.
— The Pens have spent a lot of money but it’s mostly on guys you want to have on the team. There can be some grumbles on Sheary and Carl Hagelin for their salary vs. production but those can be effective (if not streaky) players who aren’t old, nor have bloated term in their deals. When those are the worst contracts, a team is in pretty solid shape.
Six players currently on the 2018-19 roster for a $23.8 million cap hit.
Notable RFA: Jamie Oleksiak
Notable UFA: none
— The defense could use some depth but there’s basically no drama here either. Kris Letang, Brian Dumoulin, Justin Schultz and Olli Maatta all make decent money but all earn it by eating a lot of minutes and generally playing well. They’re the core of the defense and should be for a few more seasons too.
— Jamie Oleksiak will need a contract and how he fares down the stretch may go a long way in determining how much of the plans in 2018-19 and beyond will include him.
— Matt Hunwick obviously hasn’t had anything close to a good season, but still has two more years on his contract. The Pens have never bought a player out. I would expect they give him another shot next season or look to trade him this summer if possible. Though the market for older defensemen coming off poor season’s isn’t really a good one, so Pittsburgh may have no other choice but to give Hunwick a chance next year in a 6/7 role and hope for the best until more time ticks off his contract and he may become somewhat of a tradeable player.
One for $3.75 million
Notable RFA: Tristan Jarry
Notable UFA: none
— Tristan Jarry will be an easy sign since he has no arbitration rights. Casey DeSmith is under contract for next season already. The bigger question might be if the Penguins determine they want more depth or a more proven backup option than Jarry given the growing injury history of Matt Murray — be it his fault or not.
—The Pens don’t have a ton of money to throw around but might seek another veteran type of cheap option. Hopefully it works out more like Montreal Antti Niemi and not Pittsburgh Antti Niemi.
Totals: $69.5 million
Based on cap projections we’re looking at the Pens having about $10.5 million of cap room to sign four forwards (two of them Sheahan+Rust, two of them 4th line depth guys who will be cheap), one defenseman (Oleksiak) and one goalie (Jarry and/or a vet). This should all come in for just about the upper limit of the salary cap, which is where the Pens are every season.
The Pens salary structure is in good shape. They won’t have room to add a significant free agent, but that is nothing new for Pittsburgh. Depending on how the playoffs play out, more changes might be at foot for a new direction or some different personnel. If Pittsburgh is to shake-up their roster this summer, the usual names of players who make a decent-sized salary but don’t quite live up to it (Sheary, Hagelin, Hunwick) will be the most bantered about trade targets in an attempt to clear room to upgrade.
That aside, the Pens really can’t complain and with the expected salary cap increase (plus generous salary hold by Vegas) they are in great shape for 2018-19 to slot Brassard and afford the Hornqvist raise as they continue to look to have the strongest possible team while Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are in their primes.