While last week it was written here that “if there are major changes, it won’t be because of free agency this year,” there still are several key restricted free agents for Pittsburgh to deal with, with seven young players all needing contracts for next season in Bryan Rust, Riley Sheahan, Jamie Oleksiak, Dominik Simon, Tom Kuhnhackl, Tristan Jarry and Daniel Sprong.
Matt Cane’s Predicted AAV:
Bryan Rust: 2 years at $2.2 million per season
Riley Sheahan: 2 years at $1.79 million
Jamie Oleksiak: 2 years at $1.66 million
Tristan Jarry: 2 years at $1.1 million
Dominik Simon: 1 year at $791k
Tom Kuhnhackl: 1 year at $753k
Daniel Sprong: 1 year at $719k
Total: $9.013 million
This would make for a tight squeeze. According to CapFriendly, the Penguins have $70.2 million on the books next season, and with an expected upper limit of $80.0 million, that leaves $9.8 remaining. However, the CapFriendly figure includes Casey DeSmith and Matt Hunwick, and either/both of those players could be on the outs if necessary. In DeSmith’s case, if Jarry gets over $1 million, he will likely the NHL backup and DeSmith won’t be on the Pittsburgh NHL roster — saving a bit more money.
Regardless of how it shakes out, these projections, plus the expected cap, means that Pittsburgh will be able to re-sign all their players (if they want to) and do so fairly comfortably without much trouble with the salary cap. However, any trades that get made in the future will (as usual) have to be carefully constructed to ensure cap compliance.
So what do we think of Cane’s projections?
We’ll probably go a bit over on Rust getting $2.2, but maybe not by as much as some fans might be thinking on first glance. Yes, Bryan Rust is a solid player and adds a lot to the Pens. But the arbitration process is heavily, heavily weighted to basic boxcar stats. Rust, unfortunately, has a history of missing time every season with injury, so his boxcars aren’t as good as Conor Sheary’s from last year, who used his leverage to get a three year deal done with the Pens for a $3 million salary per year just before his arbitration case went through. Rust would be two years away from unrestricted free agency, and at 26-years-old, is already at or even past ideal peak age. It may be smart to sign him for two years at this point and see what the future holds.
Sheahan is due a $2.075 million qualifying offer this summer, so that would be his floor for future negotiating. A young, big center who is pretty well-regarded has no reason to trade an extra year for a pay-cut to $1.8 million like projected. The Penguins will have to pay a bit more here than listed. Not a huge deal, might be best to just see if he signs the QO and then you circle back to him next season again.
Oleksiak at $1.66 million seems on the heavy side. While he was good in half a season in Pittsburgh, he’s still got the ceiling of a third pair guy and pretty much had an “everything went right” type of season with the second best PDO of Pens defensemen. If I’m the Penguins, I think the smart play is to sign him for one year in the $1.2-1.5 range and have Oleksiak prove it again before he got paid so much above league minimum to basically still be a 15-17 minute a night player anyway.
Hopefully the Penguins could come in a bit under $1.1 million for Jarry. One would think offering him a one year, one-way deal (i.e., guaranteeing him an NHL-level salary) and basically the opportunity to be the full time NHL backup would be enough to get him under contract for next season in the $750,000-850,000 range, so I like the Pens odds to save a bit of money on this projection (to help make up for the Sheahan projection).
The bottom three guys all sound about right, similar to Jarry offering Sprong a low-dollar one-way deal will be an easy choice to make, and potentially one of the best values on the roster if he can play a big role on the team. If he proves and establishes himself, it would be a tougher contract talk next time around, but Sprong hasn’t proven himself at the NHL level and really both sides only have reason to want a one year deal this summer.
There’s always the chance the team could try to move on from Simon and Kuhnhackl and upgrade with better players, however both seem to be favored by the coaching staffs and organization in general, so they could be back for relatively cheap amounts. Not really the end of the world, but hardly exciting either. They’re basic low-dollar, fourth line-filler types that every team has.
The Rust case is the one to watch closest as summer moves on to see if Pittsburgh is willing to go three-to-four years with him and buy out some UFA time, or if they’re content to keep his cap hit as low as possible and get him for one-to-two years and then evaluate him further down the line to see if he will be more of a core member of the team for the future.