The NHL in a salary cap world is often a league constantly changing and sliding around from year-to-year. Since the Penguins are basically set for 2018-19, we decided to set the outlook for what the team looks like, as of now, on July 1 2019 as Pittsburgh will look to shape their 2019-20 team. Obviously, huge disclaimer that projecting a year out is tough in hockey since a lot of meaningful decisions in the coming year in terms of possible trades and contract extensions can and will make a big difference. So surely what you see below isn’t exactly how the team will look 12 months from now, but it is how it looks as of now.
Overall, there are 14 players under contract for $65.33 million. That seems like a lot, but realizing this basically encompasses 5 top-six forwards, all 6 defensemen and a starting goalie makes it a bit easier to understand.
Under the current salary cap, the Penguins would have about $14.1 million dollars to sign 6 forwards, 1 extra defensemen and a backup goalie. Most of those forwards presumably would be coming in for relatively cheap prices to round out the lower lines. Also, the salary cap historically has risen slightly every season, so it’s probably fair to assume the Pens will even have a little more wiggle room, though likely not a huge amount can be counted on in the form of a raise of the upper limit of the cap.
Key restricted free agents will be Jake Guentzel and Zach Aston-Reese. Neither has arbitration rights, but we all know Guentzel is in line to increase his salary based on some solid production. What his salary may be probably depends on what he is able to do in 2018-19, it wouldn’t be out of the question that on a long-term deal his average $ will start with the number of points he scores this year (i.e. $5+ million for a 50+ year, in the $4 range for a 40ish point year, or in the case of a 60 point season...)
As of now, the center depth chart is back to being wide open. Derick Brassard, Riley Sheahan and the ageless Matt Cullen are all unrestricted free agents at the end of this season and obviously the biggest area to address in terms of re-signing or replacing. Winger Carl Hagelin also joins them as a pending UFA-to-be.
One item to perhaps consider might be trading Justin Schultz next off-season. 2019-20 will be the final year of his contract, and he has made no secret about cashing in as much as possible (as well he should). Teams are always desperate for right handed defensemen who can skate and move the puck. At $5.5, Schultz is an expensive piece of the salary structure and if they couldn’t afford him in summer 2020, why not move him for something younger and less expensive next summer? This is projecting way down the line, but on the surface it does make some sense.
In any fashion, don’t get too attached to the 2018-19 team that Pittsburgh will have. There’s no way the Pens can afford under the salary cap to fit in all of Brassard+Hagelin+Sheahan+Guentzel at an increased price in 2019-20. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, teams have to build up for their best shots at glory and the Pens are once again looking “all in” for another attempt at the Stanley Cup in 2019.