We interrupt your regularly scheduled Phil Kessel trade watch 2k19 to change gears and talk something new. Namely, the restricted free agents this summer for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Pens have three restricted free agents of note: forwards Zach Aston-Reese and Teddy Blueger to go along with defenseman Marcus Pettersson. Down the list, they also have Adam Johnson and Juuso Riikola among a couple lesser minor league impending RFA’s.
As a very basic and general reminder: in hockey the teams have control over their players until age 27, typically. So the younger players for a club are only “restricted” free agents, meaning teams can keep their rights by extending a qualifying offer. In practice, NHL teams almost never sign each other’s RFAs, even though they are technically allowed to do so.
So that said, there’s usually almost no pressure or reason to believe that any player extended a QO won’t be back the following year, just a matter of if the player agrees to it, or continues to negotiate throughout the summer. Older RFA’s can elect for salary arbitration, with Blueger and Aston-Reese holding that option available.
What is the expected contracts? Evolving Wild crunched the numbers and offered these projected contract numbers from their model:
Marcus Pettersson $1.6 million annually for two years
Zach Aston-Reese: $1.29 million annually for two years
Teddy Blueger: $892k annually for two years
After recently re-signing Chad Ruhwedel, the Penguins have $79.78 million attributed to 18 players for next season as of right now. The expected cap is in the $83 million neighborhood, but that is not finalized. Add in these three RFA’s at the predicted rates and that would be $83.56 million, pushing Pittsburgh to uncomfortable heights.
But, that does include eight defensemen and some changes will happen there, with potentially Jack Johnson and his $3.25 million leaving, if good fortune prevails. We also have the Kessel saga to play out which will probably result in the Pens making a transaction that takes them down in skill and also in salary as well.
So it looks like none of the three restricted free agents will break the bank, but the Pens still have major impending work to be done in the trade market which will shape their team much more. Either way though, Pittsburgh doesn’t look like they’re going to have the cap space to be a major player in free agency, which might be a blessing in disguise since their last two biggest dollar free agent signings the past two summers (Johnson and Matt Hunwick) have been bad fits and players.