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The Penguins’ salary cap situation after Phil Kessel trade

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Pittsburgh still doesn’t really have space to be a free agent factor without further moves

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Pittsburgh Penguins at Ottawa Senators Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

One aspect in the Phil Kessel trade is the financial fallout. By trading Kessel ($6.8 million cap hit) for forward Alex Galchenyuk ($4.9 million), the Penguins have opened up an extra $1.9 million in salary cap space for next season.

And it comes just in time for free agency to open on July 1st.

“As far as free agency goes, we had no chance in being active on Monday,” Rutherford said after the trade. “Now, it gives us a chance to look at somebody. We do have a couple of players in mind if we’re one of the fortunate teams. We’d like to add somebody.”

Right now the Pens have $75.7 million attached for 19 players. That would be:

Goalies (2): Matt Murray, Casey DeSmith

Defensemen (7): Kris Letang, Brian Dumoulin, Justin Schultz, Erik Gudbranson, Jack Johnson, Juuso Riikola, Chad Ruhwedel

Left wings (4): Galchenyuk, Jake Guentzel, Jared McCann, Dominik Kahun

Centers (3): Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Nick Bjugstad

Right wings (3): Patric Hornqvist, Bryan Rust, Dominik Simon

That leaves $5.792 million under the cap. The team is also expected to bring back restricted free agents Marcus Pettersson, Zach Aston-Reese and Teddy Blueger, which will have to come out of that chunk. They could always demote a defenseman too and/or add a thirteenth forward for depth.

So what is next?

If Rutherford wants to add a free agent of any consequence that will come with a price tag. And there’s still not really enough space for that even with trading Kessel.

As mentioned ad nauseam, addressing the defense still looks like the way to upgrade or at least tighten up the roster. Short of moving a player like Bjugstad or Rust (or Hornqvist with his full no trade clause), there’s not much more up front for Pittsburgh to trade.

Defensively, making a decision on Schultz (free agent next year), Johnson (worst defenseman on team) would free up more money if the team decides to move on there.

Even then, Pittsburgh won’t have the open space and room to add a top-flight player like Artemi Panarin or anything like that. The pesky cap is still a major factor and trading Kessel away for a player with a $4.9 million cap hit doesn’t really change all that much for this upcoming free agency period.

But, when Rutherford says he’s going to be a player, he’s usually going to be a player. July 1st free agency just got a lot more interesting for Pens’ fans to see what could happen. After trading Kessel we know that Rutherford is getting his wish to majorly retool and revamp the team for next season. It doesn’t look like it’s near completed yet but the next steps will be coming into focus soon.