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The Penguins as we see them today have a very short shelf life

There are going to be a lot more changes in the very near future for the Pens

Pittsburgh at Carolina Chris Seward/Raleigh News & Observer/TNS via Getty Images

I saw a cool idea over at our friends at Japers projecting the Capitals’ roster for 2020-21 and figured maybe we could re-work it for what the Penguins could look like twelve months from now as they head into the following season.

But then, upon looking at it, not sure that’s possible to make a realistic or accurate look at it. The Pens have a BIG storm coming next summer, and one that could be primed to have a lot of turnover.

As of July 1, 2020, here’s what the Pens will have to deal with:

  • Unrestricted free agents: Alex Galchenyuk, Justin Schultz
  • Restricted free agents: Matt Murray, Jared McCann, Dominik Kahun, Dominik Simon

The unrestricted players are a lot more precarious. Both Galchenyuk and Schultz are at prime ages and both could be looking for a raise and long-term commitment on top of what currently exists as a pretty hefty contract at $4.9 and $5.5 million annually, respectively. A strong season for either could price them out of the Pens’ salary structure and have them skate away for nothing.

Either potentially could be re-signed by the Pens, however would it be wise to count on both right now? Seems tough to say. Also with the way the salaries of players are increasing, can the Pens find a Schultz replacement as a plus-skating and puck moving right handed defenseman in his prime for $5.5m next year? Seems even more unlikely, and opens up a very real hole in the lineup.

The restricted guys have to be dealt with too. The three forwards all make reasonable salaries and all could probably be brought back into the fold accordingly, barring a player having a huge 2019-20.

Murray’s status will be a fun one to track, as Rutherford likes to sign his goalies well ahead of time, but also has to deal with a drastically increasing goalie salary scale as well (which figures to include Braden Holtby also signing a huge money contract no later than 7/1/2020). Could Murray parlay that and a strong season into a bigger than expected next contract? Seems increasingly more likely.

So, h/t capfriendly here’s what the Pens’ salary outlook is as of now for 2020-21...

(Let’s remember that by then Marcus Pettersson will be re-signed and perhaps a player like Bryan Rust will be traded, but that should be about a salary-neutral move, just something to keep in mind)

With only about $18.6 million — plus whatever probably modest increase to the salary cap — the Pens have a lot of work to do. Re-signing Murray and the other forwards will likely eat up a ton of that space. Then how do they keep or replace a top-six wing like Galchenyuk? Or a top-four defender like Schultz?

Probably can’t, they’re out of space. This is where the overly-generous contracts to recently acquired players like Jack Johnson, Erik Gudbranson and Brandon Tanev are really rearing their ugly heads. Possibly joining them could b if Patric Hornqvist is looking banged up and not worth his sizeable salary. That’s a lot of dead weight racking up.

There’s always the possibility that general manager Jim Rutherford can “fix his mistakes” or shuffle bodies around. Rutherford loves to tinker with his roster as we all know, wheeling and dealing and trading lots of players frequently. A guy like Nick Bjugstad may well not be on the books for Pittsburgh in 2020-21. Ditto maybe Johnson or Gudbranson.

Drop a weight like that, the chances of bringing back a Galchenyuk or even a Schultz obviously increases a lot. At what price and how would that happen? Obviously huge questions with ominous “yet to be determined” types of answers.

But what certainly will have to be dealt with is that the Pittsburgh Penguins have set themselves up to have a very massive summer next year. Much of the group in 2019-20 could be soon out the door next offseason. For a team that didn’t have a lot of turnover really from 2016 to about 2018 and was able to cobble and keep together a lot of a championship core, there are bound to be a ton of faces shuffling in and out of town in the next year to come.

How and why and for what reasons may still have to all play out, but this core group of the Penguins as they’re currently constituted almost certainly has a very short-term shelf life remaining.