It’s always a fun, but clearly futile exercise to project an NHL roster far out. Trades will decimate this, and pretty much no one trades more than Jim Rutherford. Outside of about 6-7 core players, he tends to flip just about his entire roster every two-three years. That will no doubt happen again.
To further the unknown is the situation with a huge, unprecedented cloud over the future salary caps, due to potential crowd interruptions in the coming months (and years?) due to the continuing economic and health situation caused by the global pandemic.
Since that can’t be known right now either, we’ll push that aside too. Here’s what your 2021-22 Penguins could look like (at least) 16 months prior to the season starts:
Under contract (via Capfriendly):
The Pens only have seven forwards under contract, but they pack quite a wallop with a total $42.0 million salary cap commitment. 2021-22 is the last season Evgeni Malkin (and Bryan Rust) are under contract on their current deals, each could be extended prior to the season but will still have to play out this year under the current contract.
Of the seven, Patric Hornqvist could be the most in danger of not being around. He’ll be 35 soon into the 2021-22 season and his current full no-trade clause narrows to just being eight teams he can block starting that season. His role has ever-so-slightly started to decrease as well, and he’s been on the team since 2014. Hockey stints don’t always last forever and it might be about time to consider moving the old Swedish warhorse, if possible. But, then again, maybe not.
The other tough part is that the Wilkes-Barre pipeline may not have a lot in store for NHL readiness in such a short amount of time. 2019 first round pick Samuel Poulin may be inching closer, as Nathan Legare might be too. Throw in Filip Hallander and that’s about it for realistic NHL caliber forwards. The Pens will likely have to add from the free agent pool or trades.
There’s also the chance that players who will need contract extensions from now until 2021 (Jared McCann, Zach Aston-Reese, Teddy Blueger, Evan Rodrigues, Conor Sheary, Dominik Simon) could be around as well. However, again with roster turnover, many of those named will probably be moving on, one way or another by that point.
Defense and goalies
The Pens only have four defensemen under contract (with John Marino still to be extended by then). Painfully, Jack Johnson will still have two more seasons under contract at this point, as he approaches birthday #35, unless he’s mercifully removed from the roster by then.
Net looks like the biggest question mark. We might have clarity on this issue this off-season when the Pens could re-sign one or both of Matt Murray and Tristan Jarry and trade the other. Casey DeSmith is still under contract, though GM Jim Rutherford has hinted DeSmith also could be dealt away this offseason to give him a chance back into the NHL with a different organization.
OK, let’s project and get some stuff wrong now. Here’s the shot-in-the-dark at this one:
Jake Guentzel - Sidney Crosby - Dominik Simon
Jason Zucker - Evgeni Malkin - Bryan Rust
Jared McCann - Teddy Blueger - Samuel Poulin
Filip Hallander - (new person we can’t name now) - Brandon Tanev
Brian Dumoulin / Kris Letang
Marcus Pettersson / John Marino
Pierre-Olivier Joseph / (new person)
—We’ll project Simon, like a cockroach, finds a way to stay on the team. Though there’s a good chance that he won’t!
—Where’s Hornqvist? We’ll say that the team does move on from him by now in an effort to get younger and faster. As a result, a spot in the lineup is opened for Poulin. Given that the Pens’ lines swap around constantly, he will get lots of looks with No. 87 and 71 over the course of the year.
—Blueger continues his progression and graduates into being a third line center. He’s basically scoring close to one anyways in a very defensive role.
—The fun is on the defense. We’ll say (hope) that the long national nightmare of JJ is over somehow by trade or buyout and the young Joseph gets a crack in the NHL.
—In net, it could be Murray instead of Jarry, but Murray’s performance has slipped in recent years and it feels like he’s about three poor playoff/play-in starts from being a goner. Maybe it won’t come to that, but for something like this you have to make a call.