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How will the Kraken impact the Penguins’ cap situation?

As the NHL prepares to release the 2021 expansion draft protection lists, take a look at how the Penguins’ cap space might split between exposed and protected players.

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-New York Islanders at Pittsburgh Penguins
Bryan Rust shoots against the New York Islanders on May 18, 2021.
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Rise and shine, hockey fans; today, the Seattle Kraken will receive the Penguins’ list of protected players— and, more importantly, the catalog of who will be exposed as a potential expansion draft pick.

We’ll greet the morning by taking a look at the Penguins’ cap breakdown, and how each potential expansion draft pick will affect the amount of cap space the team will be working with this summer.

Breaking down the cap

To imagine what the roster will look like after the expansion draft, we’ll have to make some assumptions; and say what you like about Saturday’s Jared McCann trade, but at least it makes it slightly easier to predict who the Penguins are going to have listed on their protection list this Sunday.

Here’s a look at the cap breakdown with data from CapFriendly. The flat $81.5 million allotted to the Penguins will be divided between protected forwards, exposed forwards and extra cap space (as well as the lingering cap penalty for Jack Johnson’s buyout). We’ll assume that the following players are on the protection list: seven forwards (Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jake Guentzel, Bryan Rust, Brandon Tanev, Kasperi Kapanen and Teddy Blueger), three defensemen (Kris Letang, Brian Dumoulin and Mike Matheson) and one goaltender (Tristan Jarry).

We’ll also guess that if a player is protected, they are less likely to be traded this offseason.

(Note: some projections see Jeff Carter swapped in for Tanev or Blueger.)

Tableau Public, CapFriendly

The unprotected category is missing McCann, sent Saturday to the Maple Leafs and taking with him his $2.94 million, 3.6% of the cap contract.

Where is that money going to go?

The list of players on the Penguins roster without contracts currently includes four UFAs (Colton Sceviour, Evan Rodrigues, Frederick Gaudreau and Cody Ceci) and three RFAs (Mark Jankowski, Zach Aston-Reese and Radim Zohorna). Available cap space sits at just below four million dollars, while unprotected contracts sum to about 20 mil.

Assuming that the Kraken will snatch a forward from the Penguins’ exposed roster, the most expensive available contract would likely be Jason Zucker’s $5.5 million deal (6.7% of the cap.) Consensus seems to be that the Kraken are likely to select between whoever’s exposed in the group of Tanev, Carter, Blueger and Zach Aston-Reese— but losing even the cheapest player, which is Blueger at $2.2 million, would increase the number of new contracts Pittsburgh could add.

Last year, these seven free agents were each signed for $1.25 million or less, combining for just $6.34 million in cap space. The three players waiting for qualifying offers from the Penguins all cost under $1 million, meaning that the Penguins could sign the trio with their current available cap space at 2020-21 prices. If they require raises— although players like Aston-Reese may miss out on the full pay increase they might get in a year where the cap expanded— or if Pittsburgh wants to secure any of the unrestricted agents, some shuffling may be required.

But those are some big “if”s.

All of the Penguins’ current free agents were signed under the tenure of former GM Jim Rutherford. Will the new management assign them the same value?

Whatever ends up happening, Seattle’s choice will determine how many new contracts the Penguins can buy before they need to begin moving current commitments to make space.

In the words of the man who will be taking a player from the unprotected roster this Wednesday: