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Guentzel’s contract paved the way for Rust’s team-friendly signing

Guentzel tied Sidney Crosby for the Penguins points lead, in both the regular season and playoffs. He makes $6 million a year.

New York Rangers v Pittsburgh Penguins - Game Six
Jake Guentzel skates against the New York Rangers in Game 6 of the first round on May 13.
Photo by Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images

On December 27, 2018, the Penguins signed Jake Guentzel to an extension with an annual value of $6 million.

That cap hit likely served as a good tool for the Penguins negotiations’ when extending Bryan Rust.

After all, how could Rust argue for a higher AAV than a player who tied Sidney Crosby for the lead in team production lead in the 2021-22 regular season, and tied him once more for the team lead in the playoffs?

Rust’s contract is the first real test of this theoretical “Guentzel cap.” A look at CapFriendly’s $1 million-plus Penguins extensions since the team extended Guentzel in 2018 shows us Rust is really the only player on this list who could have expected to earn more than $6 million AAV.

Contract extensions in the Guentzel era (>$1 mil)

Jake Guentzel 24 12/27/2018 5 $6,000,000
Bryan Rust 30 5/21/2022 6 $5,125,000
John Marino 24 1/3/2021 6 $4,400,000
Marcus Pettersson 24 1/28/2020 5 $4,025,175
Tristan Jarry 25 10/3/2020 3 $3,500,000
Jeff Carter 37 1/26/2022 2 $3,125,000
Jared McCann 24 9/18/2020 2 $2,940,000
Teddy Blueger 26 7/14/2021 2 $2,200,000
Casey DeSmith 27 1/11/2019 3 $1,250,000
Juuso Riikola 26 9/5/2020 2 $1,150,000

Rust’s signing was a good test of how effectively the Penguins would be able to keep higher-value players within Guentzel’s range. And that range is a economical one— of the 26 players who recorded 84 points or more (Guentzel and Crosby’s production total) this regular season:

  • The average AAV among players was $8 million.
  • Only six achieved the feat with a cap hit equal to or lower to Guentzel’s.
  • Of those six, only Jonathan Huberdeau ($5.9 mil AAV) and J.T. Miller ($5.25 mil AAV) are signed at the same AAV through next season.

Because the Penguins’ leading goalscorer is signed to this reasonable cap hit, it is difficult for other players to justify earning more to the Penguins’ management.

That’s not to say either Evgeni Malkin or Kris Letang will take extensions below this “Guentzel cap.” But in order for the Penguins to have any chance of retaining those two, they need players to accept less than what they could get on the open market. Establishing Guentzel’s $6 million as the highest salary anyone outside the Big Three can earn, if that’s what they’ve done here, would be the first step to keeping the band together.