Thursday, June 05, 2008

Prospective Look at Pittsburgh

Well, there we have it. The Finals have ended and the Penguins are now looking towards the future. Who is going to sign? Who is going to be cut loose? The questions are practically endless, except there is an end, because there are only so many players. Nevertheless, the Penguins have a lot of math to work out and some free agents to sign. They will have to be considered one of the Eastern Conference favourites next season, even before the season starts. Hell, even before the summer fun begins.

Looking at what the team has already locked up for next season (see table below), the Penguins are knee-deep in young talent. Malkin, Crosby, Staal, Whitney, Letang... that's a great core of players to work from for the coming season. Then you can add some of the veteran help in Sykora, Gonchar and Gill to help lead the young core to bigger and better things. The table below does have some major holes in there, however.

Evgeni MalkinSergei GoncharDany Sabourin
Sidney CrosbyRyan Whitney
Petr SykoraHal Gill
Jordan StaalKristopher Letang
Maxime TalbotDarryl Sydor
Tyler KennedyRob Scuderi

The most notable hole to fill will be in net, but fortunately, Marc-Andre Fleury is a restricted free agent, but will likely command some big dollars, thanks to his coming-of-age story in the playoffs. The Penguins will likely want to get him signed on for the long-term, which will call into question how much room the team will have down the road to make those key moves to be a Cup winner, instead of a contender.

Going into the off-season, the 13 players on the table, signed on and most likely to be on the active roster, are going to be worth $34.1 million against the cap. The actual cap figure should be due out soon, so we'll know what kind of room they are going to be dealing with. Fleury could be in for a deal in the range of $4 - $5 million per season against the cap (salary figures could differ, due to structure). So, that takes a good chunk of change away. The question of re-signing Marian Hossa for another go seems unlikely, as he'll likely look for a big long-term deal of his own, which will hinder the big long-term deal Evgeni Malkin is likely to pull in during the summer of 2009. Still, Hossa could come back for one year... if he really wanted to win.

Fortunately, the Penguins don't have any other key restricted free agents to look after for the core of their team. On the other hand, Ryan Malone, Georges Laraque, Jarkko Ruutu, Brooks Orpik, Pascal Dupuis, Adam Hall and Ty Conklin will be eligible for unrestricted free agency. There will be some decisions to be made there. Gary Roberts, 42, will also be up for free agency, but his age gives us reason to speculate about a retirement announcement.

Now that the Finals have ended, the management team will have plenty of options to consider when it comes to signing some old and new players. You have to believe that a player or two would be more than interested to join the Penguins team, if they come calling.

At the Draft, the team hasn't got a first round pick, as they dealt it to the Thrashers in the Hossa deal. They also don't have a second pick, thanks to the Gill deal from the Leafs. They don't have a third round pick, thanks to the Laraque deal from Phoenix. Then finally, the management team will announce their own pick in the fourth round, unless the trade it away before Draft Day. The team doesn't expect to be big players, picks or trades, at Draft Day, but you just never know how they're going to make room.

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