Dismantling the Penguins
Regardless of what happens in Game 2 tonight and the rest of the finals, things are going to be mighty interesting for the Pittsburgh Penguins going forward. The team's glut of young talent has peaked incredibly quickly, an unexpected rise given where they've come from and a boon for the team and its fans, but a problem, too, for GM Ray Shero.
With more wins, and more goals, come bigger paychecks — and he won't have room for them all.
Twenty players have suited up in these playoffs for the Penguins — 21 if you add in a backup netminder — and altogether this group has a cap hit of just under $43-million this season, comfortably under the cap. (We'll ignore press box popcorn-muncher Darryl Sydor's $2.5-million deal.)
But that's not sustainable, not by a long shot. Here's a look at the Penguins current depth chart, with pending UFAs in red and pending RFAs in green.
The defence looks to remain intact, sure, but how about those forward lines? How many of those seven will return, keeping in mind the big pay raises on the way for Fleury, Malkin and Staal?
It's more of a question of who you keep, given the economics. Let's assume Shero moves to lock up all three of his centrepiece RFAs, and all sign on with the massive long-term deals that have become customary for similar players.
Fleury's cap hit would balloon from $1.295-million to at least $5-million. Malkin will earn more than $9-million a season, while Staal figures to earn at least $4.5-million per season come 2009-10.
In addition to those three, the Penguins already have four others signed for two years from now: Sidney Crosby, Sergei Gonchar, Ryan Whitney and Kris Letang — who together will combine to earn nearly $20-million in 2009-10. Add in the projected Malkin, Fleury and Staal figures, and we're at $38- to $40-million with just seven players under contract.
Factoring in cap hikes similar to what we've seen, that leaves roughly $20-million to fill out the roster, which will be spread amongst 10 forwards, three defencemen and a backup netminder.
Back to the UFAs. The only way Hossa stays is on a discounted one-year deal, and given the money that will be thrown his way this off-season (upwards of $50-million over seven-plus years), that's likely a non-starter.
Brooks Orpik will command in the $4-million range annually over a lengthy term and can't be kept without moving another blueliner. Ryan Malone's next contract will be bigger than that. And support players like Pascal Dupuis and Ty Conklin will at least double their salaries after strong seasons.
Next season, Pittsburgh's in decent shape, with Malkin and Staal staying on their entry-level deals, but is it possible to keep the "core seven" together and ice a winning team in 2009-10? And if the answer's "no," who do you deal?
Perhaps these young Penguins' time really is now.