Less than a month before the regular season begins, the Penguins are around $1.1 million over the salary cap. Following the signing of Rob Scuderi on July 5, speculation all summer has centered around Matt Niskanen ($2.3 million) being traded. Trading Niskanen who is entering the final year of his deal makes the most sense and opens the door for Simon Despres to play a regular No. 3 pairing role and see time on the second power play unit.
The Penguins approach, though, has been to go into September with their current roster and see how things play out. Despite Niskanen pretty much being a “luxury” at this point, the Penguins coaching staff feels Niskanen is still improving as a player and love his versatility to play left or right D and also step up into a No. 2 pairing role when needed. Team sources say the coaching staff believes the Penguins have the makings of having one of the best and deepest bluelines in hockey, so there is a push to keep Niskanen around, but in a salary cap world, you’re forced to get rid of players you want to keep and replace them with younger, cheaper players.
That’s where the Penguins eventually appear headed with Niskanen but whether Niskanen gets moved before the regular season is still 50-50 as it sounds like the Penguins have cap scenario’s prepared that include Niskanen on the roster for start of the regular season. Everything is going to depend on whether there’s a deal out there that is suitable for the Penguins as Niskanen isn’t available for a late round pick or marginal prospect.
The Penguins see Niskanen as an asset and have set a high asking price, NHL sources say. One executive told me the message the Penguins have given interested teams is that it’s going to cost a high draft and a prospect.
Once source predicted Penguins will seek future assets (draft picks/prospects) for Niskanen that they can put in play at the trade deadline. A second round pick and a mid-round pick (3th/5th round) or mid-tier prospect has been floating around.
Some rumblings on teams that have kicked the tires on Niskanen include the Carolina Hurricanes, Florida Panthers. I’ve also heard the New York Rangers and Edmonton Oilers like Niskanen and have checked on him but neither team has any cap space, an issue for lots of teams around the league, which could lead to the Penguins holding onto to Niskanen for the time being.
PENGUINS DEPTH CHART AS OF TODAY
Brooks Orpik – Paul Martin
Rob Scuderi – Kris Letang
Simon Despres – Matt Niskanen
Deryk Engelland – Robert Bortuzzo.