With just under $42 million committed to 15 players for next season and Pittsburgh talking extensions with defensemen Kris Letang and Sergei Gonchar, Pittsburgh won’t be a major player in free agency anytime soon.
The key to building around the Penguins core in the long run will be the development of their prospects. After giving up multiple draft picks to land Marian Hossa and Hal Gill in the winter of 2008, Pittsburgh is now focused on building through the draft.
With concerns that the salary cap will drop $6-$7 million for the 2010-2011 season, management will have to get very creative next summer.
What Pittsburgh has going for them is the fact that they have three to four prospects at the forward position and two more on D that are on the verge of being NHL regulars within the next year.
Prospects Nick Johnson, Luca Caputi and Eric Tangradi will push a few veterans on their way out of town by the 2010-2011 season. If the three wingers continue their development, Pittsburgh will also have a prime opportunity to clear cap space as Johnson, Caputi and Tangradi will be on their first NHL contacts.
Johnson, 23, will spend at least the first three months
of the season in Wilkes Barre. The growing sense in the organization is that he could be a potential call-up by January.
Some scouts see him as having 2nd line potential but Pittsburgh has him penciled in as a potential line-mate with Jordan Staal.
Johnson, 6-2, 200lbs, has size, speedk, skill and plays a strong two-way game. For Johnson he needs to show more consistency in Wilkes Barre. Johnson was one of Wilkes Barre’s top players in the 2009 playoffs and he continues to show improvement.
In camp, management has been very pleased with his progress thus far. He is expected to see his first game action Friday night against Toronto.
Caputi’s time table to the NHL is in his hands. Pittsburgh wants to see him have a better camp but he’s not a strong practice player. Caputi will begin the season in Wilkes Barre. Like Johnson, Caputi will be a potential call-up by mid-season or maybe sooner.
Tangradi showed flashes in the Penguins pre-season debut of whats to come. He has top-6 potential and for a young player, he’s very good at establishing a net presence and uses his size very well.
Most team scouts want to see him spend a year in Wilkes Barre. By the 2010 season opener, he will be in the lineup.
Center Dustin Jeffrey is also pushing for a roster spot as a role player.
Veterans who could be replaced by the Penguins influx of prospects (next season) are Ruslan Fedotenko (UFA 2010), Pascal Dupuis (2 yrs @ 1.4 million per), Bill Guerin (UFA 2010), and even Matt Cooke (UFA 2010) who the Penguins would like to re-sign to an extension.
On defense, the development of Ben Lovejoy and Brian Strait will play a factor in the Penguins off-season plans, most importantly Mark Eaton.
Ray Shero is very high on Eaton but Pittsburgh can’t retain him for $2 million per season. Pittsburgh’s 5th and 6th defenseman need to be making under $1 million per season.
With Kris Letang due for a raise and Sergei Gonchar not willing to take a significant discount, Pittsburgh’s going to be hard pressed to keep dishing out $2 million a year to 5th and 6th defenseman.
While Pittsburgh is concerned about the salary cap for next season, they aren’t losing any sleep over it.
The organization feels they have the prospects in their system that will be ready to contribute and fill roles that are currently taken by veterans.