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Evaluating What the Penguins Should do with their UFA/RFA’s

NHL General Managers learned yesterday the salary cap for the 2018-2019 season will be in the neighborhood of $79.5-$80 million.

That’s a figure many clubs, including the Penguins have been bracing for since the league came out with a projected $77-$82 million cap number in March.

Even after adding $8.3 million towards the cap (for the 2018-2019 season) at last years trade deadline with the acquisition Derick Brassard and signing of Patric Hornqvist, the Penguins have been in position to bring back the same group for another season if they wanted to.

They don’t.

Jim Rutherford is eyeing some change, which could be little or big as Pittsburgh is in a lot of discussions on the eve of the draft as they often are.

Pittsburgh has around $70.2 million committed right now to 17 skaters, when you include Zach Aston-Reese who is on a two-way contract but dressed in the postseason prior to getting his jaw broke.


Among their UFA’s, if Jim Rutherford is true to his word that he wants more balance in his lineup, they moving on from Carter Rowney is an easy call.

Among the RFA’s on one-way contracts, Tom Kuhnhackl should be included in this group.

Pittsburgh’s bottom-6 was too stagnant offensively for significant stretches and the likes of Rowney, Kuhnhackl were reasons why.

Kuhnhackl is due just a $726,000 qualifying offer but if you want to change the dynamic of the 4th line, he needs to go.

Kuhnhackl is a hard worker, a good penalty killer, a good teammate.

Adding more skill, though, should be the goal and it’s time for Pittsburgh to open up a spot for another player who has more offensive upside.

However, this will be an interesting one because Mike Sullivan is a big fan.

The Long-Term Extension Candidate (Beyond 2 Years)

Bryan Rust

The Penguins are a team that was built on speed during their 2016 and 2017 Stanley Cup runs. In 2018 teams started to catch up with them.

Bryan Rust is a big part of establishing that critical speed/forechecking presence that makes the Penguins tough to play against. If you want to play that way, you need a couple guys like Rust.

The coaching staff values Rust highly as he can play anywhere in the lineup including both winger spots.

This talk that a long-term contract in the $3-$3.25 million per season range for Rust is risky from the Penguins end is coming from those who have short memories.

Rust impacts a game beyond stats, the even strength ability can’t get overlooked for a role player in his mid-20’s.

Rust is one of the Penguins best possession players 5vs5 — at 56% last season–, which was tops among Penguins who appeared in 60 or more games.

31 of his 38 points were at even strength, was 5th on the team in creating individual high danger chances and had the best mark on the club with a 57% High Danger Goals For Percentage.

A 4 year deal in the low $3 million range has little risk for the club because Rust is one of those players that impacts a game in a lot of areas.

The incentive for the Penguins in doing a 3-4 year deal with Rust is that he plays the type of game where his trade value will likely be sustained.

The Interesting Case of Jamie Oleksiak

Penguin management really likes Jamie Oleksiak, maybe even too much some feel.

Although there were signs late in the regular season and in the playoffs of Oleksiak getting exposed, there’s some in the organization that see No. 2 pairing ability from Oleksiak and there’s a few in that room who regarded Pittsburgh’s best four defensemen clearly being Dumoulin-Schultz-Letang-Oleksiak in that order.

Oleksiak, 25, is not eligible to be an unrestricted free agent until July 2020.

The best financial decision for the Penguins is play out the season and evaluate a deal beyond one year next summer depending how things go.

Oleksiak is due a $964,688 qualifying offer that will likely be declined.

Even if Oleksiak does indeed emerge next season as a No. 2 pairing defenseman that leads to a bigger financial commitment down the road, Pittsburgh should do what’s best for them with the short-term in mind and come in around $1.5 million at the max on a one year deal.

Oleksiak has little leverage in arbitration as Pittsburgh holds all the cards.

1-Way Deals to protect Assets Sprong, Jarry

Daniel Sprong ($715,000 QO) and Tristan Jarry ($715,000 QO) will obviously be qualified to retain their rights.

What the Penguins, agents will look to do with both is turn those contracts into one-way contracts.

Sprong will get a 1-way contract as Jarry certainly will, though, Jarry’s future is much more up in the air as the Penguins have examined Want the Full Story? Get "Inside Access"

Dominik Simon is an interesting one. He showed enough where the Penguins will qualify him but there’s some clubs out there that like his skilled game and he’s got a little bit of trade value league sources say.

Penguins should shop Riley Sheahan

The Penguins don’t believe Riley Sheahan’s a legitimate third line center, so should they pay a 4th line center $2 million+?

Sheahan, 26, is due a $2.075 million qualifying offer and he’s eligible for unrestricted free agency next summer.

There’s talk the Penguins have approached his camp about a Want the Full Story? Get "Inside Access"

We’ll see where it goes but the Penguins could take a page out of Ray Shero’s playbook from 2013 where Pittsburgh qualified Tyler Kennedy at $2 million and then shipped him to San Jose for a second-round pick at the draft.

That’s a similar scenario the Penguins should be looking out this week, exploring Sheahan’s trade value.

Sheahan was good for the Penguins in spots but you can always find a player like him at anytime for around a million per season cheaper.

Teddy Blueger a strong 2-way player who posted 21 goals and 45 points last season, would be an ideal candidate to move into the 4th line center role to start the season and Pittsburgh would save close to $1.5 million against the cap.

About The Author

William DePaoli

TIOPS Insider

William DePaoli is the President/Founder of Inside Pittsburgh Sports LLC and can be reached at

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