The Penguins today agreed to a two year deal with restricted free agent Simon Despres. The total value of the contract is $1.8 million with an AAV of $900,000.
The Penguins have $6.4 million in cap space following the Despres signing. Brandon Sutter and Nick Spaling remain unsigned. Most of that cap space will be tied into Sutter, Spaling, and the need for a 13th forward. Jayson Megna and Zach Sill will be among the top candidates.
Despres, the Penguins first round pick in 2009, has yet to become an NHL regular as he has bounced between the NHL and AHL for much of the last two seasons. Despres, though, will have a prime opportunity to open up the season as a regular among the top-3 pairings and possibly start out the year in a No. 2 pairing role with Kris Letang.
The Penguins are planning to go into the season without Olli Maatta, who is recovering from shoulder surgery, and Maatta’s not expected to return until late October at the earliest. The Penguins intentions are for Maatta and Kris Letang to be paired together but that will be put on hold for a bit.
Despres who could have new life under the Penguins new coaching staff, has a familiarity of playing with Letang, which projects to give him a strong edge going into camp.
Despres is regarded as being badly misused by the previous coaching staff. Despres was often put in difficult situations where he had to play mistake free hockey to stay in the lineup.
However, some of Despres troubles of staying up with the NHL club also fall on his shoulders. He showed up to training camp last September out of shape, failed to hold off Olli Maatta who earned a roster spot as an 18 year old, and some in the organization have always questioned Despres desire to put in the needed work off the ice and his attention to details. The previous coaching staff felt he didn’t catch on quick enough to things they wanted him to do.
Waiver eligible, Despres is locked into a roster spot but the pressure will be on him from day 1.
Brian Dumoulin who has been absolutely dominant this week is knocking on the door for NHL action as is Scott Harrington and Derrick Pouliot won’t be far behind once he gets fully healthy.
With Maatta not expected to be ready, Dumoulin, Harrington and Philip Samuelsson project to be battling for one spot in camp, barring the Penguins moving a veteran defenseman before the year.
Samuelsson is eligible for waivers, while Dumoulin and Harrington can be sent down without having to clear.
The word inside the organization is the Penguins want to see how things shake out when Maatta is back in the lineup before making any significant moves. The Penguins will have several trade options on the backend, headlined by Paul Martin who intends to test free agency.