Part 1 on Penguins Free Agency: Top Priorities
The Penguins are scheduled to conduct their pro scouting meetings Monday through Wednesday of this week and the team is just days away from intensifying or beginning contact talks with top priorities of their pending free agent class.
With $54.866 million committed to 16 players (1-way contracts) for next season, the Penguins are not expecting to be active players in free agency like last year.
Talk inside the organization is that the team is expecting the salary cap to be in the $62.2 – $62.5 million range. It should be noted that the Penguins always like to keep at least $750,000 in cap space for future roster moves.
Priorities Emerging: Sources say the Penguins top priorities include Craig Adams, Mike Rupp, Pascal Dupuis and Tyler Kennedy and that appears to be the case based on the team reaching out to the players’ respective agents and engaging in contract talks with the likes of Adams, Kennedy.
However, team is expected to have quite a few back up plans as it’s considered a pretty big long shot that the Penguins retain all four players. A realistic expectation is that the Penguins can retain three of their top four priorities.
Of the four, the Penguins have held substantive talks with Craig Adams but the two sides were unable to find common ground on a base salary as talks broke off for the short-term on Wednesday, May 25th. Adams who made $550,000 last season, is seeking what his camp feels is a “fair market deal”, a raise of at least $250,000, sources say.
Reaching a new deal with Adams remains on the front burner for both sides and talks could re-engage on Thursday or Friday of this week, following the Penguins scouting meetings and the NHL GM meetings this week.
Meanwhile, exploratory talks with Mike Rupp have revealed that he might be a tougher sign than Pittsburgh thought he would, despite a strong interest from Rupp in returning.
Rupp is represented by agent Allan Walsh who also represents Pascal Dupuis. Talk around the league is that Walsh is tabbing Dupuis as one of the top 2-way forwards set to hit the open market. He‘s going to cost the Penguins more than the $1.4 million he counted against the cap in 2010-2011.
Dupuis is seeking a three year deal, which the Pens are showing little interest in.
Dupuis, like Rupp also loves Pittsburgh and would like to stay.
With the draft just 18 days away, the wild card remains pending restricted free agent Tyler Kennedy.
As of late Friday afternoon, the sides were extremely far apart on a new deal. When asked to characterize talks, a source with knowledge of the talks told me “there are two different opinions at play”.
The Penguins are not ready to write off resigning Kennedy but the draft remains the deadline in talks, sources say, although no one involved in the talks will confirm that.
Last week’s NHL combine is often the start of trade discussions among NHL general managers and the Penguins are keeping all of their options open with Kennedy.
The team has “mildly” began to gauge the market for Kennedy, in case talks continue to remain at a standstill. One team said to have interest is the Florida Panthers, if the Penguins make Kennedy available leading into the draft.
The Penguins have a set number in place with Kennedy that they are not expected to budge from.
Kennedy, Dupuis, Rupp and Adams had a combined cap hit of $3.5 million in 2010-2011. Resigning all four would in all likely hood cost the Penguins upwards of $5 million towards the cap in 2011-2012.
The Penguins have at least 6 forward spots to fill for next seasons.
Cheap alternatives to fill roster spots next season, include the likes of Nick Johnson, Joe Vitale who have cap hits under $550,000 and have shown promise at the NHL level. Other options could include resigning Chris Conner and a veteran NHL/AHL forward like a Ryan Craig who the Penguins have expressed interest in resigning.
The team expects to resign Dustin Jeffrey (RFA) in the coming weeks in what should be a pretty easy negotiation when the Penguins decide to engage in contract talks with Jeffrey’s agents Pat Brisson and Jim Nice. Jeffrey is expected to receive a 2-way contract after coming off knee surgery that has a rehab period of up to 6 months.
Jeffrey should be another cheap option for the Penguins with a likely cap hit under $600,000, but he’s no lock to be ready for the start of the season.
Part II on Penguins Free Agency will look at free agents the Penguins have yet to have any discussions with, such as so called Plan B options, Max Talbot and Arron Asham.