As the Penguins begin their push towards the playoffs, preparations for the upcoming off-season has already started inside the organization. Extensive organizational meetings between the staff and front office won’t begin until after the season but preliminary evaluations are under-way between the Penguins scouting staff and front office personnel.
The Penguins have a tough off-season ahead of them, with 11 players including defenseman Ben Lovejoy not signed beyond this season.
The Penguins have approximately $41 million committed to 13 players for the 2010-2011 season and only two defenseman under contract for next season. The Penguins project to have $16-$17 million to play with this off-season.
According to multiple team sources, the team will first move quickly on Kris Letang following the season with the 2010 entry draft June 25–26, 2010 regarded as a pivotal date inside the organization.
Letang who declined a multi-year offer worth slightly more than $3 million per season in late February, is the Penguins wildcard in their off-season plans.
There continues to be discussions between Penguins management and agent Kent Hughes.
Although the threat of an offer sheet does not worry management, I’m told that if there is no movement in contract talks by late June, Pittsburgh will listen to offers for Letang at the NHL entry draft. Getting the Letang situation resolved or a general sense of clarification one way or another before July 1st, is expected to be priority number 1 for Pittsburgh.
The Penguins remain hopeful to sign the young defenseman.

By the Numbers: Pens 2010 free agents

1. Sergei Gonchar – Age 35
Position: Defense Current Salary: $5 million
Latest buzz: Turns 36 in April and is seeking at least $4.5 – $5 million per season on a multi-year deal.
2. Alexei Ponikarovsky – Age 29
Position: Left Wing Current Salary: $2.5 million
Latest buzz: Was seeking a 4 year deal to stay in Toronto. Pressure inside the Penguins organization to keep Ponikarovsky long-term after trading top prospect Luca Caputi for him. However, a decision on to make Ponikarovsky a priority won’t be made until after the season.
3. Bill Guerin – Age 39
Position: Right Wing Current Salary: $2 million
Latest buzz: The veteran has expressed a strong interest in playing beyond this season and in the Penguins new arena. Has 19 goals on the season but only three since Janauary. His future with the team will be evaluated after the season.
4. Mark Eaton – Age 32
Position: Defense Current Salary: $2 million
Latest buzz: Valued highly by Penguins management. Penguins would like him back but will depend on if there’s enough money to go around. Eaton could be in line for a Hall Gill type of contract, according to league evaluators.

5. Jordan Leopold – Age 29
Position: Defense Current Salary: $1.75 million
Latest buzz: Indications from team officials is that the Penguins will make a strong attempt to retain Leopold who won’t cost much. The Penguins scouting and coaching staff are very high on Leopold.
6. Matt Cooke – Age 32
Position: Left Wing Current Salary: $1.2 million
Latest buzz: Has been tabbed as a priority by Penguins management and there’s a mutual interest in getting a deal done following the season.
7. Ruslan Fedotenko – Age 31
Position: Left Wing Current Salary: $1.8 million
Latest buzz: An under-achiever whose play is frustrating at times but could still return on another one year deal at a lesser rate. Fedotenko like Guerin will be evaluated after the season. Likely to test free agency as both sides will explore options.
8. Brent Johnson – Age 33
Position: Goaltender Current salary: $525,000
Latest buzz: The Penguins are not comfortable going into next season with John Curry who is under contract as their primary backup. Team would love to have Johnson back but whether he returns will depend on his desire not to pursue a more active role elsewhere and sign another contract in the $500,000 range. Pittsburgh can’t afford to pay a backup more than $500,000-$600,000.
9. Jay McKee – Age 32
Position: Defense Current Salary: $800,000.
Latest buzz: McKee’s stint in Pittsburgh will be a one and done situation. Coaching staff doesn’t see him as good fit in their system.
10. Ben Lovejoy – Age 26
Position: Defenseman Current Salary: $500,000
Latest buzz: League executives from teams who inquired about Lovejoy at the trade deadline indicate he was an untouchable. A sign that Pittsburgh has him penciled in their top-6 for next season. Lovejoy however is seeking a one-way contract.
11. Kris Letang – Age 22
Position: Defense Current Salary: $835,000
Latest buzz: A priority for the Penguins to re-sign but could become trade bait at the NHL draft if there is no progress in talks following the season. Letang is slated to become a restricted free agent.