Last week, the Pittsburgh Penguins signed forward Bryan Rust to a six-year, $5.1 million contract. This was a move few saw coming from the Penguins, and it could suggest the team’s plan to continue to chase the Stanley Cup with the same core group of players.
Penguins’ Cap Space
The decision to bring back Rust was a good one, as he is easily among the Penguins’ top players. This past season he had 58 points in 60 games, and in the last two seasons has become a point-per-game player. This also means the Penguins’ top line made up of Jake Guentzel, Sidney Crosby and Rust will remain intact heading into next year.
Now that the team has brought Rust back, all eyes are on defenseman Kris Letang and forward Evgeni Malkin. Letang and Malkin, along with Crosby, are pillars of the Penguins’ organization, having played in Pittsburgh together for the past 16 seasons. The big question is, will they continue to be teammates heading into next year? Both players have said they would like to retire in Pittsburgh, however, negotiating a contract that is fair on both sides is the current challenge.
The Penguins currently have $23.2 million in cap space available. There is also a possibility more cap space will be created if the Penguins choose to part ways with players such as Brian Dumoulin, Jason Zucker or Brock McGinn.
Dumoulin has been a staple on the Penguins’ defense since the 2015-2016 season. Up until this past season, he had only ever missed a handful of games, and was one of the most reliable players on the roster. However, this season he battled with injuries for the better part of the year, and even when he was on the ice he was simply not performing to the level he has in the past. With one year left on a contract that has a salary cap hit of $4.1 million, the Penguins will have to decide if giving him another shot is in the team’s best interest.
Zucker is another player who was plagued with injuries this year. He missed half of the 82 regular season games, and the first two games of the playoff series against the New York Rangers. His numbers were not that great either, scoring only eight goals and recording nine assists on the year. Zucker is also entering the last year of his contract that carries a $5.5 million salary-cap hit.
McGinn is a bottom-six player who at times this season showed flashes of greatness, but for the most part did more harm than good. With three years and $2.75 million remaining on his contract, he may be the player the Penguins will actively try to move in the offseason.
Busy Offseason for the Penguins
Penguins general manager Ron Hextall does not speak to the media often and even when he does he stays pretty tight-lipped. However, Hextall has confirmed that he would like to bring both Malkin and Letang back, and that the organization is currently in negotiations with both players. At 35 years old, Letang has said he would like to play for another four to five years, and he would like to stay in Pittsburgh.
Malkin will turn 36 this year, and although he is not the player he once was, he still managed to score 20 goals this season despite a knee injury that kept him side-lined for the first half of the year.
The month of June will be busy for the Penguins, as both Malkin and Letang become free agents in July. They definitely have the means to keep both players, and should make that a priority. The signing of Rust suggests that there will be no rebuild in Pittsburgh this summer, but rather a reset as the team prepares to go on another playoff run next season.