The Pittsburgh Penguins embarked on a daring buying spree this offseason, spending to the limit and then some. They’re nearly $2.3 million over the salary cap with 49 out of 50 roster spaces filled. As they navigate the tight cap and their financially top-heavy roster, they know that the key to victory lies in having high-performing players on contracts that defy market value. If the Penguins are going to go far in the playoffs, then supplementing their pricier roster pieces with players that provide the maximum damage for their dollar is an essential part of the puzzle. Fear not though as they have a handful of contract gems that promise an impressive return on investment in 2023-24.
5. Matt Nieto, $900,000
Matt Nieto is one of the newest Penguins but he instantly hits this list for coming in at under $1 million while providing the team with much-needed, high-quality bottom-six depth. He can play either wing, has career-high marks of 15 goals and 19 assists, and is known for his abilities on the penalty kill.
All in all that makes him a tidy investment for a small financial expenditure, even more so for a player with his veteran status. Additionally, he brings considerable playoff experience to the table, having gone on several deep runs with the Colorado Avalanche and the San Jose Sharks, including reaching the Stanley Cup Final against none other than the Penguins in 2016.
4. Kris Letang, $6.1 million
You might not think of one of the team’s most expensive deals among the best bang for your buck contracts, but Kris Letang is an exceptional bargain. As a high-end elite defenseman, his astonishing and consistent workhorse capabilities squeeze every cent of value out of that number. Letang has ranked in the NHL’s top 10 for time-on-ice per game in eight of the last 10 seasons.
Even in 2022-23, when he played only 64 games, he still secured a spot in the top 20 for goals and top 35 for points among defensemen. He was the only player in the league to appear in all three categories which showcases how well-rounded his contributions are. It’s just another reason why his contract feels like it’s highway robbery by the Penguins.
3. Ryan Graves, $4.5 million
Newcomer Ryan Graves has yet to suit up for the Penguins but is already a thrifty signing for the team when factoring in his relatively young age of 28 and the long-term nature of the deal for his significant role. He’s a top-four defenseman who has spent time on the first pairing for his previous team the New Jersey Devils.
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Graves has averaged five goals and 14 assists a season over the span of his career. The Penguins can expect to see him at the head of their stats in the coming years, considering he’s ranked in the top three in goals and points among Devils defensemen in the last two seasons. He produced at least 26 points in every season in that same time span. His contract runs for six seasons which gives the Penguins the security of a mid-range price for such solid production for the foreseeable future.
2. Sidney Crosby, $8.7 million
Almost $9 million doesn’t seem underpaid, but you can count Sidney Crosby in that rare designation. Fans should be thankful he’s so committed to the lucky 87 number gimmick because locking him in at that figure for so long represents one of the biggest windfalls in team history.
His past career accolades speak for themselves. There’s not a more decorated player in the game when counting individual hardware and championship rings, yet he’s only the 41st-highest cap hit in the league. Moreover, his production isn’t purely historical. In the 2022-23 season, he once again ranked in the top 20 highest-scoring players, securing the 16th spot with 93 points.
1. Pierre-Olivier Joseph, $825,000
With a sub-$900,000 cost, youth, and a promising upward trajectory, Pierre-Olivier Joseph is the Penguins’ best-value contract by far. Despite being new to full-time NHL duties, he excelled under challenging circumstances as the team dealt with a defensive injury epidemic last season. He often switched pairings to fill in for key players as mainstays like Letang, Marcus Pettersson, Jeff Petry, and Jan Rutta missed a combined 79 games. In that time he showcased his versatility and potential as a top-four player.
Joseph didn’t just manage as a stop-gap he excelled. He ranked second in goals and fifth in points among Penguins defenders for the year, boasting an impressive plus-8 rating, tying with Crosby for the team lead in that stat. He also earned recognition league-wide as one of the best rookie defenders. Among freshman players, he secured fourth place in goals, assists, plus/minus, and points. The only players surpassing him in points were only highly touted prospects like Owen Power, Jake Sanderson, and Calen Addison.
It’s difficult to fathom how rough the team’s results would have been without Joseph’s crucial contributions. He stood in the gap, compensating for all those lost man games, and emerged as a massive steal for the Penguins. That’s all for just one percent of the team’s overall cap. At only 24 years old, he also promises a bright financial future for the team as a critical player who commands such an affordable contract.
On the whole, the Penguins’ collection of most valuable contracts are a blend of cost-effective players who can easily outperform their price and stars on remarkably team-friendly deals. The majority of these bargains are found on defense, which has allowed Pittsburgh to invest in their forward and goaltending groups. By capitalizing on these astute deals, the team aims to successfully navigate the financial tightrope imposed by their cap crunch while also rejuvenating two areas that required improvement following the previous season’s shortcomings.