Free Agency Thoughts Part III: Penguins Roster Analysis

By: Meesh Shanmugam

Everything looks fairly quiet for the Penguins at this point and they are probably done in free agency aside from depth/AHL moves unless something irresistible comes to them.

If you missed Part I, it was a look at the Penguins additions so far.  Part II was a look at the departures.

Here’s a look at the free agency moves so far:

offseason movement

Here is a look at the roster from various angles (I left the two-ways in the minors):

*RFA = Restricted Free Agent, *QO = Qualifying Offer

*RFA = Restricted Free Agent, *QO = Qualifying Offer

The Penguins are already up to $67,319,667 of their $69,000,000 cap space. From that total, it is likely that $600,000 will come off the books when the season starts (the exodus of Zatkoff one way or another). However, that total includes qualifying offers for Sutter ($2.7 mil), Spaling ($1.5 mil), and Despres ($850,500).

Those numbers are likely to change. Sutter is going to get more than his qualifying offer, with many expecting it to be around $3.5 mil. Despres will probably get a little bit more as well. Spaling might be in line for a raise as well. Joshua Cooper, who covers the Predators, had this to say about Spaling before the trade to Pittsburgh:


Position: forward

Current contract: One year, $1.5 million

My take: He deserves a raise, plain and simple. At age 25, he’s zipping toward his prime years, and is Nashville’s Mr. Everything. He can play in offensive roles and defensive roles. He set a career high in goals last season with 13 and points at 31. Spaling reminds us a lot of a young Joel Ward. Spaling should at least get a deal that takes him to unrestricted free agent status (age 27) if not longer.

With some guesstimating, take that $67,319,667 – 600,000 (Zatkoff) + 800,000 (Sutter raise) + 149,500 (Despres raise) + 250,000 (Spaling raise) = $67,919,167.

That would give the Penguins roughly $1 million in cap space with 21 players on the roster (roster limit is 23). They would presumably want at least one more forward on the roster and could always use a two-way contract from the AHL at around a $600k cap hit to fill the spot. Ideally, the Penguins sign one more cheap forward so they don’t have to waste an AHLer in the press box who could get valuable time as a top-six in the AHL.

Moving away from the cap hits, let’s take a look at the Ideal Positions, some of which can arguably be moved up or down a line. Again…

*RFA = Restricted Free Agent, *QO = Qualifying Offer

*RFA = Restricted Free Agent, *QO = Qualifying Offer

The Penguins are really just one more legitimate winger away from having a solid roster in place. Jim Rutherford has done a great job of rebuilding the bottom-six completely. If you remember when I did the Ideal Positions for last year’s team going into the trade deadline, the bottom six was largely should-be scratches. Shero bolstered it temporarily at the trade deadline, but did not fix enough of it. Rutherford has almost fixed the issue completely just two days into free agency.

How will the Penguins fix their need for a top-six winger though? Based on the money available and the free agents available, it will be extremely hard to find a fit unless a player is dying to come to Pittsburgh at a low cost. A trade seems to be the best option, whether that is to free up money, acquire a winger, or ideally both.

Everyone wants to move Scuderi, which is going to be difficult. On draft weekend, it came out that Buffalo was willing to take on bad contracts from other teams, but they wanted a first rounder to do it. Teams won’t just accept a bad contract; they want to be paid off heavily for taking a bad contract.

Paul Martin has been the latest big name in rumors. It sounds like he wants to test free agency next summer (and probably would not return, given the money he will command). The addition of Ehrhoff makes the loss of Martin more bearable, especially if the Penguins could get a top-six winger out of a deal. Martin has a limited NTC though, which complicates things. Also, Maatta and Pouliot are coming off of shoulder surgeries, so their start dates are in question (*should* be ready for the start of the season).

As you can see with my ideal positioning, the Penguins defense is quite solid right now, so is it worth breaking that up to fix the winger situation?

The answer is probably yes based on the inevitable progression of Brian Dumoulin, Scott Harrington, and Pouliot as well. I suspect at least one (if not all) will be NHL-ready to some degree this season.

Another option, as Ryan Wilson from HockeyBuzz has recently pushed for, is trading away Sutter. Goc is quite capable of being a 3rd C and the Penguins could likely find a 4th C for $1 million or less, whether through call-up or free agency. That would save around $2.5 million (Sutter’s estimated $3.5 mil. – roughly $1 mil. for a replacement 4th C).

Note: moving Fleury is also an “option”, but I don’t think there’s any chance of it, so I’m not discussing it.

Based on the Ideal Positions depth chart, I like the Sutter option better than trading Martin. On the flipside, I would hate to lose the value of Martin for nothing at the end of the season. There are very strong arguments to both sides at this point.

A third option which hasn’t been discussed in as much depth (that I’ve seen) is trying out Sutter as a top-six winger and/or moving him to 2nd line center and moving Malkin to wing (see: playoffs). I would like the first half of that better, but I don’t believe that plays to Sutter’s strengths or maximizes his value/abilities. That scenario allows for a cheap 4th line center to fill out the roster reasonably though.  As for moving Malkin to Crosby’s wing like the Penguins did in the playoffs, I have never been a fan of pushing those two together too much.  They are both capable of elevating their linemates significantly and I would rather see two lines (four wingers) boosted rather than a “hero” line.

Regardless of preference (and that’s what it comes down to in the end), the Penguins do need to find another top-six winger to complete this roster and probably need to free up money to do it.

On Day 3 of free agency, that is where we stand. This need can be filled in the summer, at the start of the season, or mid-way through the season depending on how everything plays out. Therefore, don’t panic if the Penguins don’t figure it out right away. This roster is already moving in the right direction on many levels. Keep it up, Rutherford.


Thanks for reading!!