Over the course of the next few seasons, the hottest topic in the NHL will likely be what the Penguins need to do this offseason. It is an odd scenario for Philadelphia not to take top billing in this category.
Speculation has already begun, starting with the irrational suggestions to fire Ray Shero and trade Sidney Crosby. It’s par for the course when an emotional fan base watches the team fail to meet its high expectations.
I would like to reiterate a point I made last night on Twitter:
Essentially, half of the team’s available salary cap space was allocated to so few players. That leaves very little money to pay other players.
This is the longterm downside of accumulating first-round draft picks while being bottom feeders for so long. Everyone has an expiration date and the salaries they command at their peak eventually come back to haunt a team.
Pittsburgh is reaching that point.
While Dan Bylsma, Crosby, Marc-Andre Fleury and others deserve their fair share of the blame, the team is a really a victim of its own success (which was precipitated by its own failures).
Now is the time for the Penguins to make some difficult decisions. Remaining idle will increasingly hurt the team in coming years.
So, do they part ways with arguably the best player in the NHL in Sidney Crosby and/or one of the league’s elite in Evgeni Malkin? That is their decision to make. It will certainly set the team back a couple of years but the bounty they could receive in return while these players are still in their prime would be a deep reinvestment in the franchise’s future.
This offseason, the Penguins have 17 contracts coming off the books. The bad news is that those contract accounted for a bulk of their affordable players. Worse than that, Kris Letang’s contract extension that comes along with a $7.25 mil cap hit kicks in. Worst of all, the high-level performances of Jussi Jokinen and Matt Niskanen will make them expensive to re-sign.
According to Hockey’s Future, the Penguins have the 17th best team prospect ranking in the NHL. The ranking is a bit outdated. So, when you account for the fact that three of their top prospects (Beau Bennet, Simon Despres and Olli Maatta) are already in the NHL, that ranking would plummet.
The tank is nearly empty and the team needs to refuel soon.
Shuffling the front office deck is a stopgap solution. What the Penguins really need to do is shed salaries and reinvest in the future. That might mean losing guys like James Neal and Paul Martin so the team does not lose a player like Niskanen to free agency. It might also mean trading Fleury, which might require retaining some of his salary.
If the Penguins really want to be perennial contenders, they might need to think long and hard about moving a guy like Malkin, whose no movement clause expires this year. Nobody likes to do things like this and it will hurt the in the short term. Trading a guy like Malkin may even seem like an insane idea. The question is, is it the right move to do for the future? That is what Pittsburgh needs to figure out.