Current cap for 2009-10: $47.3 million
Current starters under contract: 10 forwards, four defensemen and one goalie
Best contract: Tyler Kennedy ($725,000 through 2010-11)
Superstar contracts: Sidney Crosby ($8.7 million through 2012-13); Evgeni Malkin ($8.7 million through 13-14)
Worst contracts: Chris Kunitz ($3.75 million through 11-12)
Wildcard contracts: Jordan Staal ($4 million through 12-13); Marc Andre Fleury ($5 million through 14-15)
The outlook for the Penguins improved greatly when they traded away Ryan Whitney for Chris Kunitz. Although both players are probably ultimately overpaid, Kunitz gives the Penguins another young top-6 forward who brings grit and hustle to the table. Though Whitney may some day make good on his considerable potential, the Penguins have plenty of promising young offensive defensemen.
If Pittsburgh can convince Petr Sykora to take another below market value deal to finish his career alongside Malkin, the team would be pretty set on forwards. With the salary cap future in question, GM Ray Shero's model of keeping a core group together while rotating in veteran bargains will probably have to continue for quite some time. Perhaps Bill Guerin would be willing to take a pay cut to re-live his gravy days with a Joe Thornton-level playmaker too.
This might seem strange considering the fact that the Penguins employ two of the league's best players, but the future of the Penguins rests on the play of Jordan Staal and Marc Andre Fleury. Barring injury, Crosby and Malkin should be among the best in the league for the duration of their contracts.
It's Staal and Fleury that should make the difference from this team scratching and clawing to make the playoffs or rocking the hockey world.
At first, the $4 million salary cap hit from Staal was difficult to accept. On some level, it still is a bit unsettling. But it's easy to forget how young JS is. Keep in mind the fact that his brother Eric had his "Staal trophy" breakout year at the same age Jordan will be when he enters next season. If Jordan can blossom into a 60-70 point producer (along with maintaining his smart, gritty two-way style), his contract would be a welcome steal.
Fleury's contract is scary for a goalie of his fragility. Still, as that multiple OT masterpiece against the Red Wings suggested, Fleury can be among the elite goaltenders when he is healthy and on his game. The $5 million could either be an albatross if he flops or a steal if he frequently dominates like he's been doing on the Penguins' current red hot run.
It will be interesting to see if the Penguins can sign Kris Letang and Alex Goligoski to reasonable deals, along with the aforementioned Sykora.
The Penguins do not get the mind blowing steals of a team like Detroit, but they have quite a few players who were willing to take less money to keep a promising team together. It's not crazy to think that Crosby-Malkin should be a $20 million pairing so getting them for less than $18 million - and long term - makes their contracts moderate bargains.
Time will tell, though, if Pittsburgh would need to trade Staal or Brooks Orpik to simply meet what could be a drastically cut salary cap in the 2010-11 season (and beyond). But for now, the Penguins seem to be doing a fairly solid job with their cap.
Penguins' probable targets in free agency: A cheap top 6 winger (especially if they cannot retain Sykora); a dependable backup goalie; veteran free agent bargains at all levels