Free Agent Focus 2011

 
It looks like this is going to be the free agency year where we say goodbye to a lot of "heart and soul" players who are really fan favorites.
 
 
EDIT: There were some errors in our numbers before that have been fixed. It's Sunday morning on the Pensblog. What did you expect?
 
The salary cap will likely be somewhere in the range of $62 – $63 million next season, give or take a few hundred thousand.
According to CapGeek, the Pens have about $56.4 committed in salaries for next season among 18 players. If the cap goes up a great deal and it's set at $63.4 million, that means the Pens would have about $7 million left to sign some forwards.
 
It's already been announced that Mike Comrie, Alexei Kovalev and Eric Godard won't be back.
That means, at the most, the Pens will have $7 million to sign Kennedy, Jeffrey, Dupuis, Talbot, Rupp, Asham and Conner or to find suitable replacements.
 
 
A few names jump out at you when you look at that list above: Kennedy, Dupuis, Rupp and Talbot. No matter how hard to think and plan and scheme, it's pretty much impossible to fit all four in under the cap. Kennedy will be an RFA on July 1st, meaning the Pens will have the opportunity to match any offers presented to Kennedy, as long as Shero gives him a qualifying offer before then. According to Dave Molinari at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

He does not, Ray Shero said Thursday, have any sort of deadline for reaching a contract agreement with right winger Tyler Kennedy.

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No plans to trade Kennedy's rights if there isn't a deal in place by, say, the entry draft in St. Paul, Minn., next weekend, or to put him on the market if nothing is finalized before July 1, when free agency starts in the NHL.

And, even though talks between Shero and Kennedy's agent, Steve Bartlett, don't appear to have made significant progress to this point, Shero reiterated that retaining Kennedy is high on his offseason wish list.

"I'm hopeful," he said. "I would like to sign him. I think he fits into our team, I think he fits into the way we play."

What he would not say is precisely where he sees Kennedy fitting in on the Penguins depth chart. Asked if he views Kennedy as a top-six forward — which presumably would translate to a higher salary than Kennedy could expect to receive if projected to stay in his current role as a third-liner — Shero did not respond directly.

"I see Tyler Kennedy as a good, young player who has played well on a good team and won a Stanley Cup with us," he said.

"He's a good player, and I understand that you have to pay good players."

There's no doubt that Kennedy will likely cost a lot of money to re-sign. He made $750,000 last year and his salary will likely at least triple next year. Seeing him signed in Pittsburgh or anywhere else for $2.5 million a season wouldn't be too difficult to imagine.
 
Talbot made $1.05 million last year. Dupuis made $1.4 million and Mike Rupp made $800,000. All three may be looking for raises this summer as well. It simply doesn't make financial sense for the Penguins to overpay any of these players. While they've all been with the Pens for at least a couple years, none of them are franchise talent. Arron Asham is an interesting case as well. He came at a discount last year ($700,000) but who knows if he'd take the same salary next year.
 
It will certainly hurt to see some of these players go, especially someone like Talbot, but the goal of a general manager is to make his team more competitive, not to keep players around that everyone likes. Yes, a good locker room presence is valuable, but it's not something the Penguins can afford to overpay for. Unfortunately, there are a lot of teams around the league that can afford to overpay. The fact that Colby Armstrong makes $3 million a season in Toronto is enough evidence to prove that point.
 
So, whether we like it or not, some of those guys (if not all of them) will be in different jerseys next season. Who will the Penguins replace them with?
 
Looking at CapGeek again, the list of potential free agent forwards isn't incredibly deep. We're not sure who we would go after if we needed to sign some new wingers, so it's a good thing we're not Ray Shero.
 
All we know is that this summer is going to be pretty interesting for Pens fans.
 
Go Pens.
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