After the first weekend of free agency, the Penguins look like a team that has painted themselves in a salary cap-colored corner.
Pittsburgh signed Rob Scuderi to a four year deal worth $3.375 million, annually, then found a way to extend Pascal Dupuis and Craig Adams. After all the hoopla created by the fans and media over major changes coming based on the fallout of the Boston series, the Penguins will looking very similar to last year’s team before the trade deadline.
The problem, however, may not be next season, but the next few seasons after.
Three years from now, Chris Kunitz, Rob Scuderi and Pascal Dupuis will all be in their late 30’s. Considering Kunitz and Dupuis rely on their speed, the Penguins could look old despite having elite-level players in the prime of their careers. This issue is magnified when you consider Kunitz and Dupuis are top six forwards and Scuderi is a top four defenseman on this roster.
At the same time, what was GM Ray Shero to do?
This was an extremely weak free agency class -hello David Clarkson for $5.25 mil over seven years- and the Penguins were already facing salary cap issues on the eve of July 5th. Furthermore, a guy like Pascal Dupuis was stuck between cashing out for the first and only time of his career, or signing for a little less to stay in Pittsburgh. Dupuis could’ve commanded $5 million easily on the open market. The fact that he signed for $3.75 million is a steal for the Penguins.
The Penguins have their top six forwards in place along with their top four defensemen. Beau Bennett should see time with Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin who will be playing alongside Chris Kunitz and James Neal. The third and fourth lines will be a major project for Dan Bylsma and it wouldn’t be shocking if Shero deals a defenseman for a forward to play on either one of those lines. With 600k left in cap space, Matt Niskanen could be on his way out. There’s simply no reason to pay a third-pairing defenseman two million dollars a year, especially when there are better options at a cheaper price.
If last season taught us anything, it’s that the Penguins had the roster to compete and win a Stanley Cup. Heading into the 2013-2014 season, that question is very much up for debate. There simply isn’t enough depth on the bottom two lines. Brandon Sutter is a solid third line center, but he doesn’t have the ability to take over a game like Jordan Staal did when he was in Pittsburgh. Meanwhile, the fourth line will be an absolute mess if players like Harry Zolneirczyk and Chris Connor are given an opportunity to play every night.
Overall, this was the best Ray Shero could do. When you look at the lack of cap space, the bottom barrel free agency market, and the lack of depth at forward, this is probably the best scenario. It’s more or less the price a team pays when they go all out for a Stanley Cup and come up short.