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Two rookies have been the Penguins' most pleasant surprises midway through the regular season, and Ray Shero did not wait to lock them up with cap-friendly deals. First, he signed 6th defenseman Deryk Engelland to a contract with a cap hit of $566,666 through 2013-14. Then yesterday, he kept Mark "Testy" Letestu in the fold with a cap hit of $625,000 for each of the next two years.
If you pay any attention to the team's salary structure - and if you don't, what exactly are you doing with your time - you realize these moves were no-brainers. Engelland is about as effective as a depth defenseman has a right to be, he should improve in that regard, and he's rapidly become one of the most respected fighters in the league. Letestu has the versatility to play up and down the lineup and allows the Penguins the flexibility to move Jordan Staal and Evgeni Malkin to the wing as it suits them. And the signing of Engel and Testy brings the future of the roster into clearer relief.
Per capgeek.com, the Pens now have $52,324,999 in salary tied up for the 2011-12 season, with an expected salary cap of $59,400,000. Could be a bit higher, but we're not in the business of making risky projections. Put your calculator away and let GTOG do the math: that means, with the roster as currently constituted, Shero will have $7,075,001 to sign 8 forwards. How does he do it? Let's take a stab at this by looking at the guys already in the system.
Craig Adams - What a warrior. And a playoff player. He's not going anywhere. Bump him up to $650,000/year. Get it done.
Pascal Dupuis - Duper has in all likelihood priced himself out of town. A top line winger making $1,400,000? OK, he's not a top line winger. But don't expect his agent to admit that.
Tyler Kennedy - TK becomes a restricted free agent this summer. Right now he's at $725,000. Is he indispensable? No. Is he a handsome man? We're sure there's someone out there for everybody. Do we want to keep him? For the right price, absolutely.
Eric Godard, Mike Rupp, and Aron Asham - All of these guys fall under the "Makes the team tougher to play against and will drop the gloves" umbrella. That's useful to a degree, but with Engelland in the fold, you don't need them all, and only Asham has the pedigree to play consistently on a third line. Godard is almost certainly gone; Rupp may be as well; and all three of them are candidates to go. The market is going to dictate the names we see in these roles next year; if one of these guys won't take close to the minimum to play in Pittsburgh, some other free agent certainly will.
Chris Conner - We have no idea how this plays out, but if you read the tea leaves, it's not hard to see the Pens are skeptical about his future with the team. He still has plenty of time to make believers out of the front office, and Tuesday's game against the Wings was a good start. He's making $550,000 this season.
Mike Comrie - Uh, buh-bye.
Max Talbot - No way to dodge this issue. He's another center, and we're all set there, particularly if we bring back Adams in the 4th line role. He's making $1,050,000 this season. As much as we love him, as much as he loves Pittsburgh, and as much as he's done for the franchise, he has underperformed this season. There are two options here as far as GTOG is concerned: 1) He takes a significant pay cut and stays in Pittsburgh for, say, two years at a $600,000 cap hit; or 2) He walks. You know what's not an option? Trading him at the deadline. You can part ways with Talbot in the offseason if necessary, but you do not trade the heart and soul of the locker room if you think this team is capable of a serious Cup run. And it is.