After winning their second straight Stanley Cup, Pittsburgh Penguins GM Jim Rutherford said one of the primary catalysts for their success was that his roster was virtually unchanged from postseason to postseason.
“We didn’t have a big changeover this year. We had a group of guys who knew how to win. We went into to Washington for that Game 7, those guys knew how to win that kind of game. Had to come home and play Ottawa, and we knew how to win that game. We never panicked.”
But when it comes to the journey to a third straight Cup, Rutherford admitted on Sunday that there are going to be some changes to the roster, even with the salary cap inflating to $75 million next season.
“Not that we’ll have a major turnover this year, but we’ll probably have a little bigger turnover than we did last year,” he said.
“If you want to come back to Pittsburgh, we’re going to keep the door open for everybody,” Rutherford said. “At that point in time, I’ll have a better understanding as to how we can fit certain guys in. We won’t be able to fit everybody in, but how can we fit certain guys in? Can we get to the market value of what these players can get to go somewhere else, or get close enough to it that they’re going to still come back to Pittsburgh?”
Among the unrestricted free agents: No. 3 center Nick Bonino; veteran winger Chris Kunitz, a favorite of Sidney Crosby; and defensemen Trevor Daley, Ron Hainsey, Mark Streit and Chad Ruhwedel. Forward Conor Sheary and defensemen Justin Schultz and Brian Dumoulin are all restricted free agents.
Bonino, in particular, could be a tricky one. He’s 29 and made just $2.1 million last season. That’s a two-time Stanley Cup champion, and a playoff performer, making Shawn Matthias money. That’s going to change.
In Kunitz’s case, reporter Sam Werner speculates there could be a “short-term, low-money deal” in the tradition of Matt Cullen if he wants to remain with the Penguins. And why on earth wouldn’t he?
Cap Friendly has the Penguins with 16 roster players under contract, with 26 standard player contracts overall. They have about $15 million in cap space, and that’s before Marc-Andre Fleury’s $5.75 million comes off the books. That seems like a lot, but it adds up quickly when you have three arbitration eligible restricted free agents at key positions.
At this point, you have to trust two things about the Penguins roster: That the team apparently has an endless wellspring of young players ready to step up in key roles if veterans have to depart; and that Rutherford understands, intrinsically, what this team needs to continue its incredible run of success.
Which means the conversation could be less about if a player like Bonino leaves than what option Rutherford already has in mind to replace him at a cheaper cost.
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