One of the biggest changes the NHL has gone through since instituting the salary cap has been granting players unrestricted free agency at a younger age. That's a big reason you're seeing teams lock up players that are 24, 25 years old or younger for 5, 6, or even 12 or 13 years now.
Ryan Malone is a poster boy for this. At 28 years old, he's at the prime of his career. And, fortunately for Bugsy, he's having a career year (24 goals, 45 points and counting). At 6'4 and 220 pounds, he's always been big. But he's using it more effectively and consistently. That sound of lip smacking is about 30 general managers imagining adding a power forward to their lineup.
But Malone will hit the market with fewer than 300 career NHL games for the Penguins. He was drafted in the old CBA, where teams had a lot more time before they had to start developing prospects professionaly. Malone was drafted in the summer of 1999 but didn't join the Penguins until finishing his senior year at St. Cloud State. Throw in the lost lockout year and he's only had four seasons in Pittsburgh's organization.
Through teams good and bad Malone's always been a consistent 20 goal scorer (last year he netted 16 in 64 games of an injury shortened season). But he's never been this good.
So, how are the negotiations going?.
The Penguins are believed to have recently offered Malone a long-term contract,but not at significantly more than his current $1.45 million salary.Uhh that's not going to get it done for a guy who will hit the open market. Teams historically over-pay for talent on July 1st---$8 million on two years of Todd Bertuzzi and Robert Lang, $20.4 million on six years for Dainius Zubrus last summer and so on and so on. It's easy to make a case that al of those guys are more established than Malone, but they were also older and had more "wear in the tires" too.
It's not crazy to think some team will swoop in and offer at least $12 million for four years for Malone...But would he leave?
Malone has publically stated he hopes to remain a Penguin. And who wouldn't? It's a bright time for the organization and Malone's played with centers like Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin for the past two and a half seasons. Taters has been a physical force, but he's not been the one primarily lugging the puck up the ice or making many decisions with the biscuit. It's simple; drive to the net, create room for the playmakers, cycle the puck and throw the body around and the puck on target.
But Bugsy is a Pittsburgh boy, you say. While true he spent his formative years (from high school senior through college) in the upper middle west. And, what will come as a newsflash to many Pens fans who believe Malone is the prototypical "hometown discount" remember that he makes his offseason home not in Pittsburgh, but in Minnesota.
There was a very telling quote by Ray Shero in that article, one that sounded more than willing to acknowledge this might be it:
"For every goal he scores, assist or fight he has - look, we're rooting for him. I hope he has a great playoff," Shero said. "It's the way the system is, and Ryan knows what our feelings are."
The Penguins have a general plan and they know what they're doing. Priority #1 this summer is obviously locking up Evgeni Malkin....Marc-Andre Fleury will also need new deal and the Pens can look to extend Jordan Staal if they want to as well. As crazy as it sounds, don't sleep on the the Pens not making at least a pitch for Marian Hossa either. If they're willing to spend to the salary cap, like has been reported it might be workable.
Immediately, There's 13 players next season under contract, the forwards are: Crosby, Malkin, Staal, Petr Sykora, Maxime Talbot, Tyler Kennedy. The defense is a lot more set: Sergei Gonchar, Ryan Whitney, Hal Gill, Darryl Sydor, Kris Letang, Rob Scuderi (and Alex Goligoski) are under contract. Dany Sabourin is too, but that's a different issue for a diferent day.
By our unscientific math that's a cap hit of right at $34 million...That leaves about $18 million to what's expected to be the cap; even if they don't make any moves on trying to shed a guy like Sydor ($2.5) or Whitney ($4) It'll be decision time to see who the Penguins want to bring back, who they're able to bring back and what will happen.
Start with Ryan Malone, end up with a thesis paper about the Penguins salary cap next season...That's Sweater Ted style, baby.