Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Mirtle, Buccigross weigh in

Noted blog-ologist James Mirtle (MD) weighed in on the big issue that will dominate our summer: just how in the heck the Penguins are going to make this work...

But if you're looking for the window, it's small.

Case in point, the Penguins, who have two incredible stars complemented by some pretty nice young talent. Despite the relative youth of Pittsburgh's lineup, the fact that both Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are both going to command near-max contracts in the near future necessitates that the team-building process is sped up.

Forget the fact that this might be before their time — the Penguins' window is right now, when someone like Malkin can win a Hart Trophy and still be paid under $4-million next season.

Pittsburgh has $27-million committed for 2008-09, but there are about eight significant unrestricted free agent holes coming July 1, and Marc-Andre Fleury, an RFA, is due a raise. Come the season after next, 2009-10, and Malkin and Crosby are making $9-million a season, or about one-third of the Penguins' cap, and Jordan Staal is due a new deal.

There's no room, in other words, for a Marian Hossa, who will command an enormous deal as a 29-year-old UFA. Think $50-million plus over seven years and find a spot for that behemoth long term

Mirtle was probably citing (a must read for NHL contract details), but if you look down the column for 08/09 contracts, their numbers tally nine players under contract for$26.8 million. But one can clearly see, as we did earlier tonight, that the Penguins do have 15 players (including possible farmhand Chris Minard) as being under contract. Tally up the cap hits (the number on the left) and that's where we got the $34 million figure. NHLNumbers is probably a little behind with the Gill trade and the site doesn't seem to have included players that will be under contracts on their entry year deals next season (Malkin, Staal, Kennedy, Letang, etc).

Not that what Mirtle writes is far off; yes Crosby, Malkin and Staal will be eating up a large chunk of the cap and Hossa will command a ton of money.

No one can tell what will happen in the future; case in point this time last year it was a "given" that Crosby would be signing league maximum and he didn't. Will Malkin sign for $8 million? $9 million? More? Less? No one knows and speculation on it is too hard to predict until it actually happens.

Mirtle went on to cite a recent John Buccigross column where Bucci actually seriously made a pitch for the Penguins to trade Malkin this summer. Hah!*

A lot of people point to Tampa Bay as an example why an NHL team can't spend such a huge chunk of their alloted cap space/budget on just 3 or 4 players. Those same people don't usually point out that Tampa was well under the salary cap due to be up for sale and couldn't round out their team very well.

Similiarly Pittsburgh is quite a bit under the cap. Their billionare owner has seemed to take bigger interest in the team now that: A)There's a new cash-cow arena on the horizon, B)The team is winning and C)It's a hot product, they're selling out every single night.

If Ron Burkle is really willing to take a little bit of a hit in the pocketbook (and for his bank account the word "little" should be stressed) for the short-term to keep the team intact before new revenue streams from the state of the art 18,000+ arena, the nucleus will stay intact and management should be able to surround more skill around their stars than the uncertain situation in Tampa.

At the end of the day, it's not how you spend it, it's who you spend it on. Some teams like the Rangers will give a combined $14 million on two players longterm (Chris Drury, Scott Gomez and Henrik Lundqvist). Philly's spending about $23 million longterm on 4 players (Daniel Briere, Mike Richards, Scott Hartnell and Kimmo Timonen). Pittsburgh's probably going to be in that neighborhood on three players, but those players are Crosby, Malkin and Staal. Pittsburgh's players are a lot younger and will easily outplay any of the above named

We're not predicting for sure the Pens can/should retain Hossa, but it might be a little more of a possibility than most think it is right now....Hey, Gary Roberts was running right back to Toronto or Ottawa just as soon as he hit FA too, right? Sure the situation couldn't be more different between an aging player and a superstar in his prime, but the point is almost everyone in the media proclaimed Roberts to be a rental, and he ended up back.

*Although, in a very brief moment of weakness, we must confess did think how it would be if Nashville offered Alex Radulov, Shea Weber, Dan Hamhuis and a 1st rounder for Malkin and Ryan Whitney's $4 million deal

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