One good thing about this past NHL lockout is the compressed schedule that came with it. There has been non-stop hockey action and news since the season began in January.
Today is no different.
Just days after the Stanley Cup was decided, we're hearing about all kinds of big moves going around across the league. Danny Briere, a point-per-game player in the postseason, and Ilya Bryzgalov are being paid a combined $26 million ($23 million of which will go to Bryzgalov) not to play for the Philadelphia Flyers. The Tampa Bay Lightning are going to pay their team captain Vincent Lecavalier $30 million across 14 years not to play for their team.
These compliance buy-outs have kind of turned the league upside down. There are players like Lecavalier, who have enormous, cap-killing contracts (Levcavlier was set to counts $7.27 million per season against the cap through 2020 despite scoring less than a point per game the past three seasons) who have no hope of being traded elsewhere. In the past, teams would have been stuck with these terrible deals. But the new CBA gave teams a chance to get rid of two of these contracts, and we're seeing teams use them.
And we're just getting started. The draft is Sunday and teams can buy-out players up to July 5. We're going to see a lot more moves in the next few days.
The Pens are making moves of their own. While they have yet to use a buy-out or make a trade, they are locking up their core players. We already know they extended Malkin for the next 8 years. Now they've extended Chris Kunitz to a fair 3-year deal with an annual cap hit of $3.85 million.
The Kunitz deal is a good one for the team. Here is a player who routinely gets 20 goals a year and plays well with both Sidney Crosby and Malkin. And when you see that the Washington Capitals are paying Joel Ward $3 million per season, Alex Tanguay is making $3.5 million per season and Drew Stafford is making $4 million per year, it's pretty clear that the team got a bit of a hometown discount.
Another way to look at this deal is it is an attempt by the Pens to show free agent Pascal Dupuis that they want to keep that top line of Kunitz-Crosby-Dupuis together. According to Tribune-Review's Rob Rossi, the Pens and Dupuis are in talks on a extension. If it gets done, one can assume it would be in a similar range as the Kunitz deal. Maybe a little more, maybe a little less depending on is Dupuis would take a discount.
The big questions on Pens fans' minds is what does this deal, and a potential Dupuis deal, mean for Kris Letang. Rossi is reporting that Letang doesn't have a preference of teams to be traded to. TSN's Bob MxKenzie is tweeting that "the Pens have made a substantial offer" and the longer Letang goes unsigned, the more likely it is that he is traded.
Rossi is also reporting that if the Pens were to trade Letang, they want a first-round pick, top prospect and an NHL-ready player. Or, if the team does not have a prospect the Pens want, they want two NHL players and a first-rounder.
With the talent at the top of this year's draft, and the fact the Pens don't have a pick until No. 77 Sunday, one would think that the Pens would move Letang before or on Sunday. But others out there, like Sean Leahy of Puck Daddy, think that Pens GM Ray Shero does not need to hurry and make a deal Sunday.
I don't agree with that line of thinking. If Letang doesn't agree to an extension with the Pens prior to the draft, I think the Pens would get the most for Letang if they traded him this weekend. If the draft comes and goes with no deal done, then the Pens have less leverage in trade talks.
What's exciting is that no matter what, we're going to have some news this weekend. Whether it is a Letang or Dupuis extension or a Letang trade, we're going to hear something that will tell us more about how this team will look in 2013-2014 and beyond.