Mar 11, 2014; Buffalo, NY, USA; Nashville Predators center Nick Spaling (13) and Buffalo Sabres defenseman Chad Ruhwedel (5) go after a loose puck during the third period at First Niagara Center. Predators beat the Sabres 4-1. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

Pittsburgh Penguins' Third-Line Needs To Prove Their Worth

The Pittsburgh Penguins have officially signed forward Nick Spaling to a two-year deal, and in the near future, Brandon Sutter will also be tying the knot.

Spaling will earn $2.2 million annually for the next two seasons, which is $700,000 more than what he garnered in 2013-14, per Cap Geek. And Sutter’s anticipated to pocket somewhere around $4 million, given his playoff performance and lower-earnings last season ($2.7 million).

With those kind of salaries, it means that this next season they will have to prove worthy of them.

Spaling has gotten past 22 points just once in four-plus seasons with Nashville, and people seem to be so mesmerized by Sutter’s standout display in the postseason that they’ve quickly forgotten about his putrid total of 45 points in 129 regular-season games.

Now, as far as Sutter goes, there’s two factors into determining how he’s going to play:

  1. The length of his contract
  2. The chemistry between him, Spaling, and most likely Pascal Dupuis

Sutter’s expected to be re-signed, and assuming he is, the length of his contract will provide us with a implication of how he’ll perform next season. Of course, players can just rationally blossom into the talents they were presumed to be, but it’s awfully hard to ignore the skyrocketed production in contract years – I.E. Matt Niskanen.

Should Sutter only be willing to accept a one-year deal, not only will he no longer be in Pittsburgh after the season – and yes, I’m comfortable in saying that – but his numbers will be sparkling. Therefore, all criticism about his impending contract would be voided. However, if he’s locked up for multiple seasons, with the payroll it is, Sutter needs to woo Pens’ fans into thinking he’s a man of his contract.

Spaling’s inevitable stay on the third-line could also be extremely beneficial to Sutter because, for the most part, he’s never had concrete wingers on his unit. So, as he gradually makes friends with Spaling, and the two build formidable parallelism, theoretically, both should thrive off each other in the long run. But Spaling has to prove he’s worth $2.2 million in order to accomplish that.

This will be Spaling’s first go with the Penguins, and the pressure is certainly ascended now after he asked for $2.85 million in arbitration, to the team’s counter-offer of $1.65 million, per Ken Campbell of The Hockey News.

The asking price was so steep that, inevitably, Spaling was set to receive something past $2 million; which he should’ve never gotten, in my opinion, but because of other teams’ egregious contract offers around the league, Spaling’s lowly 32 points last season prompted him to get what he was entitled to. Ugh.

I’m even going to argue that Spaling will be feeling the heat more than Sutter, because the fans know Sutter’s capabilities. Spaling got a $700,000 raise for a measly 32 points last season, and has yet to display any promise for Pittsburgh. Point blank, the third-line is under fire next season.

And so is general manager Jim Rutherford, who awarded Spaling with that salary, and soon Sutter. The whole point behind dealing James Neal to Nashville, from my perspective, was to save money, and boost the lineup’s balance. Well, Patric Hornqvist and Spaling together cost Pittsburgh $1.45 million more than what Neal did, per Cap Geek, and they surrendered a 40-goal scorer, meaning these two – specifically Spaling – need to be prominent.

Every season there’s pressure for the Penguins because of how star-studded they are, but this next season is one that’ll tell us where they’re at. A lot of changes were made, and it’s time to see if they’re any good. If you thought last season’s failures were demoralizing, just imagine if they repeat those sequence of events.

The Penguins need the third-line to step-up, and it starts with Spaling and Sutter.

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