Pittsburgh Penguins: Crosby, Malkin, and Letang Salaries Aren’t the Issue


If you’re a Pittsburgh Penguins fan, you’ve had this conversation before.

Something along the lines of “too much money is tied up in too few players!” or “The Pens have to trade Malkin/Crosby/Letang! They just make too much and it’s crippling the salary cap!”

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Of course, these talks pertain to the contracts of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang. They carry salary cap hits of $8.7 million, $9.5 million, and $7.25 million respectively.

At face value, it may seem like $25.45 million is a lot of money to have invested in 3 players when an NHL roster could have anywhere from 20 to 23 players on it at any given time. The NHL salary cap ceiling for 2015-2016 is set at $71.4 million which was just recently announced. So that means Crosby, Malkin and Letang occupy 35.6% of the Penguins’ salary cap.

I would wholeheartedly agree that is a lot of money invested in very few players. And this may cause many to stop right there to identify this as the cause of the salary cap woes currently faced by the Pittsburgh Penguins.

But let’s dig a little deeper for a second. To me it is very unfair when getting involved in salary cap conversations to evaluate a team’s pay roll on only three player’s contracts. Like I said above, an NHL team can have at least 20 players on it at any given time. You have to take the other contracts into consideration as well.

So, since many talk just about Letang, Crosby and Malkin’s contracts, just for the sake of argument let’s take the 5 highest paid players on the Penguins and how they compare to other teams. The next two highest paid players on the Pittsburgh Penguins would be Marc-Andre Fleury and Patric Hornqvist with cap hits of $5.75 million and $4.25 million respectively. So when you add up all the contracts of Malkin, Crosby, Letang, Hornqvist and Fleury you get $35.45 million against the cap.

Here are the cap hits from the 5 highest paid players on other teams around the league for next season.

All numbers are courtesy of http://www.spotrac.com/nhl/

PenguinsCap HitDucksCap Hit
Sidney Crosby8,700,000Ryan Getzlaf8,625,000
Evengi Malkin9,500,000Corey Perry8,625,000
Kris Letang7,250,000James Wisniewski5,500,000
Marc-Andre Fleury5,750,000Ryan Kesler5,000,000
Patric Hornqvist4,250,000Cam Fowler4,000,000
Difference to Pens:3,700,000
BruinsCap HitWildCap Hit
David Krejci7,250,000Zach Parise7,538,462
Tuukka Rask7,000,000Ryan Sutter7,538,462
Zdeno Chara6,916,667Mikko Koivu6,750,000
Patrice Bergeron6,750,000Thomas Vanek6,500,000
Milan Lucic6,000,000Jason Pominville5,600,000
Difference to Pens:1,533,333Difference to Pens:1,523,076
BlackhawksCap HitRangersCap Hit
Patrick Kane10,500,000Henrick Lundqvist8,500,000
Jonathan Towes10,500,000Rick Nash7,800,000
Corey Crawford6,000,000Marc Staal5,700,000
Patrick Sharp5,900,000Dan Giardi5,500,000
Brent Seabrook5,800,000Derrick Brassard5,000,000
Difference to Pens:-3,250,000Difference to Pens:2,950,000
CapitalsCap HitCanadiensCap Hit
Alex Ovechkin9,538,462P.K. Subban9,000,000
Nicklas Backstrom6,700,000Carey Price6,500,000
Matt Niskanen5,750,000Andrei Markov5,750,000
Brooks Orpik5,500,000Jeff Petry5,500,000
Brooks Laich4,500,000Tomas Plekanec5,000,000
Difference to Pens:3,461,538Difference to Pens:3,700,000

On average, there’s a $2,514,743 million difference between what the Pittsburgh Penguins are paying their top-five compared to the teams listed above. So the question really boils down to, would you pay around $2.5 million extra on average to have Crosby, Malkin, Letang, Fleury and Hornqvist on your roster compared to other teams top 5 contracts that you see here?

I know a lot of franchises in the NHL that would. Of course, there are teams like the Tampa Bay Lightning that have a lot of young cheap, talent. However, there are a lot of teams that wish they were in the Pittsburgh Penguins situation in terms of having the stars they have under contract for years to come.

The issue here isn’t with the contracts of the stars and core of the Penguins. If these contracts are guilty of anything, it’s giving the front office a very small margin of error where they could hand out bad contracts.

And that is exactly what management did.

In the summer of 2013, Ray Shero signed a 33 year old Chris Kunitz to a three year contract extension with an average yearly cap hit of $3.85 million. He signed Pascal Dupuis to a four year, $15 million contract with a $3.75 million average a year. And to top it all off he signed a 34 year old Rob Scuderi to a four year contract which averages $3.375 million. Together they cost the Penguins almost $11 million a year.

That puts the Pittsburgh Penguins in the situation they are in today. These contracts are still on the books and the Penguins are suffering the consequences of bad contract management. Could you imagine what the Penguins could have done with roughly $11 million instead of giving it to Kunitz, Dupuis and Scuderi long term? And how is this mismanagement of the roster Crosby, Malkin, Fleury or Letang’s fault?

To me, the length of these contracts is the most damning aspect. What was Shero thinking giving 33+ year old players 3 or 4 year deals? In 2013 these guys were still playing pretty well and sometimes signing older players (Bill Guerin, Gary Roberts) can be beneficial to a team, but not three of them to long term, expensive deals.

To be fair, 2013 wasn’t a good free agency class – some of the better, younger names being Nathan Horton, Valtteri Filppula and Stephen Weiss – but maybe some patience could have been shown instead of throwing money at older players. Shero had to somewhat know at the time that the 2014 free agency class was going to be a strong one and spending a lot of money in 2013 was not the best idea. Heck, I can Google search the 2016 free agency list and at least have some idea of what it is going to look like and I’m just a blogger with a computer, not an NHL front office.

To think that the Pittsburgh Penguins star player contracts are the root of the Penguins’ problems is just not true. It is cringeworthy to think what the Pens in recent years could have been and could continue to be today with correct and responsible management of the roster (not committing long term to older expensive, players and trading away so many high draft choices).

To date, I believe in what Jim Rutherford is trying to do under difficult circumstances, thinking outside the box and reportedly wanting to sign Russian winger Sergei Plotknikov to attempt to solve the Penguins’ lack of a supporting cast. It is not an easy problem to solve given the trade chips he has to try to acquire a top six winger.

But, despite the obvious poor management choices and complete disregard for the future by the past regime, let’s blame Sid, Geno and Tanger.

Next: Trading Kunitz is a Priority This Summer

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