Pittsburgh Penguins' Window for Capturing the Stanley Cup Is Closing Quickly

Vince Comunale@@PGHVCContributor IMarch 11, 2012

Next season could be the last with Crosby, Malkin and Staal on the same roster.
Next season could be the last with Crosby, Malkin and Staal on the same roster.Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Jordan Staal is 23 years of age, Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang are 24, Evgeni Malkin is 25, and Marc-Andre Fleury is 27. The core of the Penguins’ roster is in the prime of their career, yet the window for them to win the Stanley Cup is closing.

This season and next are arguably the Penguins’ best two chances to capture the Cup. The reason being is that the Penguins’ core group of talent is only signed for this season and next. After the 2012-13 season, the Penguins’ roster could look rather different given salary cap restrictions.

Staal and Crosby are signed through 2012-13, Letang and Malkin through 2013-14 and Fleury through 2014-15. The only player signed that is signed past the 2014-15 season is high-scoring winger James Neal. The salary cap could go up next season and in subsequent seasons, which would help the Penguins tremendously; however, nobody knows for sure what the new collective bargaining agreement will bring this summer. 

It seems pretty likely that when the 2014-15 season begins, at least one, maybe even two of Crosby, Malkin, Staal or Letang will not be on the Penguins’ roster. Even if the salary cap goes up to somewhere in the neighborhood of $70 million for the 2014-15 season, it would still be very difficult to keep all of these players.

Let’s assume that Crosby and Malkin both get a conservative $10 million per season and Letang gets a raise to $6 million, up $2.5 million from his current contract. Next, we’ll give Staal a $2 million raise, so he’ll be making $6 million. 

Now, add in Fleury’s $5 million, Neal’s $5 million and the fact that Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek will be in the last year of their contracts and earning $5 million and $4 million, respectively. All of those numbers add up to $51 million. Sure, that is well under a cap of $70 million, but all of that money is tied up in just eight players. That would leave approximately $20 million to sign 12 more players. 

The scenario outlined above seems doable, but there are a lot of “ifs” involved. Giving $10 million per season to Crosby and Malkin is a conservative number, and it would likely take at least $1 million more per season to retain them both. Additionally, when healthy, Letang is a Norris Trophy candidate. Consider that guys in the Norris discussion like Lidstrom and Chara make around $7-$8 million per season, so $6 million is probably a conservative estimate as well. 

This season the Penguins’ 12 lowest-paid players approximately $9 million combined, so assuming that the bottom 12 paid players will be of equal quality three seasons from now, that $9 million would likely climb to about $12 million. 

These numbers can be very confusing, but what it all boils down to is, yes, the Penguins could conceivably retain Crosby, Malkin, Staal, Letang and Fleury for the long haul. However, a lot of factors go into conceivably signing them all.

The fact is that they are all currently on the roster and signed through next season. Given the fact that the Penguins have only lost one playoff series since 2008 when Crosby, Malkin and Staal were all healthy and in the lineup, and it becomes obvious that the time is now for the Penguins.

It appears that this will be the first time in a long time that the Penguins will finally have a healthy team going into the playoffs. With the way the Penguins have incurred injuries over the past few seasons, you can be sure that this group will leave it all out on the ice come playoff time because they may not have many more opportunities at the Stanley Cup with this rather remarkable group of talent.