Salary cap will play key role in Penguins' cuts, roster

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The NHL's preseason is winding down.

Not coincidentally, so is the time a number of players will spend on the Penguins' major-league depth chart.

The Penguins, who cut their roster to 32 Tuesday by sending defenseman Harrison Ruopp and winger Tom Kuhnhackl to their minor league team in Wilkes-Barre, will close out exhibition play with a visit tonight to Detroit before heading to West Point for three-plus days of team-building exercises and on-ice workouts.

Coach Dan Bylsma said the plan "most likely" will be to reassign some players after the Red Wings game and take 15 forwards, "about" eight defensemen and two goalies to the U.S. Military Academy.

The Penguins have to be down to a roster of no more than 23 players -- and the salary-cap ceiling of $64.3 million -- by Monday.

Precisely how the Penguins will reach that isn't clear, although team officials haven't ruled out sending one or more veterans with one-way contracts -- the kind that pay the same amount, regardless of where a player is working -- to Wilkes-Barre.

Such players would have to clear waivers before joining the Baby Penguins, but up to $925,000 of each one's cap hit would come off the books if they are demoted to the American Hockey League.

The Penguins' cap-space issues reduce the chances of them keeping promising young defensemen Olli Maatta and Derrick Pouliot, who have junior eligibility remaining, on the early season roster to expose them to regular-season play in the NHL. Maatta and Pouliot would draw their NHL salaries while in the league, even if they didn't stay long enough to burn a year off their entry-level contracts.

"There are salary-cap issues that are a part of all those [personnel] decisions," Bylsma said. "All those things have to be discussed, given the fact that we have to become cap-compliant in the next little bit."

Crosby can relate to Gagner

Edmonton center Sam Gagner underwent surgery Tuesday to repair a fractured jaw inflicted by a high stick from Vancouver's Zack Kassian in a preseason game Saturday.

Kassian received a suspension that includes the first five games of the regular season; Gagner got to have his jaw and mouth put back together by a medical team.

Penguins center Sidney Crosby, who missed the final month of the 2013 season because of similar injuries caused by a deflected puck that struck him in the face, can empathize more than most.

Crosby said he "was talking to him a little bit," but didn't know if Gagner had to have his jaw wired.

"It depends on what type of break it is," Crosby said. "I'm sure it all hurts the same. If it's not wired, that's probably the only good part about that.

"From what I've heard from guys who had it wired, it's not too fun. Hopefully, he can heal pretty quickly."

Likely lineup

Barring late changes, the Penguins will use a lineup tonight in Detroit that figures to look a lot like the one that will be in uniform for their regular-season opener Oct. 3 against New Jersey.

Defenseman Paul Martin, who returned to his home state of Minnesota Tuesday because of what Bylsma described as "a family situation," will be the most conspicuous absentee, while center Joe Vitale and defenseman Simon Despres aren't scheduled to play, either.

"It's going to be real close to what you're going to see in Game 1 against New Jersey," Bylsma said.

The lineup, as configured Tuesday:

Goalies -- Marc-Andre Fleury, Jeff Zatkoff.

Defensemen -- Kris Letang, Brooks Orpik, Robert Bortuzzo, Deryk Engelland, Rob Scuderi and Matt Niskanen.

Forwards -- Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Craig Adams, Jussi Jokinen, Beau Bennett, James Neal, Dustin Jeffrey, Tanner Glass, Chris Kunitz, Brandon Sutter, Chuck Kobasew and Pascal Dupuis.

Bylsma said winger Matt D'Agostini, hurt early in the 3-2 shootout victory Monday against Chicago, is day to day, and that goalie Tomas Vokoun (blood clot) is the only Penguin certain to not be ready for the regular-season opener.

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Dave Molinari: or Twitter @MolinariPG First Published September 25, 2013 4:00 AM


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