Penguins general manager Ray Shero locked up one of his key players early Tuesday evening when he agreed to an eight-year, $58 million contract with defenseman Kris Letang.
He must have liked the feeling, because he did it again just hours later, working out a four-year deal with first-line right winger Pascal Dupuis.
The deal carries a salary-cap hit of $3.75 million.
Unlike Letang, who has a year left on his current agreement, Dupuis was poised to become an unrestricted free agent. He would have been eligible to start discussing his future with prospective employers at 12:01 a.m. today.
Dupuis, 34, is coming off one of the most productive seasons of his career, having put up 20 goals and 18 assists in 48 games, many of which he spent on Sidney Crosby's right side.
Eight years, $58 million
Begins with 2014-15 season
Runs through 2021-22 season
Average annual value of $7.25 million
He also is one of the Penguins' top defensive forwards and a fixture on their penalty-killing unit.
While the finer points of Dupuis' contract still aren't known, Letang's includes a limited no-trade clause that will allow him to specify 12 teams before each season to which he will not accept a trade.
The new contract cemented Letang's place in the foundation of the franchise, likely for the better part of the next decade.
"Finalizing Kris Letang is really important for us," Shero said. "A 26-year-old defenseman like that is very difficult to replace."
Trying to fill out a championship-caliber lineup for the coming season while working with a relatively modest slice of salary-cap space is pretty challenging, too, and that's something else with which Shero has been dealing lately.
That has nothing to do with Letang's deal, which won't take effect until 2014-15, but is a byproduct of the money Shero already has committed to other players.
According to CapGeek.com, the leading authority on such matters, before the Dupuis deal was complete, the Penguins had pledged about $56.4 million to 18 players (one of whom is rugged winger Steve MacIntyre, who figures to play in the American Hockey League) for 2013-14.
The salary-cap ceiling is set at $64.3 million.
Shero has a pretty good idea of who he'd like to use to flesh out his roster -- wingers Matt Cooke and Craig Adams come immediately to mind -- but whether he will be able to make the numbers work before they qualify for unrestricted free agency Friday remains to be seen.
Shero has discussed new deals with the agents for both, but his efforts haven't paid off so far.
And, beginning at 12:01 a.m. today, other teams are getting an opportunity to try.
Under the terms of the NHL's new collective bargaining agreements, unrestricted-free-agents-to-be such as Cooke and Adams can meet with prospective employers today and Thursday, even though contracts can't be formalized until Friday.
In previous years, such contact would have constituted tampering. Now, it's more like due diligence for both parties.
Players can gauge the level of interest on the open market in their services, and clubs can find out whether a guy is interested in working for them, as well as get a feel for what it might cost.
Shero said "I don't know what to expect" from the two-day interview period, and said extent of the Penguins' involvement likely will be determined by what transpires with the players they hope to retain.
"I think wait and see what happens with our guys," Shero said.
Pat Morris, who represents Cooke, said he is "still having dialogue" with Shero.
Even as the Penguins have been trying to re-sign Cooke and Adams, they retained their rights to eight players headed for restricted free agency by extending qualifying offers to them.
Defenseman Robert Bortuzzo, goalie Eric Hartzell and forwards Dustin Jeffrey, Harry Zolnierczyk, Zach Sill, Brian Gibbons, Paul Thompson and Ryan Holzapfel received the offers, which allow the Penguins to match any contract proposal they receive from other teams.
Minor league forward Keven Veilleux is the only player the Penguins declined to qualify. He will become an unrestricted free agent, eligible to sign with any team.
The Penguins are trying to work out an agreement longer than the one-year qualifying offer with several of those players, including Bortuzzo, Zolnierczyk and Jeffrey.
None should expect to get anything close to the contract Letang received, however.
As of now, it will carry the third-highest cap hit among defensemen in 2014-15 -- the only larger contracts belong to Nashville's Shea Weber ($7.8 million) and Ryan Suter of Minnesota ($7.5 million) -- and pushes the Penguins' financial commitment to nine players that season to $48.95 million.
The cap ceiling is projected to rise to about $70 million then, and Shero is keenly aware of those numbers.
"You're always looking at that," he said. "I know you have to make decisions today with an eye on the future."mobilehome - breaking - penguins