What to do with Beau Bennett may be one of Penguins management's toughest calls this offseason.
By Dave Molinari / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The NHL trade deadline has passed, and the Penguins roster finally is set.
In just a few months, nearly a dozen players who have spent time on the NHL roster — or could, before the season ends — will have their contracts expire, and the Penguins will have to decide whom they want to retain.
And the players, especially those who will be unrestricted free agents, will have to decide whether they would like to return.
Unrestricted free agents are eligible to sign elsewhere beginning July 1; the Penguins can retain the rights to restricted ones by extending them a qualifying offer.
Here’s a look at those players, their 2015-16 salary-cap hit and what kind of a future they might have here:
Unrestricted free agents
Matt Cullen ($800,000) — Cullen insists he hasn’t decided whether he wants to return for another season. The Penguins likely can replace him with Oskar Sundqvist, although Cullen hasn’t looked his age (39) and might well remain effective in a supporting role.
Ben Lovejoy ($1.1 million) — He’s a third-pairing guy, but with the relative shortage of defensemen in the organization, bringing him back at a reasonable price makes sense.
Steve Oleksy ($575,000) — Oleksy has been promoted several times, but still hasn’t made it into a game. It would be surprising if he doesn’t explore his options.
Kevin Porter ($575,000) — He’s a journeyman blue-collar forward, and it seems unlikely that his journey ends here.
Jeff Zatkoff ($600,000) — The Penguins have made it clear Matt Murray is their No. 2 goalie, so Zatkoff figures to seek work elsewhere.
Restricted free agents
Beau Bennett ($800,000) — Perhaps one of management’s toughest calls. He has shown flashes of top-six ability, but spends far more time on injured-reserve than on the ice.
Tim Erixon ($600,000) — While he’s good for organizational depth, Erixon might prefer to go somewhere with a quicker route to the NHL, if the Penguins allow him to.
Tom Kuhnhackl ($575,000) — A pleasant surprise since being promoted from the American Hockey League, he definitely can kill penalties and fill a bottom-six role at this level.
Bryan Rust ($652,500) — He creates far more scoring chances than he converts, but Rust is a capable third-liner.
Justin Schultz ($3.9 million) — With a salary of $3.9 million, Schultz will have to show an awful lot in coming weeks to merit the Penguins giving him a qualifying offer. That said, it’s not out of the question that both sides would be willing to bring him back at a reduced wage if the fit proves to be good for all concerned.
Scott Wilson ($655,000) — While it’s premature to project him onto one of the top two lines, it’s conceivable he could fill such a role eventually.
Not for nothing (maybe)
Here’s something to keep in mind after the Penguins sent Edmonton a third-round draft choice for Schultz.
A few years ago, they gave up a No. 3 for the negotiating rights to Dan Hamhuis, then failed to sign him.
It’s hard to believe they will get much less of a return from Schultz.
Tweet of the week
“That’s the most help he’s given all season”
— @coachjml82, after Arizona LW Sergei Plotnikov took a penalty in his Coyotes debut, against the Penguins.
The Week Ahead
Today: at New Jersey … The Penguins rarely win in Newark. For the sake of their playoff prospects, this would be a good time to buck that trend.
Tuesday: at New York Islanders … It took five months, but the Penguins finally will play in Brooklyn.
Friday: at Columbus … The Blue Jackets won’t be in the playoffs, and would love to help the Penguins sit them out, too.
Dave Molinari: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @MolinariPG.
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