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Jeff Carter Contract Looms Large Over Penguins Offseason

Has the Jeff Carter signing hamstrung the Pittsburgh Penguins this offseason?

The Pittsburgh Penguins are on the cusp of what could be one of the transformative off-seasons in recent history. The team is currently negotiating with franchise cornerstone players Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang on new contracts for next season. But the Penguins have been playing hardball to try and give the team salary cap flexibility when they enter next season.

The Penguins currently have $21.5 million in free salary cap space for next season but have multiple roster spots to fill. David Pagnotta of The Fourth Period recently reported that Letang and the Penguins are currently negotiating between $7-$8 million for his next deal.

On the other hand, Malkin stated that he would be willing to take a pay cut from the $9.5 million that he had previously been making. But contract projections say that he will still probably command, at minimum, over $7 million. That would leave the Penguins anywhere from $6.5 million to $7.5 million to fill in the rest of their lineup. With still needing a top-six winger and multiple depth pieces, the Penguins will be right back up against the cap next year.

The Penguins currently depleted bottom six features only three NHL regulars from last year in Teddy Blueger, Brock McGinn, and Jeff Carter.

Carter signed a two-year extension with the Penguins in January that will see him paid $3.125 million over the next two years. Add the no-move clause to Carter's contract, and you have an aging forward that controls whether or not he leaves Pittsburgh.

Carter showed signs of regression late last season after a heavy burden was placed on his shoulders early in the year due to the injuries of Malkin and Sidney Crosby. Once those stars returned to the lineup, Carter was given a more defensive role by head coach Mike Sullivan.

He was able to flourish as a face-off specialist, finishing the season with a career-high 56.99 win percentage. Unfortunately, his offense began tapering off as he finished the season with just seven goals and 19 points in his final 40 games.

Nevertheless, the Penguins will have Carter on their books for the next two years, but his contract is already making its mark on other Penguins' decisions. Penguins general manager Ron Hextall decided to sign a 37-year-old bottom-six center before taking care of two franchise cornerstone pieces that remain two of the top four players in the organization.

Jeff Carter warms up before a game against the New York Islanders © Tom Horak | 2022 Apr 12

Jeff Carter warms up before a game against the New York Islanders © Tom Horak | 2022 Apr 12

Now, not only is Hextall forced to play hardball with Malkin and Letang, but the Penguins may not be able to afford a player like Rickard Rakell, who would presumably play a more integral role than Carter for the Penguins next season.

Plenty of moves will occur between now and the beginning of the 2022-23 NHL season, but the Jeff Carter deal will continue to loom large over the Penguins as they try to mold their roster for next season.

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