Pens GM Rutherford tells pending UFAs to explore free agency

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The Pittsburgh Penguins had the luxury of bringing a good chunk of their 2016 Stanley Cup Championship team back in 2017.

Despite being tight for cap space, the strategy obviously worked out, as they became the first team in the salary cap era to win back-to-back championships.

But things will probably be a little different this off-season. The Penguins have a few more key pieces that need new contracts, including restricted free agents like Conor Sheary, Justin Schultz and Brian Dumoulin.

General manager Jim Rutherford also has to find a way to re-sign unrestricted free agents like Nick Bonino, Trevor Daley, Chris Kunitz and possibly Ron Hainsey. The issue for Rutherford, is that they only have $14.9 million in cap space (that could change if Marc-Andre Fleury gets picked in the expansion draft).

So instead of negotiating new deals with his UFAs, Rutherford has told them to explore free agency on July 1st. Once they see what their market value is, they can come back and negotiate with the Pens.

“If you want to come back to Pittsburgh, we’re going to keep the door open for everybody,” Rutherford told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “At that point in time, I’ll have a better understanding as to how we can fit certain guys in. We won’t be able to fit everybody in, but how can we fit certain guys in? Can we get to the market value of what these players can get to go somewhere else, or get close enough to it that they’re going to still come back to Pittsburgh?”

There’s a chance they could see their depth down the middle take a considerable hit this off-season. Sure, they’ll still have Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, but Nick Bonino can walk in free agency, while Matt Cullen may just decide to retire. Both players played a significant role in Pittsburgh’s two Stanley Cup victories.

It’ll be interesting to see how they line up next fall.