Pascal Dupuis

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So, who’s sweating the NHL salary cap the most?

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It’s only natural: once the $73 million cap ceiling and $54 million floor became official for 2016-17, fans asked “Where does my team stand?”

At such a modest bump from 2015-16’s $71.4 million upper-limit, teams aren’t exactly going to loosen their belts. Meanwhile, hitting the floor is tougher, but not astronomically so.

If you want to check out the situation for every team, consult General Fanager and Cap Friendly. For the sake of your scrolling thumb, consider this an abridged look at the teams sweating things the most.

One team above the cap

The only team currently above the $73 million ceiling is the reigning champion Pittsburgh Penguins.

That’s almost $1.5 million more than allotted.

It’s not necessarily a reason to panic, as Cap Friendly’s estimate is based on a roster size of 23 players. One would assume that the Penguins could place Pascal Dupuis‘ $3.75 million cap hit on LTIR, too. Eventually.

Without major players to re-sign (sorry, Justin Schultz), the Penguins’ situation isn’t as bad as it initially looks. Things will still be pretty tight, however, so expect regular Marc-Andre Fleury rumors going forward.

Teams sweating the ceiling

So, who else is heading for discomfort? The short answer is “the usual suspects.”

The Chicago Blackhawks gained some breathing room by moving Bryan Bickell’s cap hit, but they’re still gasping for air:

And … yeah, it would still be tough to grab Evgeni Malkin.

Maybe the Los Angeles Kings have a slightly better chance to retain Milan Lucic, but that situation is very much TBD, as LA Kings Insider notes here.

That slight bump might be good news for the Detroit Red Wings amid their efforts to get rid of Pavel Datsyuk‘s $7.5 million cap hit:

Long story short, contending teams with limited space and significant pieces to consider will sweat things about as much as expected. Again, these two resources are your friend.

Down under

On the other end of the spectrum, there are the teams that need to get to the floor, aka “Those who should be on Ken Holland’s speed dial.”

  • The Coyotes took a step closer with the just-about-official Alex Goligoski bump. They generally have a lot of spots to fill, too.
  • The Devils are closer after absorbing Marc Savard‘s roaming cap hit. A guy like Kyle Palmieri should help them beef up their salary base, too.
  • The Lightning will probably stand as big-spenders. The Bruins have plenty of money waiting to be spent, with the bigger questions being “Who gets the cash and who leaves?” The Panthers seem primed to spend like a contender, at least in relative terms.
  • Don’t worry about the Flames; Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan should eat up plenty of space.
  • The Jets and Senators rank among those teams trying to be budget playoff contenders, so they might not be far from the floor. They shouldn’t struggle too much, what with the need to re-sign guys like Mike Hoffman.
  • The Hurricanes may be a salary dump target, as they don’t really have major players to lock up and are at about $48 million.

Overall, there aren’t a ton of teams that should really sweat the cap floor, especially if someone actually accepts Datsyuk’s dead money.

Ultimately, the table is set for an intriguing off-season. The increase in cap space keeps free agent season alive, but the boost is small enough that teams might need to make bold trades to save space.

Buckle up.

Stanley Cup winners again, Penguins have a shot at lengthy run at the top

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PITTSBURGH — When the Pittsburgh Penguins won the Stanley Cup in 2009, a dynasty appeared to be in the offing. It didn’t quite work out that way. Injuries and inconsistent postseason play sent the franchise into a full-fledged identity crisis.

The long, seemingly interminable wait for Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin to bookend the championship the helped capture seven years ago came to a blissful, euphoric end on Sunday night in San Jose. Their six-game triumph over the Sharks in the final capped a meteoric six-month sprint under Mike Sullivan, whose arrival in mid-December provided the wake-up call the talented but erratic roster desperately needed.

“It’s not an easy win in this league,” Malkin said. “Every team in the league deserves to win. We play against San Jose and they haven’t won in 25 years. It’s not easy.”

Maybe, but for the Penguins the path might be smoother than most. The group that poured over the boards and onto the ice when the horn sounded at the end of a 100-game plus marathon that spanned from September to June appears to be well-appointed for the future thanks to a series of moves by general manager Jim Rutherford to build around his two stars.

Oddsmakers made Pittsburgh an early favorite to win it all again next year, heady territory considering there hasn’t been a repeat champion in nearly two decades. Then again, there’s reason to be optimistic the run at the top that seemed a near certainty in 2009 could still come to fruition, if later than expected.

Related:

Seven-year itch, scratched: Pens win Stanley Cup

From frustration to appreciation, it all came together for the Pittsburgh Penguins

Despite reports to the contrary, Matt Murray was nervous every day

On the evolution of Crosby, Pittsburgh’s ‘consummate leader’

The core of Crosby, Malkin, forward Phil Kessel and defensemen Kris Letang and Olli Maatta are all 30 or under and all signed through at least 2022. Goaltender Matt Murray – whose 15 wins in the playoffs tied an NHL rookie record – turned 22 last month. Young forwards Bryan Rust, Conor Sheary and Tom Kuhnhackl are in their mid-20s. Carl Hagelin, Nick Bonino and Patric Hornqvist will be back.

So will Sullivan, who began the season molding prospects for Pittsburgh’s American Hockey League affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. He ended it posing at center ice with his sport’s biggest trophy as the centerpiece after taking the pieces given to him by Rutherford and creating a relentless, swarming team that often tilted the ice for long stretches.

“We felt as though, if we were a team that could play fast in every aspect of the game, it could be our competitive advantage on some of our opponents,” Sullivan said. “I thought Jim Rutherford did a tremendous job in acquiring some guys along the way that enhanced that speed for us.”

The only real questions heading into the offseason surround goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury and forward Matt Cullen.

Fleury kept the Penguins afloat early in the season, then played the role of dutiful mentor to Murray after a concussion suffered on March 31 limited him to one playoff appearance, an overtime loss to Tampa Bay in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals. Fleury has three years left on a deal with an average cap hit of $5.75 million, a high price to pay for a player who just watched his backup backstop the team to its fourth title.

Rutherford insists Fleury remains a part of the team’s future, though Fleury acknowledged at times during the playoffs he wasn’t sure what the future will hold. Ditto the 39-year-old Cullen, who pledged that this season would be his last. It’s hard to imagine finding a sweeter way to go out than skating around with the Cup. Yet he also looked and played like a guy a decade younger, and he didn’t miss a game in the regular season or playoffs.

For now, the chance to savor a triumph few saw coming when Sullivan took over is enough

“It’s pretty amazing,” Cullen said. “We went through an awful lot this year and we really became a close knit group. It was pretty cool how everybody seemed to play a special part as we went through the end of the year and into the playoffs. Everybody shares a big piece of it. It’s truly a team win.”

As if to emphasize the point, the first Penguins outside of Crosby to lift the Cup on Sunday night were those who played a vital role in the run but didn’t play a minute during the final, going from injured defenseman Trevor Daley to retired forward Pascal Dupuis to Fleury.

“It took everybody to get this,” said Crosby, who earned the Conn Smythe as the playoff MVP.

And it will almost certainly take everybody to get back. The Penguins are optimistic but also pragmatic. They know 2009 was supposed to be the first of many, which is maybe why they didn’t cherish it as much as they should have. They have no plans to make the same mistake this time around.

“It’s a great year,” said Malkin, who welcomed a son last month. “I have lots of emotion, I’m glad the season is over like this. It’s going to be a great summer.”

Dupuis: ‘I’m still, in my head, a player’

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PITTSBURGH (AP) Pascal Dupuis headed home to Montreal last December, threw his hockey gear in the garage and waited for his retirement to become real.

The longtime Pittsburgh Penguins forward knew the pangs of regret would come, even as he understood it was the right choice to step away from the game due to lingering concerns about the blood clots that dogged him during the final stages of his 15-year career. The only choice, really, for a married father of four.

Dupuis just assumed his second thoughts would fade over time. Only they didn’t. If anything, they’ve become more acute while watching his teammates put together a stirring run to the Stanley Cup Final without the player simply known as “Duper,” who for so long served as the emotional touchstone in a dressing room filled with divergent personalities.

“Every day I’m thinking about it,” Dupuis said before the Penguins opened up the franchise’s fifth appearance in the Cup Final with a 3-2 win over the San Jose Sharks in Game 1 on Monday night.

So Dupuis searched for a compromise, finding one in becoming a special assistant of sorts, one straddling the line between player and coach. He doesn’t have a term for his job description, though he became perhaps one of the world’s most overqualified equipment managers when he found himself replacing the butt end of forward Eric Fehr‘s stick during Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals.

The hockey bag Dupuis ditched in the family garage didn’t stay zipped for long. He brought his skates back to Pittsburgh, though these days he works out alone on the ice well before his friends file onto the rink. It’s strange, really strange, not to be out there with them. He lifted the Cup in triumph when the Penguins beat Detroit for the franchise’s third championship in 2009. Yet there the Cup was on Sunday afternoon, barely 20 feet away as he spoke to reporters during Media Day, and in the most visceral way hopelessly out of reach.

“You still want it,” said Dupuis, who turned 37 in April. “If one thing, it makes it harder. You know what it feels like, you know what it tastes like and you want it again.”

It’s why Dupuis returned last fall even though for the better part of two years it seemed as if there was a voodoo doll somewhere with his No. 9 jersey on it. The torn ACL in December, 2013. The blood clots that surfaced in November, 2014. The long wait for doctors to OK his return as he worked his way off blood thinners only to sustain a lower-body injury during training camp last September.

Yet he pressed on before chest pains forced him to leave a game in San Jose in early December, and the long West Coast road trip gave him time to think about his future, his mortality and hockey’s role in both. Then came the decision to step away on Dec. 8, making the announcement during a practice day in Colorado. He knew it was time to go.

Just not that far, it turned out. General manager Jim Rutherford promised Dupuis the team would pay him through the remainder of the four-year deal he signed in 2013 even as it placed him on the long-term inactive list. The move paid off immediately. The Penguins used the salary cap relief to acquire defenseman Trevor Daley from Chicago, a deal that coincided with head coach Mike Sullivan’s arrival and began the midseason renaissance that brought the Pittsburgh to the cusp of a championship.

“In some ways, our misfortune with Duper became our good fortune as we went along,” Rutherford said.

Dupuis made it a point to earn his money, even if it wasn’t with a stick in his hands. He re-joined the Penguins on the road as soon as doctors gave him clearance and in some ways things haven’t changed. He kept his stall in the locker room and joked “I still put my underwear on before they go on the ice.” Even if it goes under a meticulously tailored suit.

“He still works out hard, he gives us insight,” Penguins forward Chris Kunitz said. “He’s on the plane. He’s on the buses. He’s still loose just like he was when we played.”

Maybe that’s because he isn’t quite ready to turn the page completely. The engine that led the former undrafted free agent to 190 career goals, many of them as the speedy sidekick to Pittsburgh superstar Sidney Crosby, doesn’t idle easily.

“It’s not like I’m going to dinner with the coaches yet,” he said. “I haven’t stepped over that fence yet. I’m still, in my head, a player.”

Even if, in practice, he is not. That part will be hard to shake, particularly as he sees his former peers make their way back from similar problems. Tampa Bay star Steven Stamkos returned to the lineup for Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals just eight weeks removed from his own blood clot issues. Seeing Stamkos on the ice – on the same night the Penguins grinded out a 2-1 win to advance to the Cup Final – was both promising but also bittersweet. Medicine is advancing. In the near future, blood clots may not be the career-altering diagnosis they are now.

Those advances, however, won’t come in time for Dupuis. For now, he’s attempting to be content growing his lavishly thick playoff beard and be one of the guys hoping to extend his long goodbye for a couple more weeks.

“It’s hard to come to the rink,” Dupuis said, “but the bigger picture here is me helping this team win.”

PHT Morning Skate: Nick Bonino has been pretty clutch this postseason

PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

Pascal Dupuis wrote a piece for The Players’ Tribune.

Matt Cullen also wrote a piece for The Players’ Tribune called “Hockey Dad”.

Dainius Zubrus is making his third trip to the cup final, but he still hasn’t won one. (Puck Daddy)

–Watch the highlights from Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final. (Top)

–Here’s the Punjabi call of Nick Bonino‘s game-winning goal. (Streamable)

–Speaking of Bonino, he’s been pretty clutch this postseason:

–The NHL still wants to play an outdoor game on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. (Ottawa Sun)

PHT Morning Skate: Sharks name stray cat after captain Joe Pavelski

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PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

–The stray cat that ran onto the ice prior to Game 1 between the Sharks and Preds has been named after Joe Pavelski. (Associated Press)

–Speaking of that black cat, here’s a mountain of pucks shaped like the cat. (The Score)

–When Lukas Head was younger, he played with Steven Stamkos and P.K. Subban. Here’s his story. (Toronto Star)

–Watch the highlights from yesterday’s game between the Stars and Blues. (Top)

–A look behind the scenes of the NHL draft lottery. (Canadian Press)

–Two-time Olympic gold medalist Sharon Szabados loves curling and the Oilers. She was forced to make a tough choice on Saturday. (Sportsnet)

Pascal Dupuis, who was named one of the Masterton Trophy finalists, is adjusting to retirement. (NHL.com)