Pending UFA Jake Guentzel informs Pens that he won't talk new deal during the season
Photo credit: NHLPA

Kyle Dubas at risk of losing one of his top players in his first year on the job in Pittsburgh

Published January 6, 2024 at 11:00
BY MIKE ARMENTI

When they brought in Kyle Dubas as the organization's new President and GM, the Pittsburgh Penguins were expected to make some noise in the Metropolitan Division in 2023-24. Well, at the halfway point of the season, the Pens are toiling in the basement of the division and Dubas' first year on the job in Pittsburgh has been anything but smooth.

One of Dubas' first moves in Pittsburgh was to acquire stud defenseman and reigning Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson. In doing so, the Pens took on $10M in salary for 4 seasons. Now, that move may come back to bite him, as another top player in Pittsburgh is due a substantial new contract this summer.

Jake Guentzel is currently in the final year of a 5-year, $30M deal, which carries a $6M cap hit. Guentzel has scored 76 goals over the last 2 seasons combined and has already amassed 18 goals this season, putting him on pace for yet another 40-goal season. This would mark his 3rd 40-goal campaign of his career.

Much like he did in Toronto, Dubas has spent right up to the cap in his first year in Pittsburgh, playing under the 23-man roster limit with a 22-man roster. The Pens currently have just $200K in available cap space and have a number of players coming due for new deals this summer. We know that the cap will be going up to, presumably, around $88M. Still, even with the addition space available, the Pens have a LOT of work to do this summer to fill all of their vacant roster spots.


The Pens have 5 forwards, 3 defensemen and a goalie expected to come off the books this summer, Guentzel among them. However, when all is said and done, Dubas will have less than $20M to spend and at least 9 holes to fill on the roster. Once you start to part that money out, it's not as though it goes very far without subtracting elsewhere on the roster. Then, when you subtract another player, it leaves yet another hole to fill as well.

This week, per The Fourth Period's David Pagnotta, Guentzel has informed the Pens that he will not negotiate a new contract in-season, meaning that any talks about an extension will have to wait until the end of the season. With Guentzel set to hit UFA status on July 1st, there's a reasonable chance that he may opt for a change of scenery if he doesn't believe that the Penguins can compete for a Stanley Cup with an aging core.

The Pens are currently outside of the playoff picture in the East, sitting just outside of the second Wild Card spot with 42 points. The problem here is that two of the teams ahead of them are the Tampa Bay Lightning and New Jersey Devils - two of the league's most dangerous teams last season. The other team ahead of them is a division rival Philadelphia Flyers team who won't be doing the Pens any favours. Also, nipping at their heels, the Pens have to worry about the Washington Capitals and Detroit Red Wings, who also have 42 points this season.

If the Pens miss the playoffs, Guentzel may not wish to return, as things will only get worse in Pittsburgh over time as the team's elder statesmen in Crosby, Malkin, Letang and Karlsson begin to taper off with age. With all of the talk of whether Auston Matthews or William Nylander would leave Toronto, the Pens aren't immune to the same conversations - in this case, with Guentzel, who has become one of the league's premier scorers.

Guentzel's agent issued the following statement on his contract status heading into the summer:

"He's on the last year of a deal. The good news is I have a really good relationship with Kyle Dubas. Jake Guentzel is in a great spot. He started his career there. It's no secret the team is getting older. There are some Hall of Fame players on that team. What's going to happen, I don't know. But I'm going to lean on conversations I've already had with Kyle, including in the summer, including conversations with Jake. I think the good thing is we'll all be on the same page. Could it get ugly? Yes, it could. Kyle has to make decisions, too, which way the team is going and the investment he's going to make with Jake. Is it the same direction? It's going to come down to how they play and we'll put our heads together. And like we talked about a couple of minutes ago, all the things that go into trade deadlines, (Kyle) might look into what he can get for Jake or what it costs to sign him. There's a lot that will happen in two months, and I don't know the answers to that. But I do know Jake loves Pittsburgh. He's a hockey player. He's had some good success and fun in that city. We'll see." - Guentzel's agent, Ben Hankinson

With the market being what it is for goal scorers, Guentzel stands to make a lot of money if he does indeed test free agency. He can also hand-pick his landing spot, so he'll have the option to ink a deal with an up-and-coming team or an immediate contender. These factors should not be discounted simply because he's played his whole career in Pittsburgh. Winning is important to players and if Guentzel signs long-term in Pittsburgh, he may have to endure a top-to-bottom rebuild before the team is ever in a position to contend again. That could take the remainder of his prime years and perhaps even the entire length of his next contract, which may not be appealing.


POLL
January 6   |   653 answers
Kyle Dubas at risk of losing one of his top players in his first year on the job in Pittsburgh

Will Jake Guentzel leave Pittsburgh as a UFA this summer?

Yes52680.6 %
No12719.4 %
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