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Looking at the Penguins’ salary cap situation in 2024-25 and beyond

2024 Stanley Cup Final - Game One
Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

The cap is finally going up, but how will Kyle Dubas and the Pens choose to manage it?

The NHL’s salary cap, calculated off revenue splits, has finally recovered from the pandemic years. The 2024-25 season will see the cap’s upper limit increase meaningfully for the first time in years. The limit was $81.5 million in 2019-20 and only rose to $83.3 million by the 2023-24 season. This handy chart from CapFriendly tracks it out from year-to-year.

Nowadays, from new TV deals to opening up new revenue streams, the NHL is getting good at making money. That translates into a cap max of $88.0 million for 2024-25 and should continue to tick up in the short-term future.

As of now, CapFriendly is tracking Pittsburgh to have about $13.3 million in cap space heading into the offseason, though they are not including Jack St. Ivany, Valtteri Puustinen and Sam Poulin (which would make a more accurate reflection of space to be $10.9 million). They might even have a little more temporary wiggle room since Matt Nieto looks ticketed to be on season opening injured reserve. Nieto had surgery in early May and was announced with a six to seven month recovery schedule. The SOIR will essentially allow Pittsburgh to not include Nieto on their cap calculations until he is healthy enough to play, at which point they will have to be under the regular upper limit.

Assuming the Pens sit tight with Nieto on the regular IR and don’t run that aggressively towards the limit, here is how they enter the offseason.

Pittsburgh is carrying about $2.48 million in dead cap space between the combination of the Jack Johnson buyout ($916k) and the Jeff Petry trade retention ($1.56 million).

The Pens still have decisions to make on P.O Joseph and Emil Bemstrom, their last remaining notable free agents. They will also be in the market for filling the backup goalie spot.

Of course, the roster on July 10 could look different than it does today on June 10. Dubas sounded open towards moving just about any players outside of his five identified core players (Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, Erik Karlsson and Bryan Rust).

The team will likely attempt to find a trade for Reilly Smith, and who knows what the future might hold for players like Tristan Jarry, Ryan Graves, Marcus Pettersson and Rickard Rakell. Undesirable contracts might tie all but Pettersson back to Pittsburgh next season out of that group, with Pettersson’s own impending free agency in 2025 going to dictate a keep or stay decision on him in the not too distant future.

While having about $11 million in free cap space to work with sounds like decent wiggle room, the Pens don’t stack up well relative to the league, as the CapFriendly visual points out.

When taking into account the long-term injury designations by Washington (Nicklas Backstrom) and Montreal (Carey Price), Pittsburgh figures to have about the sixth least amount of cap space in the league as of now, once also factoring in the Puustinen+St. Ivany group that CapFriendly isn’t counting.

Then again, if you look above, many teams have space but a lot of holes they will need to use that space on to sign free agents. The Pens are a backup goalie away from having a full roster, though they’ll undoubtedly be looking to shuffle pieces and seek external improvements and upgrades to the current outlook.

One encouraging outlook for the Pens is that they don’t have a lot on the books for the seasons ahead. Here’s some emphasis added to CapFriendly’s detail and future.

Pittsburgh only has a handful of NHL players signed right now and on their books over the next three or four seasons. The outlook isn’t of perfect efficiency since a player like Graves has five years on his contract and wingers who are already 31 and 32 years old in Rakell and Rust both have four more years to go, but the longer-term contractual outlook for the Pens shows a lot of promise.

With a core this old, it goes without saying, but the Pens in 2027 or 2028 will be almost a completely different team from the group that has had a ton of staying power and consistency of this prior era.

Dealing with having cap space now but a lot in the future helps steer Dubas into his course of riding out the last day of the Crosby/Malkin time while starting to turn the page into the future of whatever will come next.


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