The Pittsburgh Penguins re-signed defenseman Matt Niskanen to a two-year contract this afternoon. Matt Niskanen contract
The deal, worth $4.6 million, carries a manageable cap hit of $2.3 million and prevents Niskanen from becoming a free agent tomorrow at noon.
The 25-year-old will receive a decent raise over his $1.75 million salary last season.
Niskanen recorded four goals and 21 points with a plus-9 rating in 75 games last year.
The move leaves the Penguins with just over $12 million to spend heading into the first day of free agency tomorrow, with 11 forwards and six defensemen under contract.
Much of that remaining cap is expected to go toward signing an impact free agent or two. The team’s top targets happen to be the top free agents on the market: winger Zach Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter. Another cap-clearing move (likely trading Paul Martin and his $5 million cap hit) would probably be required to bring in both players.
The Penguins have more than enough defensemen who are nearly ready to contribute at the NHL level that signing Niskanen to a long-term contract is likely not in the team’s plans.
Simon Despres, Joe Morrow, Scott Harrington, Derrick Pouliot and Olli Maatta were all selected by the Penguins in the first or second rounds of the Entry Draft and are all expected to become impact defensemen in the NHL in the near future.
Despres, drafted 30th overall in 2009, played in 18 games with the Penguins last season, recording four points and a plus-five rating. I expect him to make the big club out of training camp this season.
Niskanen will play the role of an average second pairing defenseman until the Penguins’ group of young guns are ready to take on full-time roles.
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