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Inevitable change will hit Penguins hard

| Thursday, May 15, 2014, 8:21 p.m.

Unlike 17 of his teammates within the organization, Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury isn't staring down free agency in less than seven weeks.

But Fleury realizes his long-term future with the only franchise he's known could be dictated as soon as this summer.

“Like any other player, when you have one year left (on your contract) — we saw it with Jordan Staal before — I'm not sure what's going to happen,” Fleury said from his locker two days after a disappointing Game 7 second-round loss to the Rangers.

“I really hope I can stay. It's my team here. It's where I want to play.”

Fleury and defenseman Paul Martin arguably were the two Penguins who most consistently performed at a high level throughout the postseason.

They could meet the same fate as Staal, the center who was the Penguins' leader in goals and points during their abbreviated 2012 postseason but was traded at the draft weeks later — likewise a year before his contract expired.

Then there's the immediate free agents. With more than half the Penguins' roster composed of players whose contracts are set to expire July 1, a significant amount of turnover looms.

“Yeah, I expect there to be some changes,” winger Tanner Glass said.

As one of 14 pending unrestricted free agents, Glass is a candidate to be part of those changes by way of not being back for 2014-15.

He was one of eight players in the Game 7 lineup who will be eligible for unrestricted free agency. And that total does not include defenseman Brooks Orpik, the longest-tenured Penguin who missed eight of the final nine games of the postseason because of injury.

Orpik was not available to the media Tuesday, and neither was the other top-six defenseman set to become a free agent, Matt Niskanen.

Deryk Engelland was a regular on the Penguins' blue line for much of the past four seasons but was a healthy scratch for this entire postseason.

Another UFA, he is likely to move on.

“Whatever happens is going to be a good thing for me,” Engelland said. “It's exciting to see what's going to be out there.”

Trade-deadline acquisitions Marcel Goc and Lee Stempniak join Jussi Jokinen, Brian Gibbons and Joe Vitale among regulars at forward who are unrestricted free agents. Center Brandon Sutter is the organization's most prominent restricted free agent.

Sutter said he “for sure” wants to return, and Glass and Stempniak similarly endorsed re-signing.

Coming off one of the best seasons of his career, Jokinen was less committal, though he did praise the organization.

There's not enough room for everyone on a team that has traditionally spent right up to the NHL salary cap.

Contract extensions given to center Evgeni Malkin and defenseman Kris Letang last summer kick in next season, adding $4.55 million in annual salary-cap obligations.

Counting those two, the Penguins have 14 players signed for next season who will account for about $55 million of cap space, leaving in the range of $15 million to work with under the projected $68-70 million cap.

Chris Adamski is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at cadamski@tribweb.com or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.

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