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Penguins

Penguins' defensive corps among NHL's most expensive

Jonathan Bombulie
| Saturday, July 14, 2018, 6:00 p.m.
PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 03:  Olli Maatta #3 of the Pittsburgh Penguins turns the puck away from Alex Chiasson #39 of the Washington Capitals during the first period in Game Four of the Eastern Conference Second Round during the 2018 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at PPG PAINTS Arena on May 3, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)
Getty Images
PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 03: Olli Maatta #3 of the Pittsburgh Penguins turns the puck away from Alex Chiasson #39 of the Washington Capitals during the first period in Game Four of the Eastern Conference Second Round during the 2018 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at PPG PAINTS Arena on May 3, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)

Jamie Oleksiak signed a three-year contract with an average annual salary of $2,137,500 this week, but when the Penguins defense corps goes out to dinner, he probably won’t be picking up the check.

The seven defensemen who figure to be on the roster on opening night will make almost $27 million between them.

With teams still negotiating contracts with their restricted free agents and otherwise filling out the bottom spots on their depth charts, it’s difficult to say where the Penguins will rank in defense spending next season. Safe to say it will be near the top of the NHL. Their average of $3.85 million per defenseman would have topped the league last year.

In one sense, that’s a problem. The Penguins gave up 3.02 goals per game last season, which ranked 20th in the league. It would be reasonable to expect better results from a group paid so well.

General manager Jim Rutherford, however, isn’t concerned.

“The structure we have now, with the players we have and what we compensate them, I think it fits fine within our overall salary cap,” Rutherford said.

Here’s what Rutherford means.

Compared to the rest of the league, the Penguins spend next to nothing on goaltending. Matt Murray still has two years left on a deal that pays him $3.75 million annually and presumed back-up Casey DeSmith makes the league minimum of $650,000. Only three NHL teams spend less on goalies.

Buoyed by Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel, the Penguins pay their forwards an average of $3.59 million per man, which ranks in the top third of the league. They have five forwards making less than $1 million, though — Jake Guentzel, Matt Cullen, Daniel Sprong, Zach Aston-Reese and Dominik Simon — and that brings down the average considerably.

The Penguins haven’t drafted a defenseman who reached the NHL since they took Derrick Pouliot and Olli Maatta in the first round in 2012. As such, no one on their blue line is playing on an entry level deal.

Once Guentzel and Murray get significant raises in their next contracts, that could be a problem. For now, thanks to cheap goaltending and a few minimum-wage forwards, it works out OK.

Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jonathan at jbombulie@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BombulieTrib.

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