The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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July 3, 2013

Penguins’ signing spree could force departures

PITTSBURGH — After committing more than $160 million on new contracts for defenseman Kris Letang and forwards Evgeni Malkin and Pascal Dupuis and others, the Pittsburgh Penguins have to decide whether to use their dwindling salary-cap space to keep their remaining free agents.

One day after the Penguins announced the deals for Letang (7 years, $58 million) and Dupuis (4 years, $15 million), coach Dan Bylsma appraised the chances of veteran forwards Matt Cooke and Craig Adams staying with Pittsburgh when free agency begins in earnest on Friday.

“At this point in time, we are close to the cap, and the cap has got to be watched pretty closely with what happens the next few days,” Bylsma said.

Wednesday marked the first day teams were permitted to speak with unrestricted free agents, although they cannot sign deals until Friday.

Dupuis, 34, had established himself as a regular on the top line alongside Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz.

Kunitz, who will be 34 when next season begins, agreed to a three-year, $11.55 million extension last week that ties him to the Penguins through the 2016-17 season.

Less than a year after winning the scoring title and MVP award, Malkin was rewarded last month with an eight-year, $76 million contract extension that kicks in after the coming season.

That could leave no salary cap room for Cooke, Adams, Jarome Iginla, Brenden Morrow or defenseman Douglas Murray. They are all unrestricted free agents, although the Penguins have deeper ties to Cooke and Adams than the others.

Iginla, Morrow and Murray were added before this past season’s trade deadline. Cooke and Adams have been with the Penguins before the 2009 team won the Stanley Cup.

“Matt Cooke and Craig Adams are guys who are a big part of our team and have done a lot of good things for our team over the last couple years,” Bylsma said. “It’s obviously to the point where they can start to look and explore other options. That doesn’t totally rule out what our team does going forward. They’ve played big roles – we can’t deny the roles they’ve played.”

Cooke has been a fixture on the third line since joining the Penguins as a free agent in 2008. But with longtime linemates Jordan Staal and Tyler Kennedy traded on the past two draft days, the organization is mulling younger, less expensive options.

Like Cooke, Adams has been one of the Penguins’ top penalty killers in recent years. He has played in all but two games the past four seasons, typically centering the fourth line. Cooke and Adams will be 35 by the time next season begins.

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