Pittsburgh's top priority

Ray Shero is one of the top general managers in all of hockey. And he'll be earning his money this summer.

Despite an abrupt and disappointing end to a promising 2012-13 campaign, the Pittsburgh Penguins have assembled a roster that is more than capable of contending for the Stanley Cup on an annual basis. The challenge now is keeping that group together. Sidney Crosby is signed into the next decade, so that's not an issue. Pascal Dupuis and Jarome Iginla -- among others -- are two key pieces that can become unrestricted free agents this offseason though. And next summer could be an even bigger issue, with Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and Chris Kunitz all scheduled to come off the books.

Those are some big names -- all players Shero would love to keep, if possible. His focus starts with Malkin though. And, as Rob Rossi of the Pittsburgh Tribune points out, that deal could feasibly cost $102.88 million over eight years. At just 26 years of age, the big Russian has clearly proven his value though. He already has two scoring titles to his name, as well as a Stanley Cup and the Conn Smythe Trophy from the Penguins' championship run in 2009. In all, he's posted 560 points in 458 career NHL games and is on the short list of players that can legitimately be discussed as the best players in the world right now. So, even with some other impressive names looking for new contracts, it's easy to see why Malkin has to be the top priority on Pittsburgh's list. Fortunately for fans in the Steel City, he seems intent on staying put.

Craig Custance

Crunching the numbers

"Pittsburgh can't drive down the annual salary-cap hit with extra years on the end of the contract because of the new rules regarding contract length under the new CBA. The longest Malkin can sign with the Penguins for is eight years, and that option drops to seven years if Malkin hits the market in 2014. According to Article 50.6 of the new CBA, the yearly salary of a player can't exceed 20 percent of the upper limit at the time the standard player contract is signed. So that's $14 million under the current salary cap of $70.2 million and $12.86 million when it drops to $64.3 million next year."