The Pittsburgh Penguins have worked hard to develop their defense and have a number of blueliners under contract with RFA Marcus Pettersson still needing to be signed. However, next season could be a different story. The Penguins’ Justin Schultz is entering the final season of his three-year, $16.5MM deal he signed back in 2017 and is scheduled to hit unrestricted free agency next summer. With the team dealing with serious cap implications now and over the next few years, the team might have trouble retaining their top-four defenseman.
The Athletic’s Rob Rossi (subscription required) suggests that despite struggling the last few years with injuries (he’s only played 92 games over the past two seasons — having only played 56.1 percent of the time), the team might be forced to hold onto him and then allow him to walk for nothing. Schultz is finally healthy for the first time in years and could provide the team with a full season of play. The last time Schultz put together a full year was his first season in Pittsburgh when he posted 12 goals and 51 points in 2016-17 and has proven to be a solid top-four option with scoring ability. With the Penguins window for the Stanley Cup beginning to fade, this could be one of the last years the team can vie for a title and the team could use a healthy Schultz (as opposed to trading him).
Unless the Penguins feel they can free up enough room for the oft-injured defenseman next summer, the team may just have to let him leave at the end of the season.
- Sportsnet’s Luke Fox writes that this could be a make-or-break year for New York Islanders’ prospect Joshua Ho-Sang. The 23-year-old has got to prove to Islanders’ brass that he belongs in the NHL. Often criticized for his attitude issues, Ho-Sang has struggled to prove himself with the Islanders. After playing 21 games with New York in 2016-17 and 22 games in 2017-18, Ho-Sang only appeared in 10 games despite solid numbers in the AHL. No longer waiver-exempt, Ho-Sang will have to win a spot at training camp or be labeled as a bust and very likely would be claimed by another NHL team. Of course the Islanders need offense after finishing 22nd in the league in scoring, but with a load of veterans on the roster, many of which play bottom-six roles, Ho-Sang might have a tough time proving himself.
- The Carolina Hurricanes continue to look like a playoff team as their young nucleus continues to mature and develop. The Athletic’s Sara Civian (subscription required) writes that the Hurricanes biggest question mark next season will be its goaltending situation. The team inked last year’s goaltender and fan favorite Petr Mrazek to a two-year, $6.25MM deal. However, despite a impressive season in which he had a 2.39 GAA and a .914 save percentage in 40 appearances. However, the 27-year-old is also well known for his inconsistent play and a year ago looked to be out of the league until Carolina signed him to a “prove it” deal. However, Civian writes the team has backup options just in case with AHL goalie of the year and Calder Cup champion Alex Nedeljkovic as the fallback option even before the team would turn to backup James Reimer or AHL veteran Anton Forsberg as starting goalie options. The 23-year-old Nedeljkovic posted a 2.26 GAA and a .914 save percentage in 51 games for the Charlotte Checkers last year and could be ready for a legitimate crack at a NHL job.