Here's a brief look at what the team looks like for next season. I have listed all of the returning players as well as the free agents to be if not re-signed by July 1st. It's a very complicated process and I'm no expert but here's what I know to the best of my knowledge.
There are two types of free agents: Restricted and Unrestricted free agents (RFA & UFA).
Teams need to submit what are called qualifying offers to RFA's by July 1st to avoid losing them to UFA, where any team is free to sign them. Submitting a qualifying offer isn't a guarantee an RFA will be back; he still needs to sign the contract (I believe the qualifying offer is a small raise from the previous year's salary). The RFA can try to hold out if he thinks a better offer will come from a different NHL team. The team that he currently is a part of has the chance to match any offer any other NHL team makes on that RFA. I know very confusing stuff. Basically, the team's have a lot more pull on an RFA in their organization.
UFA is a little more straight forward. Teams have until July 1st to re-negotiate a new contract with their UFA. He can either accept the contract he is offered or decline and wait to see offers from other teams after July 1st. So basically a UFA has a decision to make. If the team he was on wants him back they'll try to offer him a new contract. If he wants to stay he'll try to negotiate with the team before July 1st. He can still sign with the same team after July 1st, but he could also be gobbled up by a different team if the contract offer seems appealing to the player.
Hope I didn't confuse you by now. Just a little bit of the basics I tried to lay out for those who might not know anything about how hockey free agency works. Feel free to comment or email me with links to references/rules etc. that would help clear this up even better.
After the jump, a look at who is already signed through next season and who is not.
Signed through next season:
Thoughts on the guys coming back
Not all of these guys are locks to be in Wilkes-Barre next season, especially the goaltenders. With Thiessen and Curry both set to become free agents (see below), Killeen and Modig were recently signed to entry-level contracts (their first pro deals of 3 years in length) and are still under contract.
One thing that stands out to me is the depth on defense. With all seven defensemen in the NHL signed through next season, unless they are traded between now and the beginning of the season, guys like Bortuzzo, Strait and Despres should all be in WBS uniforms to start next season.
The biggest movement this off-season in both the AHL and NHL for the Penguins will be at the forward position. With only seven forwards currently resigned and only one that has played more than two seasons of pro hockey, the WBS Penguins will definitely be looking for some veterans either in house with Wallace, Craig, Sterling (see below) or in the free agency market over the summer. Time will tell.
UFA = unrestricted free agent
RFA = restricted free agent
AHL-only = guys who weren't signed to NHL deals this past season
* = fringe players on verge of AHL/NHL
Jesse Boulerice (AHL-only)
Chris Collins (AHL-only)
Ryan Craig (UFA)
Joey Haddad (RFA)
*Dustin Jeffrey (RFA)
*Nick Johnson (UFA)
Zach Sill (AHL-only)
Brett Sterling (UFA)
Ben Street (AHL-only)
Tim Wallace (UFA)
Geoff Walker (AHL-only)
Andrew Hutchinson (UFA)
Joey Mormina (AHL-only)
Corey Potter (UFA)
Steve Wagner (UFA)
John Curry (UFA)
Brad Thiessen (RFA)
Thoughts on WBS free agents
Clearly, the two starting goaltenders from this year's team and mainly AHL goalie of the year Brad Thiessen are the big free agents. I'm almost positive the organization wants to keep him and his RFA status certainly helps their chances. But, if Thiessen receives an NHL deal that would put him in the big leagues and the Penguins can't match it he could very well be gone. With Marc-Andre Fleury and Brent Johnson both signed through next season, Thiessen will most likely be in the AHL if he stays with the Pens organization for at least next year. Johnson's contract expires at the end of next season and looking to far into the future in the hockey world is almost impossible.
On defense, the big three of Hutchinson, Potter and Wagner are all UFA's and with the younger talent they have coming back I don't see all three being resigned. The AHL Penguins definitely need a veteran or two on the blue line next year though, but could choose to pass on all three to bring in someone else over the summer. Too early to tell yet.
Up front, the team's captain and two guys who wore the "A" this year are all UFA, that being Craig, Wallace and Sterling. There are also a lot of other forwards that were a key part to this year's success up for free agency as well like a Sill, Collins or Walker. I would put Craig, Wallace and Sill at the top of my priority list. We'll have to wait and see who is brought back and who isn't. As soon as there is any information released on the signings of players to the Penguins organization, there will be a post on the blog.