While the Pens are getting run out of the Finals by a great Red Wings team, the general consensus seems to be that the Pens are getting their feet wet and that they will be getting 2-4 cups over the next 5 or 6 years. The comparisons are generally made to Mario's Pens, or Gretzky's Oilers because of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
But those two teams didn't have to deal with a quality opponent that the Pens have looming on the horizon. The Salary Cap.
The Crosby/Malkin duo is a great one, but their window for cups is going to close within the next 2 years, at least for a while. Take a look at their salary cap situation over at nhlnumbers, and as Brad Pitt would say in Snatch "They're proper-fucked".
The Pens have an interesting situation, but they have about $8M in extra cap space now
and the cap will go up another ~$5M next season for a total of about $13M in cap space. Because of the way the contracts are structured the Pens will have another $3M in bonus cushion and probably will need the same next season so We'll give them a grand total of $10M to play with in the offseason, meaning they will need to be below about $55M.
Next season the Pens are on the books for about $27M, which seems to mean they will actually have a lot of money for free agents. But that money only locks up Malkin, Crosby, Staal, Gonchar, Sykora, Talbot, Whitney, Sydor, Scuderi, LeTang, Gill and Danny Sabourin. 1/2 a hockey team (albeit a pretty good half) for approximately 1/2 the cap. So far it sounds good.
Here's where it starts to get tricky. Their #1 Goalie, Marc-André Fleury is a Restricted Free Agent. I don't think he's any good, but the goalie class this season is Weak (with a capital W). a team will make him an offer if the Pens don't sign him soon. If they don't sign him they will have to try and sign Huet, Theodore or someone not nearly as good as MAF. I think it's reasonable to assume a $4.5M cap hit for the goalie next season.
That brings us down to $22M for Ryan Malone, Gary Roberts, Georges Laraque, Jarko Ruutu, Pascal DuPuis, Mark Eaton, Brooks Orpik, and a variety of minor leaguers/4th liners. Oh and one Marion Hossa. Which doesn't sound too bad. Roberts may retire, they can probably get away with letting Eaton or Orpik go. Laraques, and Rutuu are about $1.5M apiece, so let's take another $3M off to get to $19M. Let's assume they let Eatan go and try to keep Orpik.
So the Pens have 7 forwards under contract here (Crosby, Malkin, Sykora,
Talbot, Rutuu, Laraques, and Staal.) A team needs 14-15 with injuries and whatnot, but should probably allow 16-17. Let's say they need 4 more quality forwards and the 4th line and reserves can be filled with minor league guys, who each make about $500k/year. that leaves 5-7 guys making $0.5M/season which adds up to another $3.5M off the cap. Add another $1.5M for minor league defensemen, and it brings it down to $14M. The defense still needs one more quality player (Orpik).
So now there's Malone, DuPuis, Orpik, and Hossa left to resign. When resigning these guys the Pens need to be very careful, because both Evgeni Malkin AND Jordan Staal will need extensions so they are not lost to (restricted) free-agency after next season. Giving too much money away to one of these guys could doom the Pens. Orpik is a solid defender, and at the going rate I'm guessing about $3.5 M/season. Malone and DuPuis are going to get a raise and can probably get $2M apiece. All of a sudden the Pens are looking at $6.5M to resign Hossa, which is cutting it close.
So next season is workable, but then everything falls apart. Malkin will probably get $8M per season, and Staal probably will get ~$4. So after next season if the pens want to keep the nucleus together (Crosby, Gonchar, Malkin, Staal, Fleury) they will need to set aside over $30M/season for 5 players. If they want to keep Hossa in that mix it goes to $36.5M or so. If the salary cap goes up at it's current rate that means they have another $24-30M for the remainder of their team.
Just looking at the numbers, the Pens have one more possible run in them (next season) and then all that talent is going to need to get paid. The Pens will have to break up their nucleus in order to survive.