The Pittsburgh Penguins and forward Zach Aston-Reese settled their arbitration hearing in Toronto Monday by agreeing to a two year, $2 million deal. The settlement allowed the two sides to agree to a two-year deal instead of the one-year deal which an arbitrator would have awarded.
The amount was a little less than the player asked but the security of a multi-year deal was enough to get the player’s signature on the paper. Sources close to Aston-Reese reported the player happy with the outcome, and “had a big smile.”
Update: Per the Penguins press release at 12 p.m., GM Jim Rutherford also commented on the deal.
“Zach is a responsible player who plays a solid two-way game. He has a heavy style of play that is especially effective on the forecheck and penalty kill”
Technically, the Penguins are over the salary cap by a couple hundred thousand dollars after signing Aston-Reese, but they have until opening night to become cap compliant, and sending one of the depth defensemen through waivers would also fix the issue as the Penguins presumably turn their attention to unsigned RFA Marcus Pettersson.
Last season, Aston-Reese, 24, was relegated to the Penguins AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to begin the campaign as the Penguins decided to give prospect Daniel Sprong a chance to stick in the NHL. Aston-Reese was recalled in November and played 43 games over the remainder of the season, including a couple of injuries which cost him significant time.
He scored 17 points (8g, 9a) in 43 games. Hockey-Graphs.com estimated Aston-Reese would win just over $1.2 million in arbitration. PHN’s less scientific estimate was also in that $1.2 million range.
Interestingly, the Penguins now have a three-day buy-out window for all players who make above $3.455 million and were on the Penguins reserve list at the 2019 trade deadline.
Earlier this month, the Penguins inked restricted free agent Teddy Blueger to a two-year, $1.5 million contract. Blueger declined arbitration. The Penguins lone remaining restricted free agent is Pettersson.
Pettersson is estimated to make between $1.6 million (per Hockey-Graphs) and $2 million (per PHN unscientific guestimate). The Penguins can save another $700,000 by sending another defenseman through waivers. They could also make a hard decision to use Tristan Jarry as the backup goalie and save an additional $475,000 or nearly $600,000 if DeSmith were claimed on waivers or traded.
Pittsburgh Hockey Now has chronicled Aston-Reese’s summer training. He has been training with the Penguins Director of Sports Science in Toronto to increase his muscle mass. Aston-Reese has shown flashes of offensive output. Last season, he ascended to Evgeni Malkin’s left wing. He had points in four of six games before he broke his hand after a fight with Florida Panther Colton Sceviour.
He also had six points in 10 games, including five points in five games before suffering a lower body injury which derailed the remainder of his regular season.