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$7 Million and Too Many Unsigned; Can Rutherford Escape Cap Jail?

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Pittsburgh Penguins Jared McCann vs. Braden Holtby Washington Capitals

Following the Pittsburgh Hockey Now report and subsequent information from national sources that at least one potential suitor cooled to the Pittsburgh Penguins price for goalie Matt Murray, the Penguins find themselves in a bind.

According to CapFriendly.com, the Penguins have about $8.1 million in salary-cap space, but that does not include the eventual promotion of goalie Casey DeSmith to the NHL roster. After DeSmith is added to the NHL roster, Penguins GM Jim Rutherford has about $6.9 million to sign four lineup regulars, including goalie Tristan Jarry, forward Jared McCann, winger Dominik Simon, and Sam Lafferty.

Oh, and the Penguins also need a third-pairing defenseman.

So the Penguins calculus is changing, too. There was some wonder if the Penguins could net an NHL return, such as a third-pair defenseman, or, as a rival GM wondered to PHN if the Penguins would use Murray as the asset to shed salary. However, those wonders appear to have been answered to the negative.

And so GM Jim Rutherford probably must say goodbye to a talented player, or two, and force head coach Mike Sullivan to insert depth options into the starting lineup.

Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet reported Rutherford was testing the waters to trade Jared McCann, who could make nearly $3 million next season. And likely sub $1 million winger Sam Lafferty into the lineup? RHD Chad Ruhwedel and his paltry $700,000 salary pressed into the starting lineup?

Let’s assume Tristan Jarry will make nearly $3 million, too. An All-Star goalie with arbitration rights has a pretty good case. After signing Lafferty and Jarry, the Penguins would have about $3 million left. Then factor signing Dominik Simon or another depth forward at a minimal salary, and the piggybank will have $2.2 million.

Assuming something close to an $800,000 cushion for emergency spending, Rutherford will have about $1.4 million for talent upgrades if he moves McCann. Based on playoff configurations and roster regulars, the lines could look something like this (Perhaps Jason Zucker will play with Sidney Crosby, but for now, we’ll keep the playoff lines):

Guentzel-Crosby-Kapanen

Zucker-Malkin-Rust

Lafferty-Bjugstad-Hornqvist

Aston-Reese–Blueger–Tanev

There’s talent above, but it’s not a completed puzzle. The blueline may suffer even more under the current trajectory. We don’t expect a Penguins trade involving Kris Letang.

Dumoulin-Letang

Pettersson-Marino

Johnson-Ruhwedel

Moving past the loyalties, hopes, or induced misanthropy for any one player, does the above look like a Stanley Cup lineup?

Third Line: McCann, Nick Buugstad, and Patric Hornqvist Penguins Trade?

It’s out there. If the Penguins deal McCann, they would have about $1.4 million in available funds to accept an NHL player. That’s probably not enough to yield a quality third-pair d-man or a third-line player in return.

If the Penguins top prospect Sam Poulin can elbow his way into the lineup, the Penguins could demote Simon or Lafferty to the AHL, but the math doesn’t really change. Poulin will count $894k against the cap.

Dealing McCann might be necessary to avoid an unwieldy contract not commensurate with his 14 goals and 21 assist season. Like the Murray deal, trading McCann probably won’t make the Penguins significantly better in the short run. At 24-years-old, and only a 35-point scorer, McCann is still more potential than production.

Nick Bjugstad may be the easiest name to toss out in a Penguins trade, but after playing only 13 games this season and not distinguishing himself over the past several NHL seasons, it’s not hard to surmise there is not a line of teams itching to take on his $4.1 million salary.

In fact, it would probably cost the Penguins an asset to move Bjugstad, and Rutherford doesn’t have many left. It would also leave the Penguins with a hole at the third-line center.

The above math leaves us…Patric Hornqvist.

The crazy Swede who infuriates defensemen, figuratively brings buckets of energy, and often leaves a little blood on the ice makes over $5 million. The Penguins signed free-agent winger Brandon Tanev to a six-year deal last July 1. Tanev’s blend of speed and recklessness could replace Hornqvist at even strength.

But replacing Hornqvist on the power play is a task too great for the current roster, as the Penguins coaches learned in Game 1 of the Qualifying Round series against the Montreal Canadiens.

Hornqvist had 17 goals in 52 games this season.

And, this entire math is predicated on the Penguins spending to the salary cap next season. Sources told PHN, and other outlets, that is not a given.

From here, it doesn’t appear Rutherford has many good options. The Pittsburgh Penguins trade potentials exist, but going forward, it’s unlikely they’ll make the Penguins better.

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