Jim Rutherford and the Penguins have made some serious progress in their offseason plan over the past two days, locking up Bryan Rust for four years Tuesday and then sending Conor Sheary and Matt Hunwick backing to Buffalo before lunch Wednesday.
The team achieved needed cost-certainty with the first move, salary relief with the second. There will be risk involved in every adjustment — Will Rust continue to outperform his pedigree? Will Sheary erupt on Jack Eichel‘s wing? — but the Penguins appear to be in good shape for however they want to go about this offseason.
At the same time, while the roughly $10 million in cap room they have now is about twice as much as they had at sunrise Wednesday, it’s still not a ton in the league-wide scheme. As of Wednesday afternoon, the Penguins still have the fifth-least cap space in the NHL, with the Kings, Lightning, Panthers and Blackhawks the only teams more constrained.
As previously discussed and/or reported here on Pittsburgh Hockey Now, the Penguins are in the running for Hurricanes winger Jeff Skinner via trade, plus they have free agents Jack Johnson and Anthony Duclair in their sights. Throw in the more-likely-than-not return of Jamie Oleksiak and Riley Sheahan for 2018-19, and Rutherford might have to orchestrate another one-sided salary dump.
Enter one Carl Hagelin.
Like Sheary, Hagelin underperformed his salary last season, giving the Penguins 10 goals and 31 total points for $4 million. Hagelin is worth more than his offensive numbers because of his versatility, speed and defensive acumen (penalty-killing included) but if we’re searching for a candidate to remove from the payroll, the hirsute Swede might be the easiest to move.
Hagelin has one year left on his contract, so a potential trade partner wouldn’t be taking on much in terms of length. The problem is that, much like how Sheary was dangled as a sweetener to get Jason Botterill to put Hunwick on Terry Pegula‘s payroll, the Penguins will probably have to throw in something else of value if they do dangle Hagelin.
The Penguins admittedly don’t have much in the AHL pipeline at the moment, but Tristan Jarry stands out as a player that could help instigate another salary dump.
The organization’s goalie depth isn’t what it once was, not since prospect Filip Gustavsson was moved to Ottawa to help procure Derick Brassard. However, there doesn’t appear to be much in terms of potential sweeteners in the system. Daniel Sprong would be too much to give away, as would the intriguing Jordy Bellerive.
Jarry, on the other hand, is likely blocked in Pittsburgh for the time being. Not only is Matt Murray secured for the next two seasons, but Casey DeSmith showed some things in 2017-18, things that probably put him on level footing with Jarry in the backup battle at the upcoming training camp.
Otherwise, the Penguins don’t have enough on defense to spare a player for sweetening purposes. The same likely goes for the center position, too, with limited-ceiling prospects Adam Johnson and Teddy Blueger the next men up in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
The saying goes that you have to give to get. With where the Penguins are and how aggressive Rutherford can be, they probably still need to give in order to give some more. The only advice from this corner is this: Don’t get attached to a complementary player.