Pittsburgh Penguins forward Zach Aston-Reese and the team appear to be headed towards a bruising arbitration battle Monday.
Technically, as of Sunday night, the Penguins do not have enough money to sign Aston-Reese to a proper deal. According to CapFriendly.com, the Penguins have about $850,000 of salary cap space, however, that figure includes depth defensemen Chad Ruhwedel and Zach Trotman on the roster. The Penguins realistically have about $1.5 million to $2.3 million pending if they send one or both to the AHL.
As of Sunday afternoon, no waiver transactions showed on the NHL transaction wire.
Sources close to the situation were guarded Sunday.
Those sources close to the situation expressed openness towards a deal but just hours before the hearing, no deal has been signed. One source termed the time period as sensitive.
The final 48 hours are the most critical and sides expressed both optimism and trepidation, though Pittsburgh Hockey Now has yet been unable to obtain the salary demands or offers involved.
Believe it or not, agreeing to a deal moments before the hearing is not unprecedented, so the situation could change in a New York minute.
Scientific estimates by Hockey-Graphs show Aston-Reese should earn between $1.2 and $1.3 million.
Aston-Reese has flashed a solid two-way game in his two seasons but has also struggled to stay healthy. He had a similar trajectory in college before exploding as one of the leading scorers in college hockey at Northeastern University in his junior and senior years.
Aston-Reese fits the Penguins new direction with responsible, heavy play and he attacks opponents. He has shown a willingness to play in the dirty areas and kill penalties, too. Aston-Reese could be more than a fourth liner, but is currently a valuable fourth-line asset.
Penguins GM Jim Rutherford is making a mistake by dragging the situation along. Nothing good can come from the small savings the Penguins may or may not recoup by hammering their player in the arbitration hearing. The Penguins are investing resources in Aston-Reese this summer as he trains with Director of Sports Science Andy O’Brien. The Penguins should sign Aston-Reese to a fair one-year deal.
PHN has no sense from speaking with sources around the situation that an unreasonable ask has been made. Rather the hold up has been the Penguins’ patience.