The Pittsburgh Penguins received a gift from the Buffalo Sabres GM, and former Penguins assistant GM, Jason Botterill, Wednesday. Penguins GM Jim Rutherford offloaded winger Conor Sheary and defenseman Matt Hunwick to the Sabres in exchange for only a conditional 2019 fourth-round pick. The move will clear $5.25 million of cap space for the Penguins.
The Penguins signed Hunwick, 33, to a three year, $6.75 million contract, last July 1. However, Hunwick struggled and the Penguins relegated the defenseman to the press box for much of the second half of the season. Chad Ruhwedel took Hunwick’s position as the Penguins third pairing defenseman.
Sheary, 26, also signed a three-year contract last summer. Sheary’s deal was worth $9 million but he too struggled this season. The 5-foot-9 winger scored only 30 points after posting 53 points in 61 games in 2016-17. Sheary admitted to Pittsburgh Hockey Now he may have put too much pressure on himself with the new contract. He could be a valuable asset to the top Sabres centers, Jack Eichel and Ryan O’Reilly.
One source connected to the Penguins front office indicated to Pittsburgh Hockey Now the cap space will be used for free agency not on a trade, but nothing is written in stone.
Update 1:46 p.m.: A second source inside the Penguins indicated to PHN that a trade could be the Penguins preferred method, if possible.
Update: 2:44 p.m.: Per Penguins Twitter, Jim Rutherford said, “Our priority in this offseason is to add another defenseman.”
The Penguins are thought to be in negotiations with center Riley Sheahan, who was not tendered a qualifying offer by the team, Monday. PHN also reported the Penguins have been in contact with pending UFA Anthony DucLair, and reported by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Jason Mackey the Penguins have engaged in conversations with defenseman Jack Johnson.
Johnson, 31, had only 11 points (3g, 8a) in 77 games for the Columbus Blue Jackets. It was by all accounts, a bad year for Johnson as he also earned heat from Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella. Johnson is a long time friend of Sidney Crosby. The pair were the only sophomores on the powerful 2003 St. Mary-Shattuck team which won the USA Hockey Tier I 17 & Under National Championship. Crosby and Johnson also incited a bench-clearing brawl during a baseball game. Read that story from the Star Tribune here.
There are still many variables, but the Penguins just escaped salary cap jail. Now, they need a left wing, at least one defenseman, and a center.