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Penguins Alternatives to Tatar; Is it Possible to Trade Jeff Carter?



Pittsburgh Penguins, Jeff Carter, Kasperi Kapanen

The Pittsburgh Penguins need to find some offensive pop in their bottom-six or risk having a giant chasm between their top-six and bottom-six. The result could be nearly exclusive pressure on the top players to provide the vast majority of offensive contributions, pending finding loose change in the couch cushions for a free agent or a Penguins trade.

The Penguins have recently been linked to free-agent winger Tomas Tatar.

Tatar, 32, makes a lot of sense. He would be the bottom-six offensive threat the team desperately needs, isn’t old, and can play with a fast, skilled team, as he did with New Jersey last season, when he scored 20 goals and 48 points.

He’s not a defensive liability, and without a contract by mid-August, his price tag probably isn’t what it was on July 1.

Tatar’s camp is playing the process close to the vest.

Regardless of Tatar’s desire to sign with the Penguins, the Penguins have significant obstacles, namely salary-cap space. On Aug. 7, Penguins president of hockey operations/GM Kyle Dubas said he’s not afraid of using waivers to create roster space. Still, both and show the Penguins about $220,000 under the salary cap, with a veteran such as Andreas Johnsson or Vinnie Hinostroza in the lineup, and about $79,000 over the cap with newly acquired Rem Pitlick, who makes $1.1 million, there.

Tatar had a solid season with New Jersey and has a history of offensive contributions. Before a down year with only 15 goals and 30 points in 2021-22, he had 30 points (10-20-30) in only 50 games with the Montreal Canadiens in 2020-21.

He’s a proven NHL player.

If Dubas can get Tatar for under $1 million, it’s an interesting proposition, but a player with Tatar’s pedigree should surely command more.

The Penguins’ salary-cap constraints are also limiting the team to a roster of 21 players. During his Aug. 7 press conference, Dubas said he wanted a roster of 22.

Adding just a little wrinkle to the process, an AHL rule limits teams to dressing five “veterans” who have played 260 games. A sixth can have fewer than 320 games. A team can sign unlimited veterans, but only six can be in the lineup for a given game (goaltenders excluded).

The Penguins’ organization has already met that quota, so signing a free agent and demoting one of the UFAs would create a logjam of veterans, likely forcing them to waive a recently signed player. It wouldn’t be unacceptable, but it wouldn’t be a good look to the players, either.

However, there are options for Dubas and the Penguins.

First and foremost is Drew O’Connor.

The Penguins waited out the Erik Karlsson trade market, then signed O’Connor to a two-year deal with a $925,000 AAV, which set in motion a Penguins’ buyout deadline and the extra motivation the teams needed to get it done.

Last season, O’Connor found his sea legs late in the campaign, but his statistical totals were underwhelming. He had 11 points (5-6-11) in 46 games, but O’Connor elevated his game for a stretch in March when the Penguins desperately needed someone.

It was his best stretch as an NHL player.

The 6-foot-3, 200-pounder began to show the power-forward ability the team hoped to see when they signed him as an undrafted college free agent from Dartmouth in 2020.

However, even his noticeable improvement in play didn’t come with points. He earned only two points (1-1-2) in 13 games during March.

Fortunately, at the 2023 World Championships, O’Connor had an offensive explosion, with eight points (3-5-8) in 10 games while playing center for Team USA coach David Quinn.

Perhaps O’Connor, 25, is ready to show the NHL a scoring pop worthy of consistent third-line work.

Penguins Trade

It would be silly for Dubas to trade a top-six winger to create space to sign Tatar. That’s like selling your groceries to buy dinner.

The biggest obstacle to a Penguins’ trade is opportunity. Beyond the Penguins’ top six forwards and top four defensemen, only a few players make more than $1 million. Newly signed Noel Acciari and center Lars Eller are the only forwards with paychecks above $1 million, except for Jeff Carter.

To clear cap space, Carter is the logical choice.

Last season, he had 13 goals with 29 points, but a minus-16 and eventual fourth-line duty.

Perhaps P.O Joseph or Ty Smith has some market value, but their salaries below $1 million mean the team would gain no cap flexibility by trading them.

Carter, 38, is in control. He not only holds a no-trade clause, but a full no-movement clause in addition to his 35+ contract. In short, the popular locker-room presence can block being placed on waivers and block any trade.

Even if he retires, his salary counts 100% against the salary cap.

A recent Instagram story from Carter was a picture of his family at the beach and the caption, “going to miss them soon.”

The post was an obvious reference to the coming hockey season, but Carter’s future would otherwise be in doubt without full control. Would Carter allow himself to be traded and then retire?

Carter comes with a $3.125 million salary-cap hit.

A best-case scenario for a Penguins trade would be dealing Carter with a 50% holdback and including a higher draft pick. A second-rounder seems to be the going rate.

There are significant impediments to that. First, Carter must approve. Second, another team would need to be willing. At this later stage of the offseason, most teams have already committed their money, and those that haven’t can palm that cap space, hoping for a greater return during the season.

Within those parameters and limitations, a trade seems unlikely.

Perhaps Carter senses the end and finds enough for one last gasp of a stellar 18-year career which currently includes 431 goals and 836 points, and he becomes the alternative to Tatar.

The offseason is almost over. os, too, are the Penguins’ options coming to an end. The current roster is more than likely the group of players that arrives for camp, give or take one, and the O’Connor option might just be the ticket.