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Penguins Buyout Possibilities and Costs

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Pittsburgh Penguins, Ryan Graves, Tristan Jarry

We’re still waiting. The NHL buyout window will begin Wednesday at 5 p.m. after the Stanley Cup is finally awarded on Monday, beginning the 48-hour waiting period before teams can buy their way out of bad contracts or sacrifice contracts to create more salary cap space.

The Pittsburgh Penguins could make a buyout. They might not.

A few names could be buyout casualties around the league, offering the Penguins additional free-agent potentials.

The extraordinarily late conclusion of the NHL season has created a collision between the buyout window and the NHL Draft. The overlap has always existed to a small degree, but teams had a couple of weeks to make the decision, and the draft presented the last chance to make a trade to alleviate the bad contract rather than swallowing hard and accepting the consequences of dead money.

This offseason, general managers, including Penguins president of hockey operations/GM Kyle Dubas, have a matter of a few days. The window slams shut on June 30.

Teams with arbitration cases get a second buyout window following an award or settlement, but it will not open until late July or early August.

Despite or because of the glacial progress of the Stanley Cup Final, teams have begun trading. And since it has been more than two months since the end of the Penguins’ season, and Dubas has not yet been able to tweak the roster, we’re safe to assume there is not a bustling market for the Penguins’ trade chips.

Reilly Smith, Ryan Graves, Rickard Rakell, and Marcus Pettersson are the prominent trade possibilities, but Graves would not be a chip that brings back any return and would likely cost an asset to move.

Rakell and Pettersson are not buyout candidates as both have considerable value to the team and appropriate contracts. After Rakell recovered from a catastrophically bad start and injury last season, he scored 15 goals with 33 points in his final 53 games, which would be within the margins of his career averages. He has four years remaining on his contract with a $5 million salary cap hit.

Of course, Pettersson is the Penguins’ most reliable defenseman. He has just one year remaining on his deal, which has a $4.025 million cap hit. Should the Penguins put him on the trade block next season, there will be no shortage of interested parties.

Because of pure exhaustion, we’ll table more talk of Tristan Jarry in that category.

The two Penguins buyout candidates are Smith and Graves. Both would save significant money next season, but Graves would hang around on the Penguins’ payroll for a decade more.

All of the salary info is from PuckPedia’s buyout calculator.

Reilly Smith Buyout Cost

Smith’s contract has one year remaining and has an average annual value of $5 million. This season, he scored only 13 goals and 40 points in 76 games. There were persistent rumors that he wasn’t happy in Pittsburgh, but the player bluntly shot down that chatter.

Dubas could choose to grab the cash and pay a one-year penalty with a buyout. A buyout would add nearly $2.7 million to the Penguins cap space this summer but take away $1.33 million next summer.

Dubas snagged Smith from the defending Stanley Cup champion Vegas Golden Knights at the 2023 NHL Draft in Nashville for a third-round pick. It was a necessary salary dump for Vegas, and if Dubas doesn’t find a similar deal waiting for him at the draft in Las Vegas this week, a buyout makes sense.

Mathematically, a trade with a 50% retention would be superior to the buyout and could net the Penguins at least some return.

Ryan Graves Buyout Cost

If the LA Kings can find a trade for Pierre-Luc Dubois, a buyout for Graves would seem even more unlikely. The 29-year-old defenseman had a bad year with the Penguins, prompting Dubas to say, “You can’t sugarcoat it,” in his season-ending press conference.

If the Penguins decide that Graves isn’t a fit for the lineup, there are trade options.

Graves has five years remaining on his contract, and the next two years would not provide much relief. The Penguins would save $2.75 million next season and about $2 million in two seasons before the savings drop to $1 million for two years. The buyout would then cost the Penguins $750,000 per season for five seasons.

It seems even less than unlikely, bordering on impossible, but teams have bitten bigger bullets. See also Minnesota with Ryan Suter and Zach Parise.

Here’s the cost breakdown:

Year 1 cost: $1.75 million. Savings: $2.75 million
Year 2 cost: $2.5 million. Savings: $2 million
Years 3 and 4 cost: $3.5 million. Savings: $1 million.
Years 5 cost: $3.75 million. Savings $750,000.
Years 6-10 cost: $750,000.

Ouch.