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Penguins Decisions & Consequences: What If…?

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Pittsburgh Penguins, Kris Letang

Two heavy decisions and a cascading line of actions, reactions, and consequences await. As Kasperi Kapanen recently chuckled, the Pittsburgh Penguins have more significant decisions (than him), as new contracts for Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang headline GM Ron Hextall’s to-do list.

Computer programmers used an “if, then, else” process to code, and it’s a sound logic sequence, too.

Often, we are asked questions like, “why don’t the Penguins…” or “They should…”

And often, my reply comes in the form of follow-up. If the Penguins don’t sign Kris Letang, their options are not so great to replace him. Suppose the Penguins do (x) then (y). Context and consequence are everything.

Pittsburgh Penguins, If, Then, Else:

IF: The Penguins sign Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang?

THEN: Hextall will most likely have spent about $16 million or more of the Penguins’ $23 million salary-cap space, leaving $7 million and some pennies to sign Rickard Rakell, Evan Rodrigues, Kasperi Kapanen or replacement, Danton Heinen or replacement, a fourth-liner to side-saddle Teddy Blueger, and a backup goalie.

Else: With only $7 million, the Penguins can’t ice a legit team without a trade. Saying goodbye to a prospect packaged with a salary is the likeliest Penguins trade possibility because Hextall won’t give up his first-round pick and doesn’t possess a second or third. The other likely trade piece is Marcus Pettersson.

Every dollar above $16 million for the pair makes assembling the rest of the team more difficult. Every dollar less helps…

IF: The Penguins do not re-sign Evgeni Malkin?

Then: It’s hard to imagine a Penguins trade in this spot. They don’t have the prospects, picks, or pieces to spare for such a deal.

So, we look to the UFA market of potential scoring line centers. There are some to watch, but the competition will be fierce. There are three bonafide scoring line centers and maybe up to seven, including Malkin, who could hit the market.

Unfortunately, Malkin far and away had the best offensive goals-per-game stats (.5). However, Nazem Kadri had a whopping 87 points (28-59-87). There’s a steep drop to Vincent Trocheck, who had 51 points in 81 games. Ryan Strome had 54 points in 74 games, but it is hard to see the New York Rangers letting him walk. The same goes for Patrice Bergeron and the Boston Bruins.

If one player could pick up the phone and get Bergeron to leave Boston, maybe it would be former Team Canada teammate Sidney Crosby? Two summers ago, Zdeno Chara was never leaving the Bruins but signed with Washington.

Paul Statsny, 36, and Andrew Copp, 27, are the others on the market. Statsny had a rebound year with the Winnipeg Jets. He scored 45 points (21-24-45) in 71 games after just 29 points in 55 games during the COVID-shortened season.

Copp came alive with the Rangers and had a great series against the Penguins. He can also kill penalties. He was a constant shorthanded threat against the Penguins. However, being a second-line center might be a stretch for both.

Else: There should be extra money for UFA “wants” like Evan Rodrigues or a middle-six scoring winger. If winning now is still the goal, Hextall will have to overpay for Kadri if he hits the market or Trocheck. Both could hit the $7 million AAV mark. Neither will be team-friendly deals, but that will be the price of losing Malkin.

IF: The Penguins do not re-sign Kris Letang

Then: Uh oh. System error.

The drop-off in available RHD from Kris Letang to John Klingberg is slight, but Klingberg will sign a massive contract this summer, probably well beyond the Penguins’ pain tolerance. After that, the drop-off is a cliff.

Jeff Petry, Colin Miller, and Josh Manson would be the next available tier, either through free agency or trade. Neither Miller nor Manson nor the crop of potentials are top-pairing defensemen, but the Penguins will have to make do in some way.

Else: “Then” is the failsafe option here. Otherwise, Hextall may have to replace the motherboard with a flurry of moves to improve the Penguins.

IF: The Penguins do not re-sign Kasperi Kapanen

Then: The Penguins’ salary cap structure will have a few million dollars to find a potential 20-goal scorer. There are not many “middle-class” right-wingers who can score goals. Ilya Mikheyev is out there and should land in that price range. He popped 20 goals for Toronto this season.

Perhaps that money gets them closer to Nino Niederreiter.

Hey, Dominik Simon is also out there.

Also, the Kapanen’s QO is less than $1 million, so Hextall can maintain Kapanen’s rights without serious effort to re-sign him. Perhaps Kapanen’s rights also have some trade value. The player who commanded a mid-first round pick just two offseasons ago had a terrible year after posting 30 points in 40 games during his first Penguins season.

Else: If the Penguins decide for a parting of the ways, can they recoup a third-rounder? Perhaps a backup goalie?

IF: The Pittsburgh Penguins do not re-sign Casey DeSmith

Then: The search for a backup begins in earnest. There are few low-cost backup goalies set to hit the free-agent market. Perhaps Edmonton’s Mikko Koskinen will become a bargain option. Perhaps Mike Smith wants a backup role if he doesn’t retire, but the pickin’s are slim. As colleague Dave Molinari noted, (Penguins backup goalie options)the list included also-rans Martin Jones, David Rittich, and Malcolm Subban.

Else: Pray that Tristan Jarry stays healthy. Or Marc-Andre Fleury declares he wants to eschew a few million more dollars and end his career as a low-paid backup just to hang out with Sidney Crosby.

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Pittsburgh Hockey Now Editor-in-Chief, formerly 93.7 The Fan, Sportsnet Hockey Tonight, NHL Home Ice. Catch Dan tweeting @theDanKingerski and the official @pghhockeynow account.

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Paul
Paul
2 months ago
UFA Eric Comrie would be on my radar. He was very good with the Jets last season, and at 27, he could have another level. Could be had for $2 mill or less. Added bonus: He has won as many postseason series as the de facto No. 1 goalie.
Last edited 2 months ago by Paul
Ed Andrews
Ed Andrews
2 months ago
Reply to  Paul

Pretty cut and dry, if you dont sign Letang or Malkin, then the rebuild should start. I would resign them and start adding the pieces to deflect the growing pain and hope you wont be detroit. Would Murray as a Bkup Goalie be an option

Paul
Paul
2 months ago
Reply to  Ed Andrews

I would trade Jarry while he still has some value. No way would I commit to a long-term deal. Would replace him and DeSmith with Gibson in trade and Comrie in free agency. Does HexBurke have the vision and know-how to get it done? BTW, Murray would never want to return here. The Senators have far more growth potential than than his old team at the moment. If he can stay healthy, which is a yuge if, I see better days for him and his team in the near future.

Last edited 2 months ago by Paul
Zane Gearhart
Zane Gearhart
2 months ago
Reply to  Paul

Jarry played 58 games
This year
6th in league in sv% 9.19
6th in league at GAA 2.42
Career
159 games
2.57 GAA
9.15 SV%
Gibson played 56 games this year
36th in league in sv% .904
43rd in league in GAA 3.19
Career
378games, 2.67 gaa, 9.15 sv%
Why would a cap crunched team spend almoat double on a goalie with nearly the same Career averages?

Paul
Paul
2 months ago
Reply to  Zane Gearhart

Because I would trust Gibson over Jarry in a big game. Have we already forgotten that goaltending was the No. 1 reason why this team failed against lesser opponents in last two postseasons. Gibson was one of the elite goalies in the league not long ago — his GSAA was crazy good for three seasons — and I bet a return to his hometown and a playoff-caliber team would get him to that level again. He’s only 28 and locked up for the next five seasons at a reasonable $6.4 mill per. (Jarry is at 4.5 now and no doubt… Read more »

Last edited 2 months ago by Paul
Phil
Phil
2 months ago
Reply to  Paul

So now the team should make trades to excite the fan base?? I thought the goal was to win? Not make trades to please you. And dwindling fan base? So your only a fan when were winning cups? That’s why you dont appreciate any of the players, especially 58 71 cause your not a true ride or die fan. All your comments make sense now. Tristan jarry is an elite goalie. John Gibson was a solid goalie but hasnt looked like that in a while. And as you state. He has a higher cap hit for 5 yrs. So we… Read more »

Rhodepop
Rhodepop
2 months ago

Simon!?!? You crack me up.

I love Geno but he has missed over 60 games in the last 2 seasons. His per game stats are great but can he stay healthy?

We should keep our eyes on the Bruins. I am not sure what happened with Cassidy-did he lose the locker room? The front office botched a few things and maybe they thought Rask could come back. Some players seem unhappy.

I agree with another Commenter regarding Comrie. Dallas has 5 goalies on their roster although I am not sure how many are healthy.

Rich Filardi
Rich Filardi
2 months ago

Without moving salary Dan, they seem to be in a bind regardless of who signs. Too much money spent on defense and not allot of viable replacements across the entire board without an overpayment which doesnt make them better overall.

Vince Gori
Vince Gori
2 months ago

You joked about Simon being out there, actually that isn’t too far fetched. For that matter so is ZAR. Neither coming back would be catastrophic if you ask me. Our castaways (including JJ) are not really that terrible at the right price. Youth and inexperience is not always better.

Dean
Dean
2 months ago

I think Malkin and Letang will sign and the cost will be under $14M. They have to either trade Zucker or buy him out if they are going to be a contender. They have to get a true top 6 player for Malkin. Neither Zucker or Rakall are it. I would rather see a center and move Malkin to the wing. They will trade Pettersson. The only way Rodriques should be signed is under $1.5M. He had a 30-game stretch that he will never repeat. The last 50 games are who he has been for 4-5 years. I trust Hextall… Read more »

Jay95
Jay95
2 months ago
Reply to  Dean

I think the best we scan hope for in regards to salaries Letang and Geno would be 15mil. And, that’s wishful thinking. Also, a healthy Zucker is 100% a top 6 forward. Rakell fits very well with this team also

Rob
Rob
2 months ago

This article was fun. I am ready for the playoffs to end and then the speculation will end because then trades can start and things will start shaping up around the draft and then finally, free agency. There are so many parts that need to move before anything can happen. If Hex doesn’t trade out some salary before signing Malkin and letang, they are gonezo. Once free agency hits, both guys will price their way out of Pittsburgh and we will be watching Carter as the #2 center and Matheson as the #1 d next season. I sure hope that… Read more »

Last edited 2 months ago by Robert Shoemaker
James
James
2 months ago
Reply to  Rob

Although I am enjoying these playoffs, I tend to agree with you here. If we don’t see a little salary dump trade at some point, I have a feeling we may see one of Malkin or Letang head out. The optimist and pragmatist tells me that it won’t happen and that it’s way better that Pit finds a way to keep them. I just think people over estimate the teams ability to gel with replacements to the point of being on the same level as they are/were with letang/malkin. It just doesn’t make sense to me to roll the dice… Read more »

David
David
2 months ago

Since his 3rd season in the league, Geno has played only 72% of available regular season games. The last few years he has played drastically less. I love Geno and am grateful for what he has done for the Pens, but what do you pay, and for how long of a term, for a 36 year old with his injury history — when you are hurting for cap space? He made $9.5 million per year under his expired contract — which was higher than Crosby. Rust signed for $5.125. In my mind Geno is worth no more than $6 million… Read more »

Last edited 2 months ago by David
Chris R
Chris R
2 months ago

Mikheyev’s likely to go for $4–$5 million, so him as a replacement for Kapanen doesn’t seem feasible, but he’d be a nice add. He’s more reliable than many of the current cast, including this iteration of Kapanen, and, like Kapanen, is a speedster and can outrace much of the competition. The general consensus is that he’ll be leaving the Leafs, but who knows—Dubas may find a way to re-sign him. Maybe Engvall goes instead.

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