You can say one thing. Believe that thing. But when it gets tested, realize a different course of action is preferable. Pittsburgh Penguins GM Ron Hextall may soon find himself in that situation when he has to submit his protected list to the NHL ahead of the 2021 Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft on July 21.
We won’t know what type of team the Seattle Kraken will be until we see the type of players GM Ron Francis puts together or the type of coach he hires. We can guess from his Carolina Hurricanes roster construction and from the players the Pittsburgh Penguins will make available, who will be in the great northwest next season.
Or the Penguins can gamble to change the equation.
The Penguins can take a chance and expose 36-year-old Jeff Carter, hoping Seattle does not need an aged veteran with one more year on his contract.
The more I sat with that idea, the less appealing and dangerous it became, but it may also be the only choice. Put a pin in that, and we’ll circle back.
Teams can protect either eight skaters or seven forwards and three defensemen. First and second-year players are exempt, so the Penguins will not have to protect John Marino. Everyone else is fair game.
The Penguins should re-sign defenseman Cody Ceci, but not until about one second after the expansion draft.
Teams got wise to former Vegas GM George McPhee’s scam to fleece teams for additional picks to select players. In some cases, it worked well (Alex Tuch), and in other cases, it worked extremely well (Marc-Andre Fleury). When Francis spoke to PHN last summer, even he admitted that he wouldn’t be able to recreate that con-game.
More GMs will take Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Ron Hextall’s approach and not give up the extra tribute.
“My approach is that we’re going to probably lose a pretty good player and rather than give up a couple of assets to try to try to keep (players),” Ron Hextall said on Wednesday. “I think we’ll probably lose a pretty good player. I’m speculating there, obviously, who knows what will come along, but right at this point, I’d say we’ll just lose a player.”
PHN’s Projected Penguins Protected List
Protected Forwards: Sidney Crosby, Jake Guentzel, Bryan Rust, Evgeni Malkin, Kasperi Kapanen, Jared McCann, and Brandon Tanev.
Exposed: Jeff Carter, Jason Zucker, Zach Aston-Reese, Teddy Blueger.
Protected Defensemen: Kris Letang, Brian Dumoulin, Mike Matheson.
Exposed: Marcus Pettersson.
Who Goes & Why
The Penguins big choice is between Jared McCann and Jeff Carter. Neither can be easily replaced. The more the idea of gambling on Carter sat, the greater the thought that a veteran who can still play, who brings leadership into the room, and personality, is the very type of player that Francis should want.
Remember how important Deryk Engelland was to the original Vegas Golden Knights?
Carter is almost a necessity for the Penguins. Their hunt for a third-line center was in its fourth season. Teddy Blueger’s crew did a bang-up job when they were cast as third liners. All three put up career numbers (Blueger and Tanev in points per game, Aston-Reese in total goals).
The Penguins lineup was dynamic with Carter, but they can’t lose a 26-year McCann who is on his way to establishing himself as a 20-goal scorer. During his trade campaign, McCann had a 19-goal season when the Penguins acquired him from Florida in 2018-19. Since, he’s put up consecutive 14-goal seasons, though he popped 14 in 43 games this season.
The Penguins would have a much easier time replacing Pettersson or Zucker than either Carter or McCann.
Perhaps Hextall will reverse course and find a way to entice Francis to make Pettersson or Zucker part of the inaugural Seattle Kraken. Francis should like Zucker, whose speed and gritty game would fit well with the type of team Francis built in Carolina. However, Zucker’s $5.5 million salary combined with a salary cap that will be flat for years to come makes Zucker’s middling offensive production more expensive than it’s worth.
For a small asset, the Penguins could eat some of Zucker’s salary for the next two seasons. If Seattle sent the Penguins a late-round pick, the Penguins could keep $1 million.
And have $4.5 million left to replace him if Seattle was amendable, of course.
McCann is clearly on the rise. His offensive game has grown and been increasingly consistent, too. Presumably, he’ll take the final steps as the Penguins complete his transformation from fourth-line center to sniper.
Unfortunately, McCann hasn’t hit the water from the boat in the playoffs. In 11 games, he has three assists and was mostly invisible again during the Penguins’ six-game loss to New York.
Despite that knock, Seattle would jump at McCann.
And they very well could take Carter.
If the Penguins are in “win-now” mode, as Hextall confirmed, Hextall should reverse his course and spend an asset to keep one of those players.