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Is Penguins’ Decision on Kapanen as Obvious as it Appears?

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Kasperi Kapanen, Pittsburgh Penguins

A month ago, the decision likely would have been easy for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The NHL’s collective bargaining agreement requires them to extend a qualifying offer of $840,000 to Kasperi Kapanen, who is about to become a restricted free agent, if they want to retain his rights.

Had that figure been much higher — it is based on 105 percent of his 2021-22 base salary of $800,000, not his salary-cap hit of $3.2 million — as the regular season was winding down, the closest thing to a tough call in that regard for Ron Hextall would have been determining whether to inform Kapanen by phone or by email that his second stint with the Penguins was over.

But during the waning days of April and the Penguins’ cursory visit to the Stanley Cup playoffs, Kapanen began to look like, well, Kasperi Kapanen is supposed to.

He skated hard pretty much every time he went over the boards, got open for shots and took them, played the body frequently and vigorously.

His efforts yielded only a pair of assists in seven games against the New York Rangers, but at the very least, he probably gave the front office cause to rethink whether he should be part of the future here.

Was his late-season resurgence evidence of what he could contribute on a regular basis in coming years, or simply an aberration that shouldn’t obscure that the only thing Kapanen should be counted on to do consistently well is underachieve?

Put that on the long list of questions that Hextall and his staff must deal with in the weeks ahead.

Kasperi Kapanen, Hello?

One thing seems certain: Kapanen has arbitration rights, and if he threatens to request a hearing to get a bump in pay, the Penguins should cut off talks immediately. Kapanen relinquished any leverage he would have had in contract talks with his performance this season.

There were far too many instances when he seemed to swap his No. 42 sweater for an invisibility cloak. For long stretches, the only time he got noticed was when he was carrying the puck across the opponent’s blue line, then abruptly curling toward the boards rather than driving to the net.

That he finished the season with just 11 goals and 21 assists in 79 games was not an indication of bad luck; it was a reflection of bad play.

“I had really good games this year,” Kapanen said a few days ago. “And I had really bad games.”

He didn’t mention that the latter far outnumbered the former.

Going into the season, Kapanen was projected to be a top-six winger — it did not seem unreasonable to pencil him in for at least 25 goals — but as the winter moved along, he was used up and down the lineup.

Now, usually when a guy does that, it’s testimony to his versatility and ability to adapt to a variety of roles. For Kapanen, it’s because Mike Sullivan couldn’t find a spot where he could contribute with any semblance of regularity.

His game never added up to anything close to the sum of its fairly impressive parts, and his confidence sank in tandem with his offensive output.

Kapanen acknowledged that it is imperative for him to regain “my swagger that I used to have. I don’t think it was there this year, and I think it showed.”

There is an obvious risk in allowing a 25-year-old with real talent to leave without getting something in return, especially for a team like the Pittsburgh Penguins, whose pool of high-end young players is more like a puddle.

Of course, there also is one for a team for which every nickel of cap space is precious in giving a seven-figure salary to a guy who might repay that investment with six months of frustration.

Kapanen is adamant that he wants to stay with the Penguins — “I love being here,” he said. “I’ve never felt better on any team in my life” — and they’ll have a clear need for top-six forwards if the likes of Evgeni Malkin, Bryan Rust and Rickard Rakell depart via free agency.

How about this for a solution: Hextall should offer Kapanen a contract. For one year. At a reduced salary.

If Kapanen proves his worth, reward him in 2023. If he doesn’t, let him look elsewhere for his next contract.

His search then would figure to be a lot more difficult than the one the Penguins would face in trying to fill the tiny void Kapanen’s departure would create if he flops for another season.

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Steve Malik
Steve Malik
4 months ago

Just sign him for 1M if he doesn’t take it so be it

charmaine dawso
charmaine dawso
4 months ago

excellent read as usual….I happen to like Kasperi and thought his end of season play was great…tho a truly frustrating year, this article explains a good way for the Penguins to see if the play he showed end of the season is indeed a new beginning.

Giskard
Giskard
4 months ago

Are you sure the qualifying offer is $3.2 million?
Capfriendly says that Kapanen Q.O. would be only $840,000 since the base salary of last season was only 800k:

PREVIOUS SALARY: $2,340,000
SIGNING BONUS: $1,540,000
BASE SALARY: $800,000
MULTIPLICATION FACTOR: 105%
QUALIFYING OFFER: $840,000
https://www.capfriendly.com/qualifying-offer-calculator/kasperi-kapanen

HarkeyPuck
HarkeyPuck
4 months ago

Great stuff Dave, I’m glad you’re here. You can tell the writers love hockey.

Kappy was my “breakout” player pick at the beginning of the season. He’s got all the tools just uses them incorrectly. Like if he drove the net the first 3-4 shifts of the game, that half wall curl up might catch a Dman cheating towards the net. The 1 year deal is a great idea.

charmaine dawso
charmaine dawso
4 months ago
Reply to  HarkeyPuck

the writers are steeped in their knowledge of the history of hockey, connections to the players and great insight…..

Dave Heyl
Dave Heyl
4 months ago

I believe Kappy should have been used on the PK, as that would have kept him in the game even if his offense suffered. If he failed there as well he was beyond redemption. Define his role before signing him to a $3 m one year deal, if by January 2023 he is not producing on PP & PK start shopping him.

Brandon o
Brandon o
4 months ago

32 points isnt going to get him a raise in arbitration anyways. I think 2 years @ 2 million gives the pens flexibility and a possible bargain year 2 if he can get back on track

Vince Gori
Vince Gori
4 months ago

I agree wholeheartedly with your assessment. Tender him and sign if you can hoping he doesn’t want a raise. If so let him walk. If he turns his game around he would be a steal. Also, I would be open to ZAR returning as a FA. His penalty killing was missed in the Playoffs.

Michael Hanczar
Michael Hanczar
4 months ago

Yes I like the idea of a ZAR return. Team could have used him in playoffs.

ric jefferies
ric jefferies
4 months ago

I’m just spit ballin’ here but I think Kapanen had trouble adjusting to the pens style of play which was ………ah, well, I’m not sure ? He did have some good moments of displaying his skating and puck handling but overall seemed to lack a sense of urgency.

Paul
Paul
4 months ago

Rick Tocchet described Kapanen (and Heinen) perfectly the other night — they want the puck, but they don’t want to get the puck. His age is the only the reason I would consider him for next season. Otherwise, he’s too passive, too soft. If this team is gonna change its stripes, especially in the postseason, then it can’t have passengers like him. If a guy has a Low T issue 4 1/2 seasons into his career, then odds are he’ll always have it.

BIG B
BIG B
4 months ago

HIS QUALIFYING OFFER IS NOT THAT IT IS WHAT HIS BASE SALARY IS THIS YEAR SO EASY DECISION TO EXTEND THE OFFER, IF HE GOES TO ARB HE GET DECREASED ON HIS CAP HIT AND THE PENS GET A SECOND BUYOUT WINDOW IN AUGUST.HE WILL HAVE TO SIGN A REASONABLE DEAL OR THE PENS WALK AWAY IN AUGUST WHEN ALL THE FREE AGENCY MONEY IS GONE.

Cal
Cal
4 months ago

100% he will be signed in Pitts. He is an asset. Now whether they keep him is a totally different story. Some other team will give his talents a shot.

Keith T.
Keith T.
4 months ago

Very interesting article Dave. The problem here is that JR became infatuated with Kapanen ever since he was drafted JR has fawned all over him irrationally. Perhaps due to his relationship with his dad or whatever. Nevertheless, he became fixated on getting him back from TOR and paid dearly doing so. Obviously this was an emotional obsession as opposed to a rational decision for JR (not unusual for him). Kapanen never really panned out in TOR (3rd line) and he is far less than what anyone hoped since the trade back here (3rd or 4th line). A minimum Qualifying offer… Read more »

Jeff Young
Jeff Young
4 months ago

Make him a team friendly offer… but I don’t see how being offered way less than you were making last year somehow makes you… work harder for your next contract? 42 should have been doing that this year, not next. Worst case, we don’t qualify and get that cap space. If we do get a team friendly deal, can we see him as a 3rd liner? Or do we expect to pay a 2nd line RW less than $2M per? I don’t see it… IOW, since he didn’t show he can be a consistent 2nd line RW, I don’t see… Read more »

Brad
Brad
4 months ago

Years left as a RFA might alter course as well. UFA OR RFA next season is a big difference as well