Ron Hextall has made a few bold moves during his time as general manager of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Witness his decision during the past offseason to re-sign Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang to long-term contracts, even though both are in their mid-30s.
So far, though, Hextall hasn’t done anything that could be considered even remotely daring.
It’s time for that to change.
It’s time to end, or at least suspend, the Penguins’ gamble on a first-round draft choice who has tantalizing talents — and very little tangible production to show for them.
It’s time to part ways with Kasperi Kapanen.
For a while, anyway. Maybe forever.
Sure, doing that would be a tacit admission that re-signing Kapanen this summer — and giving him the same money he received on his previous deal — had been a mistake, but keeping him on the NHL roster would be a bigger one.
After a reasonably solid start to the season, Kapanen has played his way out of the lineup; he spent the Penguins’ 4-1 victory in Washington Wednesday in street clothes.
Not that he was much less visible then than he had been during the past few weeks.
After putting up one goal and four assists in the first five games — and showing some promise as a penalty-killer — this season, Kapanen had gone seven in a row without a point. And yes, “without a point” can be taken several ways.
Ideally, the Penguins would be able to trade him for a meaningful asset. Which seems about as likely as, ideally, everyone reading this getting a share of the next Powerball lottery jackpot.
Assuming Hextall would be unable to deal Kapanen — and, really, what would any competent GM be willing to give up in such an exchange? — he still would have the option of assigning him to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, which would entail putting him on waivers.
Whether the greatest risk in making such a move is that another club would take Kapanen — or that none would — is open to debate.
If the Pittsburgh Penguins were to put Kapanen on waivers, here are the possible outcomes:
- He passes through them unclaimed, goes to Wilkes-Barre and gets his game to where it should be, and eventually rejoins the Penguins as a significant contributor.
He passes through them unclaimed, goes to Wilkes-Barre and makes no meaningful progress, at which point he should begin to investigate the real estate market in northeastern Pennsylvania, because he’d likely be there for a while.
Some team, which either has not scouted him for the past couple of years and/or has $3.2 million worth of salary-cap space with which to gamble, claims him, after which Kapanen begins to take his production in a positive direction or his new club begins to explore its options for how to become another of his former teams.
Even if, after going elsewhere, Kapanen would somehow begin to produce the way a player who skates well and has a good shot should — suffice to say, recording 23 goals and 44 assists over 131 games since the Penguins acquired him from Toronto doesn’t meet that standard — his departure would open $3.2 million in salary-cap space for a team that has spent most of the season within a few dollars of the cap ceiling.
No longer being handcuffed by cap considerations would allow Hextall to more fully explore moves to bolster areas of his depth chart that would benefit from an upgrade.
If the cap weren’t a consideration, maybe — maybe — the Penguins could justify keeping Kapanen around, on the off-chance that he’d become the player they’ve envisioned. But the cap is real, and so is the way Kapanen, 26, has performed for most of his time here.
The Pittsburgh Penguins liked his potential and his bloodlines — his dad, Sami Kapanen, was a capable NHLer for 13 seasons — enough that they spent a first-round draft choice (a rare and precious commodity for this franchise) on him in 2014, and only grudgingly parted with him a year later in the trade that brought Phil Kessel from Toronto
And while it took five years, Jim Rutherford, the GM who had drafted him, got Kapanen back in a seven-asset swap with the Maple Leafs in 2020. That trade cost the Penguins a first-round draft choice and Filip Hallander (who later was reacquired); suffice to say, they haven’t gotten much of a return on their investment.
Giving up on a 26-year-old who seems to have so much to offer can’t be easy, but the total of Kapanen’s game never has equaled the sum of its parts. And the Penguins have up to 3.2 million reasons to move away from him now.