The NHL trade market is different than it was one year ago. NHL GMs have overspent en masse, perhaps not expecting so much company and so few teams with the salary cap space to create soft landings for their overspending mistakes. Moving bad contracts and regrets now costs a first-round pick. It’s not fair, but if the Pittsburgh Penguins want to move Kasperi Kapanen, his value is no longer a first-round pick in return but includes a tethered first-rounder to facilitate the deal.
No, that’s not fair, but the few GMs with cap space realized their value, and the demand for their cap space is not going down.
And, since we can generally assume that Penguins GM Ron Hextall would sooner submit to an unscreened dunk tank on Broad St in mid-January than he would include a first-rounder to move Kapanen, the Penguins have only a couple of options moving forward.
And yes, the Kapanen signing immediately brings a cascade of hindsight, especially since so many immediately panned it, but Kapanen is signed for this season and next at $3.2 million per.
There’s no changing that.
The Penguins lost the last eight games in which Kapanen played. While the advanced stats are a mixed bag, Brock McGinn scored five goals in his first seven games with Jeff Carter on the third line.
Kapanen has scored five goals in his last 62 games.
The level of coincidence is up for debate, but the Penguins are 5-1-0 in the last six games without Kapanen.
Option A is to find a way to get Kapanen playing time to find his game. He does have one 20-goal season on his resume and scored 30 points in 40 games in his first Penguins season.
Ice time might be in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, or it may come as a second-chance/last-chance scenario with the Pittsburgh Penguins. However, he wasn’t helping his NHL team win for enough of last season and 13 games this season.
Option B is to wait until the summer and enact a buyout, thus taking an approximately $1 million cap hit in the next two seasons.
Option C is to find a comparably bad contract on another team and make the dreaded “change of scenery” deal. There are no less than a dozen teams trying to move salary. None want to take on salary, creating an NHL trade stalemate, but some teams will have to realize swapping problems might be the only way out of the predicament.
Sometimes, those scenery trades can work exceptionally well. Former Penguins GM Jim Rutherford fleeced Chicago for Trevor Daley in exchange for (respectfully) an expired Rob Scuderi. Rutherford also horribly whiffed when he sent Carl Hagelin to Los Angeles for the scuffling Tanner Pearson.
Regarding Option C, PHN has been speaking with colleagues, pouring over stat sheets and salary cap numbers for that possible fit. We’ve found a few potentials, including one interesting thumper and a RW scorer.
Potential Penguins Trade Partners:
1. Edmonton Oilers, Jesse Puljujarvi
The obvious one. It’s been bandied about so often that it’s almost cliche. Puljujarvi is a former high-draft pick that has not worked out in Edmonton. He has five points (1-4-5) in 21 games despite the talented Edmonton lineup surrounding him. However, the money is almost an exact match, as Puljujarvi makes $3 million for this season and is a UFA at the season’s end.
That’s where it gets tricky for Edmonton. Why would they swap a one-year problem for a potential two-year problem? The risk-reward skews too far to the Penguins’ benefit on this one, but perhaps the Penguins could sweeten the pot.
2. Calgary Flames, Milan Lucic
A 6-foot-4, 231-pound concrete pile of mean. No, he wouldn’t be a great Mike Sullivan forechecker. No, he wouldn’t be a candidate for Sidney Crosby’s right wing.
But Lucic could be handy in those tough games where Josh Archibald or Danton Heinen aren’t needed. Lucic isn’t shy about the extra-legal hits and is playing on an expiring $6 million deal, so if Calgary were to swallow half, perhaps the Penguins have a sweetener that strikes Flames GM Brad Treliving’s sweet tooth.
Lucic doesn’t yet have a goal in 16 games this season, but that isn’t why he would fit with the Penguins. The Penguins would also confine the shorten their “bad contract” window to this season only.
In return, the surprisingly struggling Calgary Flames get a player with 20-goal potential and speed. What better change of scenery than the Rockies?
3. San Jose Sharks, Kevin Labanc
Labanc is playing regularly this season after just 21 games last year and is on the top line in San Jose. That doesn’t mean he’s producing commensurate with his contract or expectations. He has 11 points (4-7-11) in 23 games.
Labanc, 26, was a 2014 sixth-round pick. The RW is adept in the offensive zone, but his contributions may end there. He’s got this season and the next remaining with a $4.725 million cap hit. The Penguins certainly would have to include another legitimate asset to get such a deal done, but should San Jose GM Mike Grier see a little value in Kapanen, this could be another potential.
Money coming in can’t exceed $3.2 million for the Penguins unless they include another NHL asset or San Jose eats a bit of the contract.
The rub for the Penguins would be next season and possibly having a larger contract on the books, but a winger capable of ice time with Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin is intriguing.
Digging through the clearance rack isn’t easy.
Players we Didn’t Include:
James van Riemsdyk: His $7 million salary chopped in half is $3.5 million. The Penguins can’t account for the additional $300,000 without giving Philadelphia additional NHL talent. (*Numbers are prorated in season, but we’re working with whole numbers for now).
Craig Smith: He makes $3.1 million and is widely known to be available. However, the Boston Bruins would have no incentive to swap him for Kapanen.
Patric Hornqvist: This space considered it for a moment but could not find a proper incentive for Florida to make the trade without saving a couple of million dollars. Hornqvist’s name has occasionally popped up in NHL trade rumors over the past couple of seasons, but he’s an expensive fourth-liner with intangible values.