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Pending a Trade, Penguins Appear Stuck in Holding Pattern



nhl trade, Pittsburgh Penguins, Free agent defensemen, Erik Gudbranson

Get comfy. The Pittsburgh Penguins don’t have any money, not even a little, to continue their offseason changes. That’s not sources speaking or some inside dirt, though sources have confirmed several details to Pittsburgh Hockey Now. Much of the Penguins offseason now appears to hinge on the NHL trade market.

The current holding pattern is based on math (and not the “new math” with friendly numbers and rounding up, then subtracting and rounding down before spinning on your head three times to guess the correct answer, which isn’t wrong because the teacher wants to protect your self-esteem).

No, these are ice-cold numbers.

Penguins general manager Ron Hextall can’t afford a free lunch at this moment. According to, the Penguins have just over $1.8 million of salary-cap space with 13 forwards and seven defensemen. If the Penguins buried Sam Lafferty in the AHL, they would have close to $2.6 million.

They also have Zach Aston-Reese and his pending arbitration hearing as a pending expenditure. Aston-Reese will sit before the arbitrator on Aug. 23, unless the Penguins repeated the process of two years ago when they waited until Aston-Reese was seated at the table before agreeing to a two-year, $2 million deal.

Pittsburgh Hockey Now broke that story, as sources said Aston-Reese was all-smiles then. Sources tell us talks are progressing this time, and there is optimism, but every dollar the Penguins spend beyond $1.835 million is a dollar they don’t have.

The Penguins can send Sam Lafferty to the AHL to recoup his $750,000, but that money is the bare minimum they need to sign a UFA, and Aston-Reese is a betting favorite to get MORE than $1.835 million.

Source are Saying…

PHN spoke to multiple sources with direct knowledge over the last couple of days. The best we can report with confidence is to cross off several free agents, at least for now.

Never close doors, but PHN must cross off UFA right-side defenseman Erik Gudbranson. It doesn’t sound like the Penguins have an interest in the stay-home defenseman, who is known more for his ability to rattle teeth than moving the puck (though we must assert he looked pretty good in his short stint with the Penguins beginning at the trade deadline in 2019).

Beyond Gulbranson, there is a litany of bargain bin free agents in whom the Penguins do not have an interest. The conversations were similar.

What about…? No. How about…? No.

Have you heard from…? Nope.

The Pittsburgh Penguins Fulcrum

Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported the Pittsburgh Penguins to have some interested parties on the NHL trade market for defenseman Marcus Pettersson, but the teams aren’t vibing his paycheck.

One phone call could jump-start the Penguins offseason, an hour from now or a month from now.

What a contrast between the last two Penguins general managers, the swift-moving Jim Rutherford vs. methodical Ron Hextall. If it seems Rutherford would have made several moves by now, that’s because there is ample precedent. Rutherford didn’t wait for other teams to get a say last August when he spun his first-round pick to the Toronto Maple Leafs for Kasperi Kapanen while other teams were competing in the early rounds of the playoffs.

Some GMs privately groused that they didn’t get a crack at the Penguins’ first-round pick. No matter, Rutherford had his man.

Rutherford kept tinkering or trying to tinker in the NHL trade front before buying out defenseman (trigger warning) Jack Johnson, too. Rutherford certainly didn’t lack decisiveness or aggression with his moves. From Rutherford, who was akin to the driver in the left lane flashing his lights, honking his horn, and weaving through traffic, to Hextall, who is patiently cruising in the right lane…with printed directions.

Both have positives and negatives, and we get to use hindsight to judge.

But just as PHN sounded the alarm, against popular opinion, in the summer of 2017 that the Penguins were crucially short at third-line center, we’re doing so again but at multiple spots. The Penguins forward lineup does not have enough–anything. It’s short on depth scoring, grit, physicality.

The defense is short on defense. Perhaps Mark Friedman is an answer at third-pairing for RHD, but that’s a pretty big gamble. The defense starved Philadelphia Flyers put him through waivers. Of course, Alain Vigneault and GM Chuck Fletcher could be entirely wrong, but it is a yellow flag.

Pettersson Money

Another bit of math that may escape most when discussing the NHL trade is the replacement costs. If Hextall gets a team to take on Pettersson’s salary, that’s $4 million in the Pittsburgh Penguins’ pocket, which can buy a lot. Even at $3 million, Hextall could go shopping and live with the consequences.

Now let’s assume the Penguins eat half of Pettersson’s deal. That’s a $2 million hit for the next four years. Suddenly, the short-term savings don’t equal the long-term effect. That would be nearly $3 million in dead money (including Johnson’s buyout cost) for the next four years. That route probably isn’t on the printed maps, for good reason.

Slow and steady is a definite change of pace, but where it’s going, we still don’t know.

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Mark Fisher
Mark Fisher
10 months ago

One or two minor trades won’t stop the downward trajectory of this team. Sit tight, try to dump salary at next season’s trade deadline, and open up some space for acquisitions.

Lisa Nath
Lisa Nath
10 months ago

I wonder if they would have been better off making one big splash with the $6 million they had instead of signing multiple lower end players ?

Ken Ciolligan
10 months ago

I guess some may call Hextall methodical but before he eventually got the boot in Philly, they were calling it paralysis. The most prominent player he has acquired in a player for player trade was Radko Gudas. Let that sink in.

10 months ago

Apt and colorful comparison of Rutherford and Hextall. And you very succinctly sum up the present (and sorry) state of the team when you wrote that the forwards don’t have enough of anything and the defense is short of defense.
I know we’re up against the wall, cap-wise. But I so wish we’d found a way to squeeze Gudbranson in. Heaven forbid we actually employ someone who can hit and fight.
Another season of Sully hockey and chasing the ghost of our 2016 Cup winners. And none too successfully, I fear.

Mark Fisher
Mark Fisher
10 months ago
Reply to  RICK BUKER

I think they realize they won’t be chasing the Cup in 2021-22 season. Hence the Hextall hire.

10 months ago

Do they not want Gubranson b/c they dont have cash or they just dont want him? Im with you, think he would be great and played well when he was here.

Moe Ali
Moe Ali
10 months ago
Reply to  Tom

Gudbranson was Gud for the Pens, and will be Gud again for the Hextall Penguins

10 months ago

Either way same result…one did things on impulse one does things backwards…

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