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Kingerski: The Hextall, Penguins Decision I Still Don’t Understand

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Pittsburgh Penguins, Kasperi Kapanen, Evan Rodrigues
Pittsburgh Penguins center Evan Rodrigues (9) celebrates with right wing Kasperi Kapanen (42) after scoring a goal during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Florida Panthers, Thursday, Oct. 14, 2021, in Sunrise, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

Former Pittsburgh Penguins forward Evan Rodrigues signed a one-year, $2 million deal with the Colorado Avalanche last week. Reports indicate Rodrigues may have also turned down a bigger offer at the start of free agency. But after a summer of GM Ron Hextall’s successes, there remains one decision, with two parts, that just doesn’t compute.

Why sign Kasperi Kapanen to a two-year contract with a $3.2 million AAV that put the team over the salary cap?

Why sign Kapanen instead of Rodrigues?

Full praise for Hextall this summer. He managed the seemingly impossible by signing Bryan Rust, Kris Letang, Evgeni Malkin, and Rickard Rakell. Hextall added Jeff Petry on the blue line and got an additional third-round pick in the John Marino trade, which also netted young (and much less expensive) defenseman Ty Smith.

The Penguins are a better team today than they were in May. When Brian Burke told colleague Dave Molinari the same last week, that wasn’t puffery.

Yet the Kapanen contract stands out not for its value, because Kapanen probably got full market price, if not more, and not for its necessity. The Penguins didn’t get much from Kapanen last season.

The Kapanen deal stands alone in an otherwise ebullient summer because the contract shoved the Penguins’ cap number into the red. Officially, they are about $1.4 million over the NHL salary cap. Late in training camp, they will send a pair of eligible players to the WBS Penguins or put a couple of players who didn’t make the big squad through waivers. Those moves will get the Penguins just under the cap but not create enough cap room to make call-ups should they suffer a couple of injuries or illnesses.

Hey, COVID is still around and can remove a player for five days. A couple of National Hockey Now writers had it last week, and it wasn’t pleasant for them. If a few players get the bug, the Penguins could be shorthanded because they lack cap space to replace them for a few games.

Last season, the New York Islanders season hit a tailspin because they were caught shorthanded.

It can happen.

There are competing narratives surrounding Rodrigues. The first incorporates incredulity. Rodrigues had never before scored close to 19 goals. It was a fluke. He went cold in the second half of the season. It was a fluke, and he regressed to the mean. The Penguins didn’t win a playoff series. It doesn’t matter.

The other narrative, which is more reality-based, is that Rodrigues was a prominent figure when the Penguins needed him to be. He scored 19 goals, most of them in the first half of the season, when the Penguins were without Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, or just Malkin. Rodrigues emerged after too many seasons of press box nachos and being a bubble player, never sure of his spot in the Buffalo Sabres or Pittsburgh Penguins lineup.

As the playoffs approached, Rodrigues again elevated his game. He was also one of the best Penguins forwards in the Round One playoff series against the New York Rangers. He scored three goals and five points in the seven-game series.

Pittsburgh Penguins Fork in the Road

If reports are accurate, and Rodrigues turned down three years and $10.5 million on the advice of his agent, that’s a mistake by Rodrigues.

But the Penguins eventually paid Kapanen nearly the same money. That’s a mistake by the Penguins.

After five seasons in the NHL, Kapanen has been on a roller coaster. True, he’s had a better career than Rodrigues to this point, but it was hard to watch how each fit with the Penguins last season and conclude that Kapanen was the player to keep.

The goal totals only tell a little bit of the story. Rodrigues played every forward position and filled nearly every role last season. From top-line winger to fourth-line center, he did it all.

Kapanen hasn’t cracked the 40-point plateau in three NHL seasons (In fairness, he was on pace in the 2020-21 COVID-shortened season). The Toronto Maple Leafs eventually demoted him to fourth-line duty before the Penguins trade.

Inconsistency has been a festering problem for Kapanen, who possesses the talent to be a premier power forward. Still, after seven years since his NHL debut, perhaps that status is more hope than expectation.

You, the reader and fans, have full authority to agree with me today but Tweet at me in March after Kapanen scores 30 goals, “this didn’t age well.”

But in a summer of near perfection, of shrewd cost moves and player acquisition (at least in the short term. We’ll see about the long contracts in four years), going over the cap with Kapanen at the expense of Rodrigues is one decision I don’t get.

Should the Penguins need top-six help in the middle or on the left this season, I suspect the legend of E-Rod will grow. He will also have a healthy chance at a Stanley Cup with the Colorado Avalanche, further cementing this lament.

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Pittsburgh Hockey Now Editor-in-Chief, formerly 93.7 The Fan, Sportsnet Hockey Tonight, NHL Home Ice. Catch Dan tweeting @theDanKingerski and the official @pghhockeynow account.

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DaGama
DaGama
14 days ago

Many people are with you Dan questioning the ERod vs. Kappy decision. Last year Pens management tried many different things to get Kappy going but none seemed to help. Got to wonder what they have planned for this season that will change the outcome.

Jay95
Jay95
14 days ago
Reply to  DaGama

I agree that they need to look at his utilization. He has the speed, shot, hands, and physicality that you dream about. I could see him pulling a kovalev and just figuring it out. But, for this season, he needs to be on the PK unit, see more power play time (for confidence) and the coaching staff has to get him out of his head. Like, tell him to take chances even if it causes turnovers. Like, get him to play simple…skate hard, hit bodies, be selfish, and SHOOT! If he doesn’t start doing that within the first 20 games… Read more »

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[…] Has Ron Hextall made all the right decisions for the Penguins? Well… maybe, maybe not. Pittsburgh Penguins (PHN) […]

Joe Cursi
Joe Cursi
14 days ago

Way to take a stand…lol!

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[…] Has Ron Hextall made all the right decisions for the Penguins? Well… maybe, maybe not. Pittsburgh Penguins (PHN) […]

RJ
RJ
14 days ago

Giving Hexy benefit of the doubt, it might have been more of a timing issue. They knew they could get KK signed since he was an RFA but they could easily get outbid for Erod. Maybe overpaid a bit (I agree he’s at least full price) for KK in June so they could lock up a top 9 roster spot before moving forward on Geno. Also, we do not know how much Erod was asking back then. I don’t think anyone anticipated the UFA market softening like it did; it’s not unreasonable to think Erod was initially asking for quite… Read more »

Jay95
Jay95
14 days ago

I think we’ll all be shocked if Kapanen scores 30 goals lol. There may be “this didn’t age well” comments. But, I think those commenters will get the, “like you saw it coming?” responses. As soon as the Pens locked up their top 6 qualifying Kapanen made no sense. They have guys that I’d prefer get spot duty on the wing when an injury comes up before Kap. Carter, Heinen (though that signing was crazy cheap), McGinn, and even youngsters like DOC, Poulin, Puustinen, and even Nylander because of his skill set and cap hit. So, Erod is a more… Read more »

Jay95
Jay95
14 days ago

Sorry, I’m on a roll now lol. This article woke me up today. But, Dan, there are a couple of other contacts that I question. Again, I think Hextall did an AMAZING job in many ways. But, I feel like Carter was over paid given his age. And, I still don’t understand why they signed Archibald. I get that he’s fast, has skill, but that’s 200k more than league minimum and the seem to be guys that can do his roll in the minors. Again, neither is that bad on it’s own, but I personally think they hurt a little.… Read more »

Bob
Bob
14 days ago
Reply to  Jay95

Carter seemed to be playing above expectations till he signed the extension.Correct me if I’m wrong.

Uros
Uros
14 days ago

I’ll just ask this and wait for March. Have we seen the fully healthy Rakell-Malkin-Kapanen line? I know many people put Zucker on 2nd, but I think this will be our 2nd line and they could do some major damage. Let’s wait and see. Also, I think we’re too stacked to sign a player like E-Rod. There are too many players that can fill his shoes, but he’s not even close to Kap’s level of talent. I really like what he did last year, but I’m going with Kap on this one.

John F McCaffrey
John F McCaffrey
14 days ago

Kapanen’s salary of $3,200,000 for his 11 goals was more than Rodrigues’ ($1,000,000 for 19 goals) + Heinen’s ($1,100,000 for 18 goals) + Boyle’s ($750,000 for 11 goals) combined salary of $2,850,000.

Crazyhorse87
Crazyhorse87
14 days ago

Ha, ha, ha, 37 more goals for 350, 000 less, Hextall, you got some explaining to do, hyuk.

Pepper
Pepper
14 days ago

Kapanen was a terrible signing that has made the team worse. He must have dirt on hextall or something lol. He brings nothing. 11 goals is even worse than I thought. He’s a league minimum type player with 7 years of proven underperformance.

Idk what’s up with the ongoing love for hextall. Signing Malkin, kapanen, archibald and imo Petry were all bad moves. Carter fell apart in the spring because he is ancient by nhl standards.

ric Jefferies
ric Jefferies
14 days ago

Sad losing ERod and really sad that there really doesn’t seem to be any strategy (other than desperation) about building a team for the future. “Kick the can down the street ” and hold to my job as long as I can.

Dean
Dean
14 days ago

Dan, as I mentioned many times before on this subject, Kapanen feels like last year’s Jarry when most of the media and fans wanted to get rid of what might be a top 5 goalie in the league. I have reminded those in media that I follow of their irrational comments last summer. I promise to do the same next summer on this. They paid Kapanen on years of proof of his talent and not 2/3’s of last year. You even acknowledge in your article that ERod’s 1/3 of last year was an outlier of a 29-year-olds career. This is… Read more »

John F McCaffrey
John F McCaffrey
14 days ago
Reply to  Dean

Jarry and Kapanen = Apples and Oranges. Jarry is a 2 Time All-Star with one Playoff meltdown. Kapanen was given a 2 year contract for his Top 6 talent and not his Bottom 6 production.

Dean
Dean
14 days ago

Jarry was a 1-time all-star last summer, and it still didn’t stop the same irrational comments last summer from many fans and media outlets to get rid of him. He is now a 2-time all-star and Hextall’s support of Jarry isn’t questioned. Hextall and management decision and support of Kapanen “is not popular with many fans and media outlets”. Hextall sees the talent of a first-round pick and years of proof of his talent. Time we tell who is right. I was with Hextall on Jarry last year and I am with him this year on Kapanen. FYI, in Kapanens… Read more »

John F McCaffrey
John F McCaffrey
14 days ago
Reply to  Dean

Kapanen is 0 Time All Star that has underachieved. Bringing back Jarry was at least a worthy debate because the legitimate options for replacing him were limited. Kapanen at 3.2 million for 2 years is a bit excessive; Kapanen at 2-2.25 million per year would seem fair.

Dean
Dean
14 days ago

The proof will be in the results wether the contact is good or bad. He was a first round pick has played 4 years in the league and is more than a half point a game player over his NHL career. That is a consistent 42 pts a year player over 82 games. He just turned 26 and still hasn’t peaked. Check what a consistent 42 pt a year player gets paid in the NHL and show me 2 contracts that a player in his mid 20s with 4 years at that scoring pace got paid $2M. Let me share… Read more »

John
John
13 days ago
Reply to  Dean

I disagree. Kapanen is LESS than a half point for his career (Playoffs + Regular Season). 165 Total Points / 359 Total Games = 0.4596 Points Per Game. For his career, Kapanen is 0.474 Points Per Game for the Regular Season and 0.342 Points Per Game for the Playoffs. That being said, I hope he and the Penguins have a great season. My concern is that the Penguins are having salary cap issues and paying him $3.2 Million for his potential instead of his credentials. It’s not emotional or irrational as you suggested, it’s financial.

Last edited 13 days ago by John
Pepper
Pepper
14 days ago
Reply to  Dean

Not really comparable imo. Jarry was a young unproven player. We still don’t know what he’s got because he’s not won in the playoffs. Kapanen is a veteran player with a long (by nhl standard) history that has shown he’s a bust. 7 years of mediocrity or sub-mediocrity (like last year). Nothing about last year says he’s about to breakout. Everything about Jarrys performance said he was going to break out. And he did. Then he crumbled in the playoffs. Not the first time a kid fell apart in his first playoff. Also idk who wanted to get rid of… Read more »

Brandon O
Brandon O
13 days ago
Reply to  Pepper

Jarry is no kid, he is already firmly in his prime closer to 30 then 25. Everyone called for his head after the meltdown against the islanders. It was evident to me that he was overplayed and fatigued. It wasn’t a question of development or talent. The same can be said for kapanen now. The problems of last season were imo mental and lack of confidence. He is still 25 and maturing. The physical talent and skating ability is rare and if he can become mentally tougher and disciplined, he has top line potential. They are betting on kapanen to… Read more »

Cal
Cal
14 days ago

Putting salaries aside, Kapanen over ERod .

Bachinga
Bachinga
14 days ago

If reports are accurate, and Rodrigues turned down three years and $10.5 million on the advice of his agent, that’s a mistake by Rodrigues.

Then why fire the agent? Seems to me like you may have that backward…

Dave
Dave
14 days ago

I have no issue with the Kappy deal. My only question in everything they’ve done is why did the resign Carter before everyone else or at all? I’d keep E-Rod in the 3rd line center over Carter. If the end of last year is an indication, he’s lost more than “a step”. Great player, no doubt, but with the age of the team, Pens should have parted ways.

Joe Cursi
Joe Cursi
14 days ago

I vote fluke!!!

TheAccountant
TheAccountant
14 days ago

Kap is a good player who had a down year. He also suffers from inflated expectations. He is much better in practice than games, and that leads many to expect more and end up disappointed when hes not Kovalev.

Rodrigues is less consistent career-wise, and maybe hes a 20 goal guy going forward, or maybe he strung together some luck.

Peter Hoffman
Peter Hoffman
14 days ago

Ive been asking this all summer.
I see ERod with twice as many goals as KK next year. Would love to be wrong.
When Malkin and Carter are injured next year we are really gonna miss Evan.

Chris R
Chris R
14 days ago

Maybe it’s as simple as being the sunk cost effect with Kapanen—or staving off the potential gut-wrenching agony of watching him break out elsewhere.

Rich Filardi
Rich Filardi
14 days ago

I am not a fan of the Kap contract nor was I a fan of Erod. I dont dispute that erod comes to play, but I feel 19 goals was a fluke until proven otherwise. As much as he stepped up in the playoffs, he took that irresponsible penalty that really put the pens in a bad spot. The pens have to utilize KK in different ways, has to kill penalties. I think the pens are Rollin the dice because KK presents more of an upside than erod. If he has a decent season, could add to his value in… Read more »

John
John
13 days ago
Reply to  Dan Kingerski

I hope you’re happy with yourself Dan Kingerski!!! All this needless arguing and PPP (Polarizing Penguin Propaganda). You were obviously one of those “Ant-Scoopers” as a kid (someone on the playground that scoops up a bunch of the Red Ants from the dirt and then throws them in with a bunch of the Black Ants just to watch them fight). This is a time when we should be uniting in our hatred of the return of the dreaded Robo Logo Penguin/Pigeon!!! lol

Last edited 13 days ago by John
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[…] GM Ron Hextall had a nearly unblemished summer. You can argue the length of the Letang and Malkin contracts (I surely have reservations), but Hextall has created an outstanding team for the next couple or few years. However, there is one decision — two parts — that I still don’t understand for the Pittsburgh Penguins. […]

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[…] Pittsburgh: PHN’s Dan Kingerski doesn’t understand why GM Ron Hextall chose to keep Kasperi Kapanen over Evan Rodrigues. Pittsburgh Penguins. […]

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[…] GM Ron Hextall had a nearly unblemished summer. You can argue the length of the Letang and Malkin contracts (I surely have reservations), but Hextall has created an outstanding team for the next couple or few years. However, there is one decision — two parts — that I still don’t understand for the Pittsburgh Penguins. […]

Bachinga
Bachinga
13 days ago

All of yinz questioning Kappy v Erod…ERod obviously turned down the $10oddMM BEFORE the Pens signed Kappy…this is true because ERod fired Peter Fish on day one of free agency…as per Frank Seravalli…Kappy was signed 8 days later…

I still think this DK has it backwards…3 years $10MModd was a more than equitable offer for ERod…Peter Fish is a pretty level headed guy whom I seriously doubt told ERod to reject it…

Here’s his client list…you think ERod is worth more than Vatrano?

https://puckpedia.com/agent/peter-fish

Last edited 13 days ago by Bachinga
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[…] – Pittsburgh Hockey Now’s Dan Kingerski doesn’t understand why GM Ron Hextall chose to keep Kasperi Kapanen over Evan Rodrigues. Pittsburgh Penguins. […]

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[…] Dan Kingerski doesn’t understand why the Pittsburgh Penguins would choose to keep Kasperi Kapanen over new Avalanche center Evan Rodrigues (Pittsburgh Hockey Now) […]