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Hextall Admits He’ll Have to ‘Get Creative’ to Upgrade; Cap Could Push Friedman Into Lineup

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Pittsburgh Penguins, NHL trade, Mark Friedman

When given a chance to confirm the Pittsburgh Penguins blue line, general manager Ron Hextall deferred. Right-side defenseman Cody Ceci signed a four-year deal with the Edmonton Oilers at the outset of NHL free agency, and the Penguins salary cap crunch has otherwise limited their ability to go shopping on the NHL trade front.

The Penguins probably have about $871k of salary cap space, though PuckPedia shows them with 14 forwards and $121k in salary cap space. The Penguins will likely demote a forward to the AHL, possibly depth forward Sam Lafferty, and recoup that $750,000, and keep 13 forwards on the roster.

An offseason ago, the Penguins and former GM Jim Rutherford postured that depth defenseman Chad Ruhwedel could fill the third-pair role before later signing Cody Ceci to a one-year bargain deal.  Pittsburgh Hockey Now gave Hextall the same chance on Thursday, but Hextall went in a different direction.

He went immediately to upgrading but also admitted it might not be possible without getting creative.

“As I’ve said (to the media) numerous times, we’ll look to upgrade at any position. If we can upgrade on defense, we’ll certainly look at it. We don’t have much wiggle room in terms of cap space, so we’d have to get creative,” Hextall said. “But I think Freedy (Mark Friedman) and Chad (Ruhwedel) are both guys that we feel can certainly playing in the league along with a guy like Juuso (Riikola) and P.O. (Joseph).”

We’re in the infancy of dealing with Hextall. When we handed him softball (intentionally) to put Friedman into the lineup, we noticed the GM first went to a desire to upgrade it but acknowledged they’d have to get creative or not do it at all.

Earlier this week, PHN confirmed the Penguins’ lack of interest in several RHD free agents, including former Penguins d-man Erik Gudbranson.

Any UFA the Penguins bring in will have to be better than Friedman, or at least Ruhwedel, both of whom are career seventh defensemen.

Actual Salary Cap Space and Upgrades?

Hextall has a bit more than just 850k to spend. Any new defenseman would likely cost the Pittsburgh Penguins Chad Ruhwedel or Mark Friedman via waivers, or the team would recoup their full salary as buried in the AHL. So, add another 750k onto the pile, and the Penguins have about $1.6 million to work with.

No, that’s not usually enough to attract a defenseman truly capable of top-four minutes, but who thought Cody Ceci was that d-man, either? Last October, the Penguins signed Ceci to a one-year “show-me” deal worth $1.25 million. Those results were pretty good, and Ceci will make $3.5 million with Edmonton for the next four years.

A couple of free agents still floating on the market could have that type of rebound in the right situation, including Sam Vatanen, who made just $2 million last season. Maybe, just maybe, the Penguins could squeeze him under the cap.

But Vatanen has every reason to resist taking even less money than he made last season, too.

Hextall also seemed to indicate they expect a step forward from a couple of defensemen. Marcus Pettersson, whose name recently popped up in NHL trade chatter, and John Marino, who had a bit of a sophomore slump.

Hextall seemed hopeful their progression could enhance the backend of the Penguins blue line–even if Marino is called upon to balance Mike Matheson on the second pair.

“You look at guys like (Pettersson) and John Marino. We think there’s there’s more there. They’re both young players,” Hextall said. “There’s more there than they gave us last year and both–talk to them (last) year–and feel like there’s more there. So we feel in some ways like there’s upside in those two players, which could really help solidify our defense.”

But that still leaves a spot.

Friedman had an electric beginning to his Penguins career. It came in a few against his former team, the Philadelphia Flyers, and it sure seemed like at least one side had an ax to grind. The Flyers roughed up Friedman, including Nolan Patrick’s blatant boarding penalty, Shayne Gostisbehere’s late cross-check for which he was suspended, and a fight with Joel Farabee.

After all that over a few games, Friedman had to be helped off the ice when he got the worst of his own attempted open-ice hit. Friedman suffered an upper-body injury, likely a concussion, and missed the next several weeks.

However, Friedman also scored a pretty goal, added an assist. He scored three points (2-1-3) in the five games he played for the Penguins and can play both sides. He’s an intriguing asset but has not yet established himself as an every-game player in the NHL at 25-years-old.

Ruhwedel is another solid defenseman in shorter bursts. It looked like he would get a shot to be an everyday blueliner. He’s played at least 41 games twice in his NHL career, both with the Penguins and within the last four seasons.

Creativity hasn’t yet been part of Hextall’s regular operating procedure with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Perhaps Hextall closes up shop and lets the offseason play out to see if someone falls to them. Or another team realizes they can’t do better than Pettersson and picks up his full salary.

Or Friedman plays for the Pittsburgh Penguins on opening night, right beside Pettersson. It sure seems like things are headed that way…unless Hextall gets creative.

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Rich Filardi
Rich Filardi
1 month ago

Gms are often creatures of habit and dont adapt unless your SY. Until I see it, I dont believe it from RH. He has never shown that adaptability. I just hope this team misses the playoffs in 2023 and get into the mix for one if those top end talents.

Hatrick Pornqvist
Hatrick Pornqvist
1 month ago

Pretty simple answer to this situation in my opinion. Marino and Matheson need an entire season together and they have the combined talent to be be good enough second pair. Trading Pettersson in the off season has to be the priority. He’s paid too much to be a 3LD and he’s not the type of player we need at this point anyways. POJ can come up and fill his spot and save us a bunch of money. I think POJ has a higher ceiling than Pettersson and a full NHL season could have him being the better player anyways. He… Read more »

Last edited 1 month ago by Hatrick Pornqvist
Ken Colligan
1 month ago

You may be waiting awhile if you expect Hextall to be creative. He is really more of a glorified scouting director. Most prominent acquisition in a player for player trade was Radko Gudas. Let that sink in.

BocaMarine
BocaMarine
1 month ago
Reply to  Ken Colligan

So as GMKC, Ken, what exactly would you do/have done given ALL of Hextall’s constraints, I.e. aging veterans, depleted farm system and very, very little cap room? Oh, and every other GM in the league is also well aware of it.
Looking forward to your solution.

JCW
JCW
1 month ago

If 71 starts the year on IR, doesn’t that alter cap room?

Jay95
Jay95
1 month ago
Reply to  Dan Kingerski

And, let’s hope that he’s not out months.

Rob
Rob
1 month ago

Trading Petterson is tired. There is nothing to lose out of keeping him at this point. Unless he regresses further and then it will be impossible to trade him unless he is packaged with another good player or draft pick. I think he will get better and they should keep him

Hatrick Pornqvist
Hatrick Pornqvist
1 month ago
Reply to  Rob

The issue with keeping him is that he’s a guy getting 13 minutes a night on the third pairing. Making 4 million on the third pairing. And you already have almost 9 million in LD playing ahead of him. And you have a young guy, who could potentially be better than him if given the ice time this year, who is about 1/5th the cap hit. And you have a hole on the right side to fill with that money.

Last edited 1 month ago by Hatrick Pornqvist
Rob
Rob
1 month ago

12 UFAs after next season. They only have to worry about cap space for this season. Just something to think about.

To replace him in free agency it will cost just as much if they want to upgrade or get a right side defenseman. PO may be ready as you said, but will he be better than Petterson? Also, do they want to give up a prospect or draft pick to get rid of him? A lot of moving parts to consider here

Frank
Frank
1 month ago

Maybe it is me but I think in one sense or another the theme of this has been repeated around 500 times since the end of the Penguin/Islander series. I think it is very simple, but apparently hard to grasp for many fans. 1. Hextall essentially has NO meaningful dollars to spend 2. With the exception of 1 minor league defenseman he only has one POSSIBLE option. And that one is mostly underweight with limited physical presence 3. He has no trade pieces that seem all that attractive to trade partners 4, His draft options were essentially making the best… Read more »

Katz
Katz
1 month ago

I’m wondering if Covid protocols limit attendance again, and for a while, could we see some NHL franchises in serious financial difficulty? Being creative is one thing, a long term flat Cap with financial stress is another. If I was a player I would take my best offer now, accept it, and purchase insurance protecting it.

Last edited 1 month ago by Katz
Cal
Cal
1 month ago

Speaking of Pettersson, Does anyone know if the weight of players is adjusted every year? I ask because Pettersson has been listed at 177lbs and I’m curious if he put on any muscle or weight since his initial listing of 177 a few years back?

Nicholas White
Nicholas White
1 month ago

Im still waiting for that toughness Hextall talks about, as of now the Pens are just as soft as last season. The Rangers, Isles, and Capitals all have big tough players, and the Pens are gonna be in for a rough season…again, unless Hextall keeps his word about toughness and does something between now and October.

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[…] When given a chance to confirm the Pittsburgh Penguins blue line, general manager Ron Hextall deferred. Right-side defenseman Cody Ceci signed a four-year deal with the Edmonton Oilers at the outset of NHL free agency, and the Penguins salary cap crunch has otherwise limited their ability to go shopping on the NHL trade front. Hextall will have to get creative. (Pittsburgh Hockey Now) […]

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[…] Pittsburgh Hockey Now: Penguins GM Ron Hextall didn’t insert either Mark Friedman or Chad Ruhwedel into the lineup but conceded the Penguins would have to get creative IF they can upgrade.  […]

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[…] Pittsburgh Hockey Now: Penguins GM Ron Hextall didn’t insert either Mark Friedman or Chad Ruhwedel into the lineup but conceded the Penguins would have to get creative IF they can upgrade.  […]

Tom
Tom
1 month ago

Eichel for Guentzel, Pettersson, Poulin, Legare, and Joseph, in my opinion, gets it done.
Might have to swap Pettersson with Marino.
Thoughts?
Riikola can replace Pettersson. Joseph, Poulin, and Legare have potential that might be ready to shine in a few years time, but they aren’t regulars this year.
Guentzel, on the surface, had more points than Eichel.

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[…] Hextall Admits He’ll Have to ‘Get Creative’ to Upgrade; Cap Could Push Friedman In… […]

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[…] Hextall Admits He’ll Have to ‘Get Creative’ to Upgrade; Cap Could Push Friedman In… […]

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