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Penguins Notebook: Handling Roster Congestion; Heinen’s Value



Pittsburgh Penguins, Danton Heinen

It’s far too soon to fully assess how Kyle Dubas has performed as the Pittsburgh Penguins’ president of hockey operations and interim GM since assuming those positions a little more than a month ago.

But while the quality of his work can’t really be evaluated yet, no one can accuse him of being afraid to make changes.

Lately, most of those have focused on trying to upgrade the Penguins’ bottom two lines.  Or, at the very least, to inspire some genuine competition for those spots.

Dubas’ recent spate of signing leaves the Penguins with 14 forwards who have one-way contracts on the major-league roster. That total that does not include unsigned free agent Drew O’Connor or Sam Poulin, who could contend for a job with the parent club.

Because of salary-cap constraints, the Penguins are unlikely to have more than 13 forwards on their Opening Night roster, and they already are a few million dollars above the $83.5 million cap ceiling for 2023-24. (Precisely how much depends on how one assembles the major-league roster.)

But it’s worth noting that three of the free-agent forwards Dubas has signed to one-way deals since July 1 — Matt Nieto ($900,000), Vinnie Hinostroza ($775,000) and Andreas Johnsson ($800,000) — have contracts worth less than $1.15 million.

That’s significant because, per, it’s the cutoff for players on one-ways to not have any of their money count against the cap if they are assigned to the American Hockey League.

Of course, the Penguins would risk losing any of those guys on waivers if they were sent to Wilkes-Barre, but bringing them into the organization at those prices really has been a no-risk move.

At best, they contribute to the Penguins’ bottom two lines being more effective than they were in 2022-23. At worst, they should enhance Wilkes-Barre’s lineup. Or at least, net a waiver fee for the Penguins.

High on Heinen

Danton Heinen, then coming off an 18-goal season with the Penguins, was an unrestricted free agent last summer, but never found a new home and ended up taking a pay cut to remain with the Pittsburgh Penguins, accepting a one-year, $1 million deal.

He went on to have a disappointing season, putting up just eight goals and 14 assists in 65 games, and is again available on the open market.

The drop in production would seem to suggest that Heinen will be fortunate to secure a job in the NHL during the coming season, even if it would be for the league minimum, but at least one source projects him to end up with a more lucrative agreement than any he has had since signing a two-year deal with Boston in 2019 that carried a $2.8 million cap hit.

An analysis by AFP Analytics envisions him getting a three-year contract that has an average annual value of $2.5 million.

Suffice to say, if Heinen receives such a proposal, he would be well-advised to accept it.

Assessing the Market

The first eight days of free agency are over and, even though it was a pretty pedestrian class, there still are some noteworthy players looking for a contract.

Here are some of the big-name, unrestricted guys still on the market (although it seems unlikely that the Pittsburgh Penguins will pursue any of them):

Forwards — Patrick Kane, Vladimir Tarasenko, Tomas Tatar, Oskar Sundqvist.

Defensemen — Matt Dumba, Ethan Bear, Cal Foote.

Goalies — Martin Jones, Jaroslav Halak, Alex Stalock.

Blame the salary-cap squeeze — the cap ceiling for 2023-24 is $83.5 million, up just $1 million from last season — that has left a lot of clubs with limited cap space.