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Penguins Salary Cap Danger Threatens Depth



Pittsburgh Penguins GM Jim Rutherford Announces Gudbranson Trade
Pittsburgh Penguins GM Jim Rutherford. Video Still from Pittsburgh Sports Live. All Rights Reserved

Marcus Pettersson accepted a well below expected-value contract last Thursday and the Pittsburgh Penguins salary cap outlook changed, again. We spent the summer assuming the Penguins would clear at least $1.5 million for Pettersson, but his $874,125 cap hit allows the Penguins to use a little sleight-of-hand magic and a little sacrifice to get under the limit before the hard $81.5 million salary cap deadline.

That is the good news.

Pettersson’s generosity put the Penguins in a less onerous position, but one that still leaves them susceptible to injury and depth concerns. Most NHL teams carry 23 players. The Penguins will not be able to do so unless they make a trade.

First, we’ll make an assumption that defenseman Zach Trotman will be sent to the AHL since he is on a two-way contract. That will get the Penguins to about $81.8 million, but still over the $81.5 million limit.

The next move will get the Penguins beneath the cap but cost them depth. Chad Ruhwedel, but possibly Juuso Riikola, will hop on the bus to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, too. That move will get the Penguins under the limit but only by a hair.

After the Penguins demote Ruhwedel, they will stand at $81.13 million which will give them approximately $367,000 of cap space. They may begin the season and ice a competitive team with that number but is presents several perils.

For depth purposes, the Penguins will have only 13 forward and seven defensemen, which is one extra for each group. Penguins fans have been reminded too often, injuries can come in bunches. However, teams are reluctant to use the IR tag because a player may not play for seven days. Those nagging or minor injuries which keep a player out of the lineup for a few days generally don’t merit an IR designation.

All salary info courtesy of

RedBeard's Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh Penguins Hard Math

In normal circumstances, we might see a player be put on IR so the team can attempt to replace him, but here is where the math gets even trickier. The NHL salary cap doesn’t simply omit the injured player. Instead, the NHL allows teams to exceed the salary cap by the amount of the injured player’s salary minus existing cap space.

For example, the Penguins will be (round number) $367,000 under the cap. So if Pettersson is injured, they could exceed the cap limit by $874,125 minus $367,000, which is only 507k.

Yeah, the Penguins would be in trouble because that isn’t nearly enough to call up a replacement. The Penguins will need at least 700,000 to call up Ruhwedel. Following the thread, if a pair of defensemen Penguins suffered minor injuries or illness, the Penguins would be forced to play with five defensemen until either were ready to return.

Since five of the seven Penguins defensemen make at least $3.25 million, the above is a bit of a nightmare scenario but one which still exists. Should Kris Letang or Brian Dumoulin be placed on IR as they were last February, the Penguins would have enough space to call up reinforcements.

No, the Pittsburgh Penguins do not have any waiver exempt players who could be sent down without being exposed to waivers, either.

The math is the same for the forwards, but there is more chance for the worst-case scenario. The Penguins do have five forwards who make $1.25 million or less including Dominik Kahun, Jared McCann and Teddy Blueger. If a couple forwards were to suffer injuries, the Penguins could be forced to play with 11 forwards.

The scenario extends to minor injuries, if either the blue line or the forwards suffer a pair of minor injuries, the Penguins will not have the ability to call up a replacement.

If goalie Tristan Jarry wins the backup goalie job over Casey DeSmith, the Penguins would have an additional 4-$500,000 to use, but that’s not much, either. Such a salary cap predicament does not allow wiggle room, makes finding a trading partner that much more difficult and risks grinding players in the early parts of the season. The Penguins salary cap is no longer a mess but the potential dangers loom over them. A little bit of bad luck could become a lot of bad luck.

A trade which lessens their salary cap burden isn’t necessary for the immediate, but one sure will help…whenever it happens.

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Pittsburgh Hockey Now owner, formerly 93.7 The Fan, Sportsnet Hockey Tonight. Catch Dan tweeting @theDanKingerski and the official @pghhockeynow account.

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  1. MD

    September 18, 2019 at 9:04 am

    i don’t understand your math. In the Petterson injury scenario, you say the Pens would be able to exceed the cap by 507k. Since the Pens were 367k below the cap to start with and now can exceed the cap by 507k doesn’t that give them 877k to make a call up?

    • Dan Kingerski

      September 18, 2019 at 9:42 am

      MD–I went around with your numbers. Actually–I think you’re correct!

      • MD

        September 19, 2019 at 12:42 pm

        Dan, no. i’m not, I did some reading on the CBA and you were correct. It gets confusing when discussing it in terms of exceeding the cap limit. I found this and it helped clarify for me

        FTF Example: The salary cap Upper Limit is $60.0MM, and a team currently has a 20 man roster of $59.0MM. There is $1.0MM in cap room available to them. In the first day of the regular season, a player making $2.0MM is hit along the boards, injured, and subsequently placed on LTIR. The team now has that $2.0MM to use in order to bring in replacement player(s) to fill the hole left by that $2.0MM player– that number is equal to the injured player’s salary. They are able to spend up to $61.0MM (or, $1.0MM over the cap) to replace that player.

        This is because, at the time of injury, the team had $1.0MM in cap space available to them. Since the injured player on LTIR had a salary of $2.0MM, $1.0MM of that goes towards getting the team to the Upper Limit of that year (which is $60.0MM), and then the remaining $1.0MM is used to allow the team to temporarily exceed the Upper Limit until the player on LTIR is able to return.

        Think of it this way– a $2.0MM player was injured on a team that had $1.0MM in cap room. The cap hit of the injured player ($2.0MM) minus the amount of salary cap space ($1.0MM) equals the amount that team can exceed the upper limit by ($1.0MM).

        helps explain why teams make the “paper” call ups to get closer to the cap and then put the player on IR.
        sorry to have sent your article off the rails.

        • Dan Kingerski

          September 19, 2019 at 2:09 pm

          I think if you don’t subscribe, now you owe me one!

        • Jay95

          September 20, 2019 at 2:14 am

          No, it would still be the 877k that is Peterson’s cap hit. Re-read it. If a 2 mil player goes down, and they are 1 mil under cap, the player can be replaced with a 2 mil player. 1mil to get to the cap and 1 mil over.

          So, MD, you were right the first time. Dan, you were originally incorrect. But, you guys had it figured out until you backtracked on it lol.

  2. Keith Thomas

    September 18, 2019 at 9:25 am

    This is without question a very difficult position and similar to JR first year on the job when they had run out of cap space and had no margin. As much as everyone hates it, they are in a position where they need to make a move – even if it is a minor one to gain some margin. Often decisions are made not because you want to but because you have too…….

  3. il'ja

    September 19, 2019 at 3:08 am

    “…the Penguins could be forced to play with 11 forwards…” Not too scary as long as one of those eleven is Sid, who seemingly will be able to double-shift until he’s 40. Still, this smacks of some bad potential problem analysis on JR’s part. Given the team’s recent injury history to key blueliners, surely this should have been predictable? And kudos to Marcus for taking one (reduced payday) for the team.

    • Jay95

      September 19, 2019 at 4:22 am

      I don’t think Petterson had much of a choice. This year is big for him and he had no leverage. Basically, he just needed to get into camp.

      • Joel Rakos

        September 19, 2019 at 5:07 am

        Not sure if he had no leverage but yeah, I see what you’re saying. Still, consider: if he refuses the lowball contract and sits out, he puts his career at risk but he also hurts the team D, unless you’d chart Ruhwedel above him which I don’t think either Sully or JR do. Reality check: $900K is good money anywhere in the world unless everybody keeps telling you you’re worth $1.5M.

        • Jay95

          September 20, 2019 at 2:17 am

          Joel…agreed. He could have sat out, but this was smart by him. He’s young, he knows that he’ll get plenty of minutes. And, yeah, 900k is still a lot of money for a kid in his second NHL season.

  4. BIG B

    September 19, 2019 at 12:18 pm

    No threat to the depth, they have 9 nhl ready Dmen and 13 regular forwards for 12 spots with good depth in the minors and several young players ready by next year.The Leafs are 13 mil over the cap and only have 1 Dman signed for nerxt year with no money to sign anybody good and the media says they will be fine.The media here is too negative and the fans are insane and spoiled.

    DAN you always said you dom’t want to go negative for clicks but you seem to be swerving in that direction.

    • Dan Kingerski

      September 19, 2019 at 2:11 pm

      I’ll get to the YouTube chats soon. I have to settle my schedule which has recently been a nightmare.
      What good is depth if you can’t afford to put it on the ice? That’s where the scary math comes in. If a couple low priced players are injured, Pens are in trouble. I’m not trying to scare anyone, but it is the situation.

    • Jay95

      September 20, 2019 at 2:22 am

      Big B…sorry, but this is the reality. If you have 3 players go down and none hit the IR, you’re playing short skaters for a game or two. So, not negative, and this article has nothing to do with depth. The team IS very deep. And, though it doesn’t look as bad as JR’s first season…they could have a perfect storm and end up playing REALLY short!

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