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Penguins Offseason Analysis

Updated Pens Salary Cap, How to Sign Pettersson without a Trade



pittsburgh penguins trade, marcus pettersson
PITTSBURGH, PA - JANUARY 28: Pittsburgh Penguins Defenseman Marcus Pettersson (28) looks on during the first period in the NHL game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the New Jersey Devils on January 28, 2019, at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, PA. (Photo by Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire)

Zach Aston-Reese was able to flash a big smile and sign a two-year, $2 million contract Monday morning. The Pittsburgh Penguins bulky winger with offensive upside was settling in for his arbitration hearing as the offer arrived. Fellow Penguins restricted free agent Teddy Blueger eschewed arbitration and was also rewarded with a two-year deal earlier in July. And so defenseman Marcus Pettersson stands alone as the remaining unsigned RFA.

Read more about Aston-Reese’s wild day here.

PHN has been in contact with multiple sources this summer regarding the Penguins’ RFA process and progress with the individual players. There has been little to no news or discussions to report regarding Pettersson since May when the initial contacts were made. Zip. Zero. Nada.

The Penguins have made Pettersson wait while they prepared for free agency, explored salary relief trades, explored more salary relief trades, signed head coach Mike Sullivan to a four-year extension, signed speedy winger Brandon Tanev to a six-year deal, inked Teddy Blueger to a two-year deal, signed depth defensemen Zach Trotman and Chad Ruhwedel to two-year deals, and finally Aston-Reese to a two-year contract.

While Penguins fans may have perked up upon the news of Aston-Reese’s signing because a trade could follow, the Penguins do not require a trade to sign Pettersson.

First, the team can exceed the salary cap by 10% until opening night. Second, an organization may not send a player through “regular” waivers until 12 nights before opening night. Depth players like Ruhwedel, Trotman, and possibly Juuso Riikola, could be sent down then. So, the team can be over the cap but plan for those eventualities.

Let’s assume the Penguins have a 22-player roster, one short of the 23 maximum to save the cash. All salary numbers are courtesy of

The Penguins currently have 13 forwards under NHL contract, including Aston-Reese, for a total of $50.175 million.

The Penguins currently have eight defensemen under NHL contract, not including Pettersson for a total of $26.350 million.

Matt Murray and Casey DeSmith count for $5 million. And adding some bonus money carried forward to this season, the Penguins are currently $157,000 over the cap.

How to Get Beneath the Cap without a Trade

First, the Pittsburgh Penguins can plan to send two of their depth defensemen to the AHL. Presuming Riikola has another solid training camp, he will be on the NHL roster as the seventh defenseman. Sending Trotman and Ruhwedel to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton will save $1.4 million.

From here, the Penguins have a choice: Carry only 21 players, thus having only six defensemen or 12 forwards, or save money in goal.

Penguins goalie prospect Tristan Jarry will need to clear waivers to be sent down to WBS, too. His potential as an NHL starting goalie should allow the Penguins to keep him as the backup over DeSmith, thus saving another $475,000.

(DeSmith makes $1.25 million, but if he were sent to WBS in a cost-cutting move, the Penguins could only recoup $1.05 million, which is $475,000 more than Jarry’s $675,000 salary).

By carrying Jarry and 20 skaters (7D, 13F), the Penguins total salary cap space would be pennies under $1.718 million. In the current climate, many RFAs have been forced to take less than expected market value. To compensate for lesser paychecks, teams like the Penguins have taken to dishing two-year deals.

Hockey-Graphs projected Aston-Reese at $1.2 million. Blueger projected to $900,000. Neither got their price. According to the invaluable resource Hockey-Graphs, Pettersson checks in around $1.6 million.

Could the Penguins swing a deal for $1.5 and be done with their offseason?

Sure, a trade would be the fastest route to getting cap compliant, and some are twitter-pated at the thought of trading defenseman Jack Johnson, but as PHN found last week, it’s not that simple.

Some NHL worthy players like DeSmith, Ruhwedel and Trotman may become cap casualties and play in WBS until the situation is fully sorted out, and the Pittsburgh Penguins would have almost zero buffer to handle a second short-term injury not worthy of IR, but that is the way the Penguins can sign Pettersson without a single trade.

Of course, Pettersson’s willingness to accept only $1.5 million could be a sticking point, too.

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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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2 years ago

The Pens should send JJ down at a strategic time in preseason and hope that he doesn’t clear waivers. Either way you clear 1.075M in cap space. Why risk Riikola or Ruhwedel whom you don’t want to lose.

They will need to send DeSmith down too clearing the 400K you noted,

The Pens would start the season 900k under the cap.

2 years ago
Reply to  Dean

Great article. I was against sending down DeSmith when it was first suggested but it makes sense to move depth pieces of the roster to get MP under contract and into training camp for next season. I think Riikola, Ruhwedel and Troutman are worth the risk of trying to get through waivers and back to WBS. With so many teams still working out their $alary Cap crunch – let’s take a chance and see if any other team wants to take on additional salary. Imagine if Pens are able to ink MP for 2 years at $1.6M per. We still… Read more »

Hatrick Pornqvist
Hatrick Pornqvist(@hatrick-pornqvist)
2 years ago
Reply to  Herman

You gotta think GMJR has a decent grasp on where other teams are at with their rosters by now and whether or not anyone is interested in our depth Dmen. Riikola’s contract is a one way deal so that might actually limit the number of teams willing to scoop him up. I personally don’t think Rutherford would send him down unless he had a real good idea that he would clear waivers, but he likely has a far better idea of that than we do, so who knows. I would speculate that they want to buy some UFA years and… Read more »

2 years ago

Come on someone is getting traded you know that, it makes no sense to hold on to everyone
I am guessing Pettersson or Jarry
I would be surprised if Rusty went
Stamp it.

gerald gilbert
gerald gilbert(@jerylgilbert916)
2 years ago
Reply to  JcNorthStar

Jarry maybe. Pettersson no way.
A 3+million contract has to be moved. Johnson’s blue line physicality gives him an edge to stay. Bjugstad being the possible 3C gives him an edge. Rust is a jack of all trades but a master of none. The Pens have more skill and speed on the wings. The Pens have penalty killers. Rust is the most replaceable.

2 years ago
Reply to  gerald gilbert

It took 2 years to find Bjugstad – we see what the team looks like without a sure 2-way 3C – no way he is traded Rust may have to be sacrificed to get rid of JJ’s contract – I just hope that management doesn’t rush that trade. Send JJ to the AHL and get $1.075M in cap relief. When a team needs a LD during the season make JJ available on waivers. It will cost the team nothing but the contract (please, please, please) JJ based on ranking should be paid as the 205th rank defensemen. That is close… Read more »

2 years ago
Reply to  JcNorthStar

why in the world would you trade petterson he’s young and only going to get better ,plus he’s gotta be under contract to trade

Ron Kron
Ron Kron
2 years ago

There is zero chance DeSmith survives waivers as a Penguin, and Jarry is less proven at the NHL level than DeSmith. So, what happens when Murray inevitably misses games. Not to mention that this plan provides no flexibility for short term injuries. The Pens already tried rolling with 5 defensemen and 11 forwards for multiple games, and that didn’t work out too well.

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