The Pittsburgh Penguins do not have a salary cap dilemma, but they don’t have any money, either. As long as everyone stays healthy, the Penguins won’t have any cap complications, but if players begin dealing with nagging injuries or non-COVID illnesses, it could cost them a player they don’t want to lose. When Evgeni Malkin returned to the lineup Tuesday in Anaheim, it set the timer on a salary cap squeeze.
Jason Zucker is skated with the team at the optional morning skate on Tuesday but separately on Wednesday. His return will be the moment Penguins GM Ron Hextall will no longer have the freedom or ability to add a player.
According to PuckPedia.com, the Penguins will need to clear just over $2.8 million in annual salary to activate Zucker.
Editor’s Note #1: the data has changed slightly since the post was published. While PHN strives for accuracy, the post was correct at time of publish. The amounts differ little, but may not be exact.
W/ #LetsGoPens COVID cases & 3 🔼 today, placed Zucker on LTIR in order to activate Malkin off LTIR.
LTIR pool & how much can exceed cap now $5.4M & they currently exceed cap by $2.85M, leaving $2.5M Cap Space.
— PuckPedia (@PuckPedia) January 12, 2022
Casey DeSmith, Bryan Rust, Brock McGinn, Zach Aston-Reese, and Danton Heinen are in COVID protocol. For the purposes of the salary cap game, we’re going to assume Kasper Bjorkqvist, Anthony Angello, and Radim Zohorna go back to WBS, leaving 14 forwards. Sending those three to the AHL will save $2.25 million.
Drew O’Connor goes down, too. That increases the total $3.3 million cleared and increases the Penguins’ available salary-cap space to about $354,893.
Perhaps Hextall is currently burning the phone lines. Hextall already pulled one minor salary dump when he dealt Sam Lafferty to Chicago for discarded prospect Alex Nylander. That move wiped Lafferty’s $750,000 salary off the books, though they could have stashed him in the AHL, too.
Using the PuckPedia GM feature, if the Penguins can activate everyone, they’ll have 14 forwards, and the team’s total salary cap hit will be about $81.145 million. The NHL salary cap is $81.5 million.
In NHL terms, that’s not enough for a free lunch, but at least they can activate everyone without anyone passing through waivers. Assuming the Penguins get healthy within one to three weeks when Jason Zucker returns, there will be enough space for everyone, but only if the defensemen stay healthy.
|Name||Position||Status||2021-22 AAV (millions)|
|Dominik Simon||LW/RW||Two-Way Contract||.750|
You’ll notice the 13 forwards. Brian Boyle is not present. The Penguins can keep 14 forwards, but barring more COVID protocol stays could not recall any players from the WBS Penguins. If short-term injuries not worthy of IR or non-COVID illness hit the blue line (or if the NHL allows the COVID exemptions to expire after the All-Star break), and the Penguins need to make a recall, Hextall will have a hard choice between Boyle and Dominik Simon.
The Penguins could well lose either player to waivers, and both players have been good fits–very good fits–this season.
The Penguins’ defense is relatively stable. With seven d-men and a currently healthy cast led by Kris Letang, the blue line costs $26,125,175 million. It will be a constant unless Hextall moves salary in a swap of defensemen.
And the goalies’ salary-cap figure, $4.75 million, will be a constant, for now. Tristan Jarry is firmly ensconced as a starter and likely All-Star, though adding an experienced backup might be on the Penguins trade shopping list after recent clunkers by Casey DeSmith.
One way to save additional money is to swap places between DeSmith and Louis Domingue.
Editor’s Note #2: The initial paragraph stated the Penguins could save $500,000. However, that did not factor in the maximum $1.05 million that can be stashed in the AHL or the prorated amounts.
The worst-case scenario is usually what happens with the Pittsburgh Penguins’ health, so don’t discount circumstances forcing Hextall into that decision between his depth forwards. In that scenario, our bet is on Simon to stick because of the team’s center depth with Evan Rodrigues on the roster and Drew O’Connor at the ready in WBS.
Simon has six points in 29 games (1-5-6). Boyle has four goals (4-0-4) in 23 games.
Expect another Pittsburgh Penguins trade in the coming weeks, pending Jason Zucker’s time frame, or will Hextall live on the edge?