On the day the NHLPA officially released arbitration hearing dates, sources with direct knowledge confirmed to Pittsburgh Hockey Now that the Pittsburgh Penguins will sign winger Zach Aston-Reese to a one-year, $1.725 million deal, a raise over his previous $1 million salary.
Sources said the deal pleased both sides, as the largest negotiating hurdle was the salary cap. The Penguins had only $1.8 million of cap space and Hextall needs to make a few more tweaks to the lineup, notably at right defense and perhaps some additional scoring in the lineup.
Aston-Reese, 26, signed a deal at the arbitration table two years ago but didn’t wait that long this time. His arbitration date was scheduled for Aug. 23. He will turn 27-years-old on Aug. 10.
The Penguins winger scored a career-high nine goals last season and did so in only 45 games. Aston-Reese had offseason shoulder surgery which he credited with fixing a few things that may have negatively altered his game. He was also visibly quicker and lighter after going on a no-carb diet last offseason.
He scored 15 points in 45 games (9-6-15) ad a member of the Penguins grind line with center Teddy Blueger and new Seattle Kraken winger Brandon Tanev. The trio functioned as the Penguins’ third line until the NHL trade deadline in April when GM Ron Hextall acquired Jeff Carter. Head coach Mike Sullivan kept the defensively dynamic group together as the fourth line.
According to PuckPedia.com, the Pittsburgh Penguins will have about $121,000 cap space remaining, though they have 14 forwards on the roster. The Penguins can recoup $750,000 by demoting Sam Lafferty to the WBS Penguins or up to $1.05 million by demoting anyone else.
Evgeni Malkin will likely miss the start of the season after knee surgery. It is unknown if he’ll begin the season on the LTIR, providing extended cap relief and avoiding any demotions.
Frank Seravalli of Daily Faceoff was the first to report the Aston-Reese deal.
In four NHL seasons, including his 16-game run in 2017-18, Aston-Reese scored 51 points, including 27 goals in 161 games. He also set a career-high with an average of 14:37 of ice time per game and has a short-handed goal in each of the last three seasons.
Aston-Reese’s contract completes the Penguins list of unknowns, though Hextall is expected to further tweak the roster in the following six weeks before training camp in September.
PHN took a crack at predicting the Penguins lines, with and without Evgeni Malkin to begin the season.