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Penguins Backup Plan, What is Trade Cost to Dump Salary?



NHL trade talk, Pittsburgh Penguins trade cost for Mikael Granlund

The great salary dumps have been few over the past several years. Once upon a time, bottom-feeding NHL teams gobbled up useable veterans for pennies on the dollar or fractions of a loonie until the flat salary cap created unprecedented demand for cap space, fewer teams on the NHL trade market able to absorb extra salary, and few GMs willing to pay the premiums to send off a big cap hit.

Currently, the Penguins are about $2.3 million over the cap before signing RFA Drew O’Connor, whose arbitration hearing is on Aug. 4. Unless the team can move salary in a bigger trade (for example, the Erik Karlsson trade), something has to give.

Last season, NHL trade rumors swirled that a first-round pick was needed to move a salary. No GM took the bait, but four years ago, one did.

As the GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs, current Penguins president of hockey operations Kyle Dubas was pressured into dumping Patrick Marleau to the Carolina Hurricanes for a 2020 first-round pick, which became Seth Jarvis, and a seventh-rounder.

The Penguins’ situation isn’t as dire as the 2019 Maple Leafs’ cap crunch, which needed to be alleviated to sign Mitch Marner and others.

Penguins forward Jeff Carter has a no-movement clause and has put down roots with his family in Pittsburgh. He has no reason to accept a trade away from his family to one of the cap-flush teams out west in what could be his final season. So, he’s off the table.

On July 1, Dubas called Jeff Petry “a major part” of the Penguins for the coming season (though that figures to change if Dubas successfully completes the Penguins’ trade for Erik Karlsson).

So what will it cost the Penguins to move an unwanted salary, in this case, Mikael Granlund?

On June 23, Dubas also said he was against trading picks or prospects for veterans, but that was before the 2023 NHL Draft. Things may be a little different for 2024 picks. It might have to be different.

Granlund is hardly the player at the end of his career that was Marleau, though Granlund’s $5 million AAV for the next two seasons swallows like well tequila.

The Penguins didn’t see much of the player who totaled 41 points in 79 games last season because only five of those points were with the Penguins. Granlund’s stat line reads 36 points (9-27-36) in 58 games with the Nashville Predators but only five points (1-4-5) in 21 games with the Penguins.

Perhaps the takeaway is that Granlund isn’t the pariah Penguins fans have painted him, but that salary is albatross.

That’s the positive.

The negative is Granlund’s WAR rating. For the uninitiated, the WAR rating began in the baseball analytics community to measure “wins over replacement.” A 100% rating is the very best, 50% would be perfectly average, and according to JFresh hockey, Granlund’s rating is 4%.

Yes, just 4%, meaning based on last season’s performance, 96% of NHL players would help the Penguins win more games than Granlund.

Just two seasons ago, Granlund was close to a 75% WAR rating, and at 31 years old without serious injuries, he should be far from washed up. Over the past two seasons, Granlund has 105 points, but that recent dip is nothing short of a catastrophic swoon.

NHL Trade Market Values:

Recent salary dumps will tell us the market value.

Last month, talented players like Taylor Hall were traded prior to the July 1 NHL free-agent frenzy for essentially nothing. Boston sent Hall to the Chicago Blackhawks for a pair of unremarkable restricted free agents. In 2021, the Vegas Golden Knightradedade Vezina-winning goalie Marc-Andre Fleury to the Chicago Blackhawks for a minor leaguer with no NHL future.

The cost is roughly a second-round pick for players whose salary significantly outpaced their value.

In 2020, the New York Rangers traded a second-round pick with $5.7 million defenseman Marc Staal to the Detroit Red Wings.

In 2021, the Philadelphia Flyers coughed up second and seventh-round picks to move the $4.5 million AAV of Shayne Gostisbehere to the Arizona Coyotes.

Arizona got pretty good value out of that deal.

And last month, the Edmonton Oilers sent faded prospects Kailer Yamamoto, who counts $3.1 million against the salary cap, and Klim Kostin to Detroit for future considerations.

Available Suitors

Complicating matters to move salary, nine teams are above the NHL salary cap or don’t have enough cap space to take on a minimum salary, even after expected LTIR placements.

Seven teams are over the salary cap and will be calling around trying to find a willing partner. Fortunately for those teams, nine teams have at least 21 players under contract and more than $5 million in cap space.

The Anaheim Ducks remain more than $6 million under the salary cap floor.

And so, Dubas has more than a handful of teams to sweet talk into helping the Penguins get under the $83.5 million salary cap. The cost with a premium appears to be a second-rounder. Perhaps those 105 points over the past two seasons lessen the add-on to a mid-round pick, but highly unlikely that moving Granlund will be free of charge.

After all, if the $5 million salary isn’t untenable, that 4% rating is pretty hard to overcome and keep in the lineup.