Despite being one of the NHL craziest weeks in recent memory, the Pittsburgh Penguins were consistently absent from the persistent NHL trade rumors and chatter. That changed on Thursday afternoon after the Penguins were linked to gritty Toronto Maple Leafs right-wing Zach Hyman.
A source with direct knowledge of the Penguins’ communications confirmed to PHN the Penguins are a serious player in the trade talks. Thursday morning, Toronto permitted Hyman to negotiate a rights trade ahead of the July 28 free agency.
One wrinkle is the coming five-day NHL trade freeze which begins on Saturday afternoon after teams officially submit their protected lists for the Seattle Kraken expansion draft on Wednesday.
The next wrinkle is the mountain of cash it will take to sign Hyman. According to the original report from Kevin McGrann in the Toronto Star, which named the Penguins as one of eight teams initially involved, Hyman is seeking an eight-year deal with an AAV of around $5 million.
McGrann reported Hyman already received one offer with a price tag above $5 million.
This brings the million-dollar question and spawns several scenarios.
How in the world could the Pittsburgh Penguins afford to fit Zach Hyman under the salary cap?
We’ll use $5 million for the ease of math, even though Hyman could command more. According to Puckpedia.com, the Penguins are $1.2 million over the salary cap if minimum salary players are inserted into the two lineup holes (RHD, RW, LW).
First things first, the Penguins need to clear salary. The Seattle Kraken will help with that next Wednesday, but the Penguins might lose Teddy Blueger, who makes only $2.2 million for the coming year.
So, that wouldn’t be much help. Or, the Penguins could lose Jason Zucker, who makes $5.5 million. That would be salary cap help.
Don’t forget–replacement costs. If Blueger is snagged, the Penguins’ “savings” would be minimal because even a bargain basement fourth line center worth his salt is a $1 mililon-$2 million player.
Losing Jared McCann would “save” the Penguins over $3 million, but what is the replacement cost for a 15-20 goal winger who can also play center? The replacement would assuredly cost more than McCann.
The only likely scenario which could benefit the Penguins is losing Marcus Pettersson. The Penguins have P.O. Joseph waiting in the wings, which would provide the Penguins with more than $3 million in net savings. But it appears teams will expose a wealth of defensemen, so the odds that Seattle selects Pettersson are low.
Though some of our colleagues have put Mike Matheson on the unprotected list, his $4.8 million salary would go a long way, but his play was exemplary last season.
Getting to the point–the Penguins can’t rely on the expansion draft if they’re serious about hitting the NHL trade market for a player like Zach Hyman, and there’s only one other way to do it…
Is there Space?
Perhaps the Penguins can help the Toronto Maple Leafs in some way via trade, beyond the commensurate mid-round pick that Toronto will require to acquire Hyman’s rights. However, Toronto is also hunting grit and physicality, so unless Hextall parts with Brandon Tanev or Bryan Rust, no sale there.
This leads us to the only and inescapable conclusion. For the Pittsburgh Penguins to fit Zach Hyman under the salary cap, a significant trade must occur.
And since Hyman is a right wing, and the Penguins are stocked at RW, there is the first place to start–but also the toughest spot to lose a player. The Penguins’ top-nine RWs are speedy, gritty, and fit the Penguins system perfectly.
Bryan Rust. Kasperi Kapanen. Brandon Tanev.
Plenty of commenters have recently bemoaned Tanev’s contract, which runs for four more years at $3.5 million annually. A fourth-liner! Yep.
You don’t think the Penguins were among the NHL leaders in goal differential because Sidney Crosby scored 100 points, do you? The Penguins stout goal differential was largely due to the defensive work, especially the Penguins line with Zach Aston-Reese, Teddy Blueger, and Tanev.
That line can absolutely shut down the opposition’s top line. How many “goals” is that worth?
Tanev has also become the heart and soul of the Penguins locker room. Watch the player videos. Check the social media. It’s always Tanev at the center of a joke. The energy he brings on the ice is matched by the personality and energy he brings off it.
After waving goodbye to Marc-Andre Fleury, then Patric Hornqvist, can the Penguins jettison another heart-and-soul player?
Tanev was also on pace for a 40-point season (82-game schedule) last year. An alternate possibility–he is a lefty. If the Penguins lose a LW, Zucker, McCann, or Aston-Reese, Tanev could flip to the other side.
Bryan Rust will be a free agent after next season, but a 27-goal scorer who plays the game as Rust does cannot be allowed to walk. To lose Rust for Hyman would be a losing transaction. The same goes for Kapanen.
Penguins Trade Scenarios
- The Penguins lose Zucker in the expansion draft, flip Tanev to LW, and nibble around the edges of the salary cap to whittle away another million.
The Penguins trade Zucker. See scenario above.
The Penguins trade a left-side defenseman, insert Joseph and sacrifice Tanev or McCann, which yields about $5.5 million in cap space.
Trade Jake Guentzel. Flip Tanev to LW. Elevate Zucker and Hyman to Sidney Crosby’s line. McCann to Malkin’s line.
Sacrifice Bryan Rust and a defenseman. Insert Hyman to Crosby’s RW.
On their 31 Thoughts podcast, Friday morning, Elliotte Friedman and Jeff Marek discussed Hyman’s contract reaching the $6 million level, making the above scenarios even more difficult.
Don’t forget, the Penguins are still without a right-side defenseman.
There’s no way around it. Getting Hyman would require serious effort and change. Hextall saw a path to make it happen, or the Penguins wouldn’t be serious players.
I just don’t see how it happens without multiple trades before Saturday at 5 p.m. or in the immediate aftermath of the expansion draft, before free agency. Actually, I don’t see how it happens at all, but I’m not the GM.