The Pittsburgh Penguins’ final chance for a buyout to get salary-cap compliant will open Saturday. The clock began ticking for the last-resort action Wednesday, when the team signed forward Drew O’Connor to a two-year deal with a $925,000 cap hit.
Given that the deal was right on par with expected value, it seems unlikely that months of tough negotiations preceded Wednesday’s agreement.
O’Connor’s deal pushes the Penguins more than $3 million over the coming $83.5 million salary-cap ceiling. However, with a standard 22-player roster after demoting one goalie and defenseman Ty Smith, PuckPedia shows the Penguins $1.6 million over the cap.
That makes the Penguins one of about a half-dozen teams over the cap without a pending LTIR case.
Penguins president of hockey operations Kyle Dubas, who announced the deal, is the one who will decide what comes next. As a matter of common sense, Dubas wouldn’t start the clock prematurely before a decision was made or options were known.
Unless there is a surprise option, such as putting a player on indefinite LTIR, as the Toronto Maple Leafs will do with goalie Matt Murray, the Penguins have two options and a short window to execute one.
The first option to get cap-compliant is a Penguins trade.
Perhaps you’ve heard about the Penguins’ pursuit of San Jose Sharks defenseman Erik Karlsson. The team must move salary out in any trade, but have few moveable assets. Adding another layer of difficulty to any Penguins trade, beyond the few teams with cap space available, is the number of veterans who can block a trade to some or all teams.
Forwards Jake Guentzel, Bryan Rust, Reilly Smith, and Jeff Carter have modified or full no-trade clauses, and Carter has a full no-movement clause (so do Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, but that seems abundantly obvious, if not irrelevant). Defensemen Jeff Petry and Marcus Pettersson have modified NTCs.
The only multi-million dollar players who don’t have some protection are defenseman Jan Rutta ($2.75 million) and forward Mikael Granlund ($5 million).
Granlund could be quite the key to getting under the cap.
Any Penguins trade to move enough salary to get under the salary cap would involve one multiple of the above. It would be a team-altering day.
Dubas has until early October to swing a trade that achieves cap compliance. Since teams aren’t lining up to help opponents out of goodwill, moving more salary than they take with the above players won’t be easy, or cheap. It likely gets more costly as the clock ticks, too.
Option 2 is a 48-hour window that begins the third day after signing O’Connor, which means it begins Saturday and expires Monday.
Only a player who makes over $4 million can be bought out in the second buyout window. Once again, Granlund is front and center exposed.
Last season, Granlund netted 41 points with 10 goals, most with the Nashville Predators. After the Penguins acquired him near the NHL trade deadline, he had only one goal and five points in 21 games.
There are no other realistic buyout candidates.
A Granlund buyout would save the Penguins just about $4.16 million this season and $3.16 million next season before costing them $1.833 million for two years after that.
Those are the options. Dubas started the clock, and now we’ll finally learn the conclusion to the Penguins’ offseason.