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Penguins Q&A: Karlsson Trade Chatter, Salary Cap & Bad Contracts



Pittsburgh Penguins, Jeff Carter, Mikael Granlund

The Pittsburgh Penguins have become one of the most interesting teams in the NHL. In short order, fans stopped chanting for the GM to be fired and are now riding shotgun with president of hockey operations Kyle Dubas and his pursuit of defenseman Erik Karlsson. The Penguins have salary cap issues though Dubas isn’t sweating them yet, and the roster might have a logjam on the blue line and in goal.

After the wailing and gnashing of the teeth on July 1, the Penguins fan base seems to have come around to the success of Dubas’s wheeling and dealing on July 1. This writer gave the Penguins’ transactions an A+.

We received an overwhelming volume, and a lot focused on Karlsson, Penguins trade talk, and moving bad contracts. Here we go.

ANSWER: Here’s the deal, the Penguins went after it. Dubas pushed hard on Saturday, and the chatter was so hot that people on the inside started talking. That was in the afternoon.

Then, the Penguins signed five players and spent their remaining $15 million in salary cap space. Full roster, spent cap, new situation.

Dubas may still have eyes for Karlsson, but see the earlier PHN story from Friday. Dubas is also shopping backup plans and kicked the tires on Matt Grzelcyck.

Will it drag on all summer? It will live on in chatter, conjecture, speculations, and rumor, but no, the possibility is probably in the process of expiring. Dubas can’t let this drag for months if he hopes to remake the team by training camp.

Answer: I find myself in this camp. It would be/will be fun to watch, but two elite offensive defensemen are high-reward/high-risk. I’m not so much a fan of Karlsson in the defensive zone, and unless one of Kris Letang or Karlsson enthusiastically accepted a No. 2 role, it could backfire quickly. Also, either Letang or Karlsson will see a drop in production because of less power play time.

I do see a danger the Penguins could suffer the same fate as the Sharks when they tried the Burns-Karlsson combo.

Answer: That strategy would make more sense if Granlund were not ill-suited for the Penguins system. Granlund must show proficiency first, but I can envision coach Mike Sullivan dabbling with it. If that happens, maybe, just maybe, it works. The goals lost by weakening the top six must be offset by fewer goals allowed overall and more goals scored by the third line, and I’m not sure the math of such a change would work out.

Granlund would need to be a 50-point producer and uphold Evgeni Malkin’s point-per-game pace for it to make sense.

Answer: The fun thing about the last two weeks has been Dubas’s unpredictability. We don’t know him well enough yet, and it seems without the prying eyes of Brendan Shanahan, Dubas gets to be even more aggressive than he was.

I don’t know what happens with Granlund. However, if Dubas swings a trade this summer, he’ll need to move a salary, and the most advantageous salary to move remains Granlund’s.

Answer:  The Penguins cannot waive or demote him without permission, and I do foresee Carter being a scratch. What Carter chooses to do with the role is up to him. I suspect he’ll ride it out and get a sweater for a goodly number of games because of injuries in the lineup. Perhaps there’s a little extra motivation in the position, and we’ll see more of the Carter we saw in 2021-22.

The Friday signings of Vinnie Hinostroza and Andreas Johnsson will deliver on Dubas’s promise to have a competitive training camp. Dubas wants players to earn their keep. The exact number is unknown because I don’t think we’re done.

Here are a couple of factors to consider: The WBS Penguins may have six “veteran” players in the lineup, not counting goalies, and last season the Pittsburgh Penguins’ bottom six was a wasteland. A cursory list of players that will need to clear waivers is Radim Zohorna, Hinostroza, Johnsson, Alex Nylander, Alex Nedeljkovic, Casey DeSmith, Chad Ruhwedel, Will Butcher, Mark Friedman, and Joona Koppanen.

I see Johnsson taking Danton Heinen’s place as a depth add that can play a few roles, but he could end up in WBS just the same.

I love the moves by Dubas to add depth. It will strengthen the organization and provide the kids in WBS with a better environment to grow. WBS was a tire fire last season, and the few Penguins prospects were ill-served by playing on such a bad team.

Who knows, playing with veterans and a centerman with some offensive talent could push Valtteri Puustinen over the finish line and to the NHL. Who knows, perhaps the increased competition in goal will accelerate Joel Blomqvist’s development.

Of course, players who don’t seize their chance can get buried by depth, but that is pro sports. It’s competition from all sides.

It’s going to be a bustling camp and preseason.