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Kingerski: Kapanen Overpay, Cap Crunch Forces Another Penguins Move

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Jason Zucker, Pittsburgh Penguins Kasperi Kapanen Hat Trick

Count me in favor of most of Pittsburgh Penguins GM Ron Hextall’s moves. I would have paid the higher AAVs on shorter deals for Kris Letang and Evgeni Malkin rather than lengthier contracts that could become the 2026 albatross shoving the Penguins into a Randy Robitaille, Brian Holzinger-style retool. Still, the immediate benefits could well salve the pain well in advance.

The Penguins are a better team today than in May when they should have ended the New York Rangers season in Game 5 at Madison Square Garden. The right side of the defense with Letang, Jeff Petry, and Jan Rutta is as good or better than any in the NHL. With the return of Bryan Rust, Rickard Rakell, and Evgeni Malkin, the top six forwards could shine as brightly as they have in years. The Penguins have a two-time All-Star in net (Tristan Jarry) and a player-connected tactician (Mike Sullivan) behind the bench.

The Penguins have some pieces.

But on Thursday, Hextsall signed enigmatic winger Kasperi Kapanen to a two-year, $3.2 million deal.

The new deal put the Penguins about $1.3 million over the salary cap. Puckpedia has the Penguins at just over 400k above the cap if newly acquired Ty Smith is demoted to the AHL.

Pittsburgh Penguins Comparables

The more the move marinates, the more sour the taste.

*Nino Niederreiter signed for two years, $4 million per in Nashville.

*Dylan Strome — a 22-goal, 48-point center — got $3.5 from Washington.

*Carolina signed Ondrej Kase — a 26-year-old who scored 27 points (14-13-27) with Toronto — to a $1.5 million deal.

Kapanen will be 26 on Saturday and had 32 points (11-21-32) last season. He’ll make double Kase’s salary. Kapanen’s maddening habit of leading the rush, but pulling up at the mid-wall, thus trapping himself, was a bewildering spectacle in the 2021-22 season.

The Finnish forward has a 20-goal season in his rearview mirror, but he wasn’t a useful hockey player to the Pittsburgh Penguins last season. Eventually, head coach Mike Sullivan could not sustain his spot in the lineup, and Kapanen was served a dose of press box nachos.

His ice time and roles diminished to fourth-line duty.

The grand hopes that he would become a star power forward with penalty killing and power play minutes in the NHL became a folly.

Certainly, Kapanen has the talent to be a top-six NHL forward. He’s been on the cusp for most of his career, including in Toronto when he scored 20 goals as a middle-six forward but followed that campaign with a 13-goal season in which he was also demoted to the fourth-line and press box by then-head coach Mike Babcock.

After a handful of NHL seasons, Kapanen was an RFA primed for a show-me deal.

Instead, Hextall made perhaps his first genuine mistake with an overpay. There are always some moves that don’t work out. The GM takes the blame, but if the thought process was sound, it’s just sports. It happens. However, the salary will have been unnecessary even if Kapanen explodes for 30 goals next season.

It’s unlikely an arbitrator would have viewed his last season, cratering production, and gooey soft analytics and awarded Kapanen a raise. Indeed, it is possible but unlikely unless the hearing was held during happy hour.

At 26, Kapanen is about to forge his NHL identity. In four full NHL seasons, he’s been up, down, up, and way down. Babcock and the Toronto org forced him to earn his way into the NHL. He played just 55 games over three seasons from 2015-16 through 2017-18 and was otherwise demoted to the AHL’s Toronto Marlies or sat in the press box.

$3.2 million for two seasons?

Evan Rodrigues and Danton Heinen remain unsigned. Both players likely cost less but produced well more last season. Rodrigues provided the Penguins lineup with unique versatility and 19 goals.

Yet, he remains without a new home.

Salary Cap Ramifications

The Pittsburgh Penguins can also send Drew O’Connor to the WBS Penguins and be about $300,000 under the cap, but that would mean carrying only 12 forwards.

Given that COVID is still a thing that can remove a player just hours before game time, 12 forwards is a precarious proposition. Unwise might be a better term.

So, the Kapanen contract necessarily means someone else goes. Is another Penguins trade in the works? Will the Penguins take the risk and demote a forward or simply sacrifice the eighth defensemen to waivers?

Jason Zucker Buyout?

And before you bring it up, I will: Jason Zucker.

Because the Penguins and Kapanen were headed to arbitration, it counts as an arbitration case. The Penguins will get a second buyout window beginning on the third day (Sunday), lasting 48 hours. In that time, the Penguins could buy out Zucker to save $3.6 million this season, then get hit with a $1.7 million penalty next season.

We discussed the pros and cons of a Jason Zucker buyout in the first window.

Injured players cannot be bought out, but Hextall recently confirmed Zucker was progressing well and would not need additional surgery. That means he’s healthy and can be bought out? That was my inference, but it could be wrong. Zucker often posts to Instagram, and he’s been traveling with family this summer. There’s been nary a mention of rehab or injury.

So, because of the overpay, the Penguins have four choices: Trade, roll with only 12 forwards, likely lose their eighth defenseman (Chad Ruhwedel, Mark Friedman, or P.O Joseph) to waivers, or buyout Zucker.

Since we don’t know what trade might be cooking, we cannot yet say Hextall boxed himself in, but without a trade, the Penguins will be without a serviceable, useable player.

Perhaps Kasperi Kapanen would not have signed a deal that is 500k less, thus allowing the Penguins to be under the salary cap with 13 forwards, but that doesn’t mean the Penguins had to offer more. After a 32-point season, $2.5 million would have been solid.

The Penguins’ overpay for Kapanen will cost them someone else. That’s a mistake.

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Pittsburgh Hockey Now Editor-in-Chief, formerly 93.7 The Fan, Sportsnet Hockey Tonight, NHL Home Ice. Catch Dan tweeting @theDanKingerski and the official @pghhockeynow account.

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Artie
Artie
22 days ago

Awesome summary, I’m not one to bash players, coaches and GM, they are all better and more knowledgeable than me. However as a fan, I disagree with the Kapanen move, I would have left him walk and sign UFA. I think we have seen what he is and I don’t think we have anymore time to wait on him to find himself and be consistent. Put me down as a vote to keep Zucker, if you are going to be patient with Kap, I think with Zucker skill set and how he has performed when healthy and with Minn past… Read more »

Dean
Dean
22 days ago

Dan, to be fair, I believe you were very vocal and equally negative last year at this time about our “2-time all-star” goalie, just like most of the media and fans.

We seem to have the same two groups disagreeing on Kapapen this year.

While most media and fans are losing their minds, Hextall, coaches, and players support Kappy, just like they did Jarry.

Robert Shoemaker
Robert Shoemaker
22 days ago
Reply to  Dean

It’s a story that people are talking about. Until something else happens. It will be a better story if Kapanen comes through like Jarry has

Dean
Dean
22 days ago

Being extremely negative is not a story. Kapapen in his 300+ NHL games is almost a. .5 point player. Consistent 42 points in a year players get paid at least $3M. Rodrigues over 300+ NHL games is almost a .4 point per game player. Take out last years numbers and Kappy’s will go up and ERod’s will go down. Kappy has the skills to be a .6+ point per game player. That would be worth closer to $5M a year. The stories should be about what we do with Zucker, how can we move Pettersson or Dumoulin, how do we… Read more »

Dean
Dean
22 days ago
Reply to  Dan Kingerski

Dan, that is great. My bad. The amount of negative press and comments were off the chart on Jarry.

John
John
21 days ago
Reply to  Dan Kingerski

I wish I was invited to the arbitration hearing representing the Penguins…Kapanen’s salary of $3,200,000 for his 11 goals was more than Rodrigues’ ($1,000,000 for 19 goals) + Heinen’s ($1,100,000 for 18 goals) + Boyle’s ($750,000 for 11 goals) combined salary of $2,850,000…Mic Drop!!!

Robert Shoemaker
Robert Shoemaker
22 days ago

Dan,Isn’t it true that a trade or waiver move after training camp would have been required even without the Kapanen signing? There is no way they would keep 9 defenseman including 5 on the right side. 8 is actually too many. Maybe they find a suitor for Ruhwedel? Petterson is stuck unless they move him for a draft pick or lower cost forward. I think Friedman adds a good dimension as the 7th d being capable of playing both sides. My money is on Petterson/Ruhwedel going.

Shocked
Shocked
22 days ago

Is this the GM or is Mario meddling a little too much? Almost none of the moves made seem to be in the best interests of this team now or in the future.

Logan
Logan
22 days ago

I actually think they will package Kapanen and one of their depth defenseman for Garland. I have a feeling JR still would like to get his hands on Kapanen.

Robert Shoemaker
Robert Shoemaker
21 days ago
Reply to  Logan

I am not sure where this fascination in trading with Vancouver came from, i hate to break it to everyone, but JR isnt the GM of vancouver. He is basically is their version of Burke. He is there for reasons, but not making trades. It is possible he has some say, but he isn’t going to tell their GM to acqure all the players he liked and signed when he was with the Penguins. That being said, i like your trade idea for Garland. He could be a fit. Not like the very unrealistic idea many around here have that… Read more »

Bob
Bob
21 days ago
Reply to  Logan

👍👍👍👍

Travis
Travis
22 days ago

#1 mistake re-sign of Malkin l love the guy but four years for a guy thats prone to injury.
#2 Letang term of contract will bite us in four years.
#3 Trading Marino for a maybe and 3rd pick to make space
#4 mathison for petry I’m ok with but again age of petry could hurt us in 2 years ,
#5 by signing rutta forced trading Marino for room for petry.
#6 Rust and Rakall for 6 years ?
#7 By far the worst is signing kappy for two years when we probably could have got him for cheaper.

Mike Kirkell
Mike Kirkell
22 days ago

The two most disappointing aspects of the Kapanen deal, beyond the overpay part, of course: First, it does nothing to move the needle. If you’re going to sign someone to a deal that requires additional moves, as this one does, then it should’ve addressed the big hole still on L2. Rakell gets you half way to the first Geno line with two reliable wingers in years, but the other side? Zucker, who has never meshed with Geno (or Sid), makes Geno seem like a pillar of health, and who’s not exactly ever been a consistent top 6 guy (Minnesota traded… Read more »

Mike Kirkell
Mike Kirkell
22 days ago

Dan, I’m not sure I see “signing Kapanen for two years only to turn around a buy out Zucker”. Seems to me IF you were buying out Zucker, then it would’ve been with an eye towards taking the circa 6M in space from the Zucker buyout PLUS not signing Kapanen and put it into an impact L2 winger.

Ujn Hunter
22 days ago

Shock, awe, shock, awe! Click click click! NN is an overpaid 30 y/o. RS is a Center and was playing with Patty Kane & Alex DeBrincat. Kase is one hit away from retirement due to constantly getting concussed. Wake up.

Lars Nelson
Lars Nelson
21 days ago
Reply to  Ujn Hunter

I had to read this twice, but it is pretty funny. I don’t think NN is overpaid (24G and 44 pts), but everything else is true.

Bob H
Bob H
22 days ago

I really dislike that Hextall resigned Kapenen to a $3.2m 2 year contract, let alone 9 days before his arbitration hearing. This made no sense. Why not low ball an offer and let it ride until a day or so before the hearing? He and his agent must be ecstatic. They don’t even need to spend the next 10 days making up reasons to pay Kapenen based on the season he had. Did Hextall not watch Kapenen last year? I keep thinking that this lays the groundwork for a trade, but the reality is what GM wants Kap at this… Read more »

Phil
Phil
21 days ago
Reply to  Bob H

Where does everyone get the team is slower? I’m really confused why everyone thinks that? I know Matheson is one of the fastest skaters in the league. But petry skates well as does rutta. We have Crosby, guentzel, rust, malkin, rakell, zucker, kapanen, bulger, mcginn. all very good skaters with speed. The only departures are Matheson, Marino, Rodrigues and heinen. So how did we get slower?

Brandon O
Brandon O
22 days ago

I’m not nearly as down on Kapanen as most. I think he has enough raw talent and skill to be an elite player. My guess is that he has bad habits off the rink or isn’t as dedicated to being a student of the game. This would explain why he was pushed hard in training camp and preseason games last year. Whatever the case, I still think he will earn this contract and have a better year then last even if he doesn’t reach his full potential. If he does, we have got a steal. 3.2 million will not get… Read more »

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William Maloni
William Maloni
21 days ago

Come on Dan, open up. Tell us what you really think!!

Jeff Young
Jeff Young
21 days ago

I love me some Ruhwedel and think he was one of the team’s MVPs last year. Undrafted and even signed a very friendly contract recently. But Hextall plucked Friedman on waivers from Philly. I have to think if he chooses between Chad and Mark, Mark stays. Friedman can also ay both sides. And I wouldn’t think that just because Ty Smith can be sent down means he should be. 10 years younger than Chad, 66 GP last year, 20 pts. Played more games over the last two seasons too. So he isn’t inexperienced. So while I wouldn’t push for it,… Read more »

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[…] The Pittsburgh Penguins paid too much for Kasperi Kapanen and as a result are over the cap. Now Ron Hextall will have to make another cap-cutting move on the […]

Bob
Bob
21 days ago

Was this a cost of living raise for him in this present economy cause it sure wasn’t about his goal/point production last year!

MrNails
MrNails
21 days ago

Dan, do you Kappy has pictures or something? Has to be Rooney pics too, amiright? No other explanation for making it through two GMs now.

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[…] Pittsburgh: Dan Kingerski of Pittsburgh Hockey Now takes a deep dive into the Kasperi Kapanen overpay and its ramifications on the Pittsburgh Penguins. […]

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[…] Kasperi Kapanen. That mistake will cost them another player. Here are the four likeliest options. Pittsburgh Penguins […]

Alan Smith
21 days ago

Sorry, but I like Kappy! He reflects the way the Pens want to play! Which is fast! Played good defense against NY and is very exciting every time he is near a net with the puck!
Millions mean nothing anymore in pro sports! Bet he comes through next season!

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[…] Kasperija Kapanena. Ta napaka stane drugega igralca. Tukaj so najboljše štiri možnosti. Pittsburgh Penguins […]

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John
John
21 days ago

Dont like the Kapanen signing. Dont like the Archibald signing either. Tokarski to me seems to hurt the developement of all the high round goalies we have to cracking WBS IMO. They could have brought Boyle back for cheap instead, he actually produces. Letting Rodrigues and Heinen go hurts the bottom lines for sure. How do you feel about trading Pettersson and putting Ruutta with Petry? He played with Hedman. It would alleviate the numbers on the back end with POJ, Ruh and Friedman and also help the salary cap situation. Maybe let us sign Rodrigues and Boyle too or… Read more »

Bob
Bob
21 days ago

If I was the GM and kept Malkin he would’ve had to take away his No trade clause or move on. Should’ve signed Giroux but I guess Crosby had a say in that not liking Giroux much from past events with him. Surprised Hex didn’t sign him before Malkin since he loves to pick up former Flyers. But I guess politics ruled that one!

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[…] Pittsburgh: Hokej z Pittsburghu Dan Kingerski Kasperi Kapanen sa teraz podrobne zaoberá prirážkou a jej dôsledkami. Pittsburgh Penguins. […]

Igloo
Igloo
20 days ago

Nothing matters! The Pens are are old and washed up! They can’t compete with the younger faster powerhouses of the east! Should of rebuilt!

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[…] Kasperi Kapanen. This mistake will cost them another player. Here are the four most likely options. Pittsburgh penguins […]

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