After the Pittsburgh Penguins tied off loose ends on Wednesday night by waving goodbye to Brandon Tanev, four days after dealing Jared McCann to Seattle (via Toronto unprotected list), GM Ron Hextall provided some interesting context and a few valuable nuggets for the Penguins coming offseason.
Some of the details will make fans happy. Some…not so much. Based on body language, tone, and even the answers themselves, it surely does not seem like the Penguins GM has an ace up his sleeve. Those silly blockbusters that make you and I drool will likely remain on Xbox and not transfer into the real world.
Hextall felt Seattle would snag McCann and shopped him around the league.
“We set a price for Jared (McCann) where we would move him if we got the right price, and Toronto met that price,” Hextall said. “So we moved ahead with that deal. Part of it was knowing we’d lose another player and give us an opportunity to become cap compliant…”
Before trading McCann and losing Tanev to the Seattle Kraken, Hextall projected the Penguins to be between $3-3.5 million over the salary cap. If you’re keeping score at home, that projects to about $1.8-$2.3 million for Penguins RFA Zach Aston-Reese. Almost exactly on our mark.
The Pittsburgh Penguins cleared about $6.44 million by losing Tanev and McCann, which isn’t much money when the team needs to replace the pair, add a third-line RW and a right-side defenseman.
Some in-house candidates will get a shot.
“We do feel like we have enough candidates in-house that we feel like certainly, we can fill a number of the spots,” said Hextall. “But we will look outside and see what we can find, whether it’s through trades or free agency.”
Cue the discussions on 2019 first-round pick Sam Poulin, Hallander, and even previously fringe players like Sam Lafferty and Anthony Angello. Lafferty, the most proven commodity of the group. He played 84 games over the past two seasons and scored 19 points (6-13-19). Bad penalties and no goals in 34 games last season firmly ensconced him in head coach Mike Sullivan’s doghouse.
Poulin will turn pro this season, but the pandemic caused a hectic juniors season, and he sometimes played out of position for Val-d’Or of the QMJHL, so training camp and preseason could determine his NHL readiness.
Just like 21-year-old Swedish prospect Filip Hallander, who was a Penguins 2018 second-round pick. Hextall wasn’t the GM when the Penguins selected Hallander, but now-assistant GM Patrick Allvin was scouting Europe. Hextall laid the future credit or blame on Allvin’s knowledge of the prospect.
“He’s 21 years old, not 18 or 19. He’s somewhat of a seasoned player. So I would hope he comes into camp and pushes for a spot, but in the end, that’s going to be up to Filip,” Hextall said. “…You come from Europe to the smaller base, to a new culture. There’s a lot going on for young players. So sometimes they’re not ready. But certainly, I would hope at some point this year or certainly in training camp a year from now, I certainly hope he’s ready…”
Pittsburgh Penguins Free Agency
PHN was able to get the puck on that rebound and put the question to Hextall directly, as $6.44 million is not a lot of money with four pressing needs which need to be filled. Will Hextall be able to dip into free agency without moving move salary?
“We can visit the free-agent market, but I don’t suspect there’s going to be a top player there that we can fit under the cap. You never know what happens, I guess, between now and then, but we’re going to do everything we can just to put the best team on the ice, whether it’s internal or bring in a player to and from from the outside,” Hextall said before offering a more likely scenario. “It’s really hard to say what the market’s going to be. And I suspect there will probably be players in August that aren’t signed. So we’ll just evaluate things on a day-to-day basis as we move along.”
In other words, the Penguins won’t cannonball into free agency and sign a fourth-line grinder to a $3.5 million AAV contract. Expect Hextall to patiently wait his turn into August for players who fit both on the ice and the accounting ledger.
Pittsburgh Penguins Expansion Draft List
Evgeni Malkin had knee surgery. The Penguins announced it in June, and he’ll miss the start of training camp. Hextall still doesn’t know his long-term prognosis or have a timetable for his return. And for everyone debating protecting Jeff Carter and Teddy Bleuger, Hextall admitted Malkin’s uncertain status played a significant role in that decision.
“Geno’s doing well. In terms of an impact (on the protected list), it definitely had an impact. You know, there’s still some uncertainty with the beginning of the year,” admitted Hextall. “Therefore, when we looked at our center position, it’s the position where we lack the most depth–so we felt like it was important to protect that position, and therefore it had an impact on our list for sure.”
The NHL will announce more trades on Thursday afternoon after the NHL lifts its roster freeze. Hextall didn’t indicate the Penguins were involved in any, though he wasn’t specifically asked, either. Rumors are swirling that Seattle has already traded Jared McCann, or Toronto offered additional compensation for Seattle to take McCann.
The Penguins plodding and somber offseason will continue. The jawdropping trade or showstopping move sounded much less plausible after Hextall’s chat. Instead, he’s in for the long haul.