Sometimes the debate gets caught in the big picture when the tweaking of a few small details would solve the problem. The Pittsburgh Penguins can barely afford a free lunch as they sit and have three restricted free agents yet to sign. The expected solutions to the issue have spawned countless Penguins trade rumors.
Restricted free agent forward Zach Aston-Reese bravely choose the bruising arbitration process meaning he is off the free agent market, but Teddy Blueger did not file for arbitration, and defenseman Marcus Pettersson is not eligible.
Believe it or not, there is a shortcut for the Penguins to put enough cash in their coffers for all three RFAs, bet on their future, and squeak into the regular season with just enough extra money to absorb an injury and not lose any players who are expected to be regulars this season.
Call now. Operators are standing by!
“We talk about three things, we want to get younger, we want to get faster and we want to become a team that’s more difficult to play against. When you look at some of the players that (Rutherford) acquired, they check a lot of those boxes,” Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan said in a conference call this week after signing a four-year contract. “We’re a faster team. We’re harder to play against.”
Yes, the Penguins are younger, faster and going to be harder to play against but their cap situation is “tight,” according to GM Jim Rutherford.
The Penguins currently have just over $1.5 million in salary cap space. That includes Juuso Riikola, Zach Trotman and Chad Ruhwedel who will be the Penguins seventh, eighth, and ninth defensemen. Aston-Reese will eat up most of that in arbitration ($1.2 million?). When the able to do so, the Penguins can send Trotman and Ruhwedel to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and the Penguins would save $1.4 million.
But wait, there’s more!
The Penguins can add another $575,000 in the piggy bank by gambling on Tristan Jarry as the backup goalie. That doesn’t seem like such a horrible gamble, does it? The Penguins could lose Casey DeSmith, but they could help Jarry take a step forward in his career, add some veteran seasoning to Jarry, and potentially add Matt Murray insurance in the process.
However, if DeSmith would slip through waivers, the Penguins would save only $400,000 because the maximum savings for buried contracts this season will be $1.075 million and DeSmith makes $1.25 million.
That gives the Penguins approximately $2 million – $2.2 million to spend. That amount should be well more than Pettersson gets on a short deal. Last summer, Jamie Oleksiak inked a deal for just over $2.1 million. Pettersson should be around that number or less because he is only 23-years-old. Hockey-Graphs estimates Pettersson at $1.6 million.
The Penguins could have Murray and Jarry in net, and shop for an experienced third goalie for NHL depth and help Finnish rookie Emil Larmi in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. And by assigning Ruhwedel and Trotman to the AHL at first chance, the Penguins will have enough money to sign Aston-Reese and Pettersson.
That’s two RFA regulars for the price of three depth pieces!
There’s one more thing the Penguins can do. Last season, they often carried only 12 forwards. In this somewhat hypothetical scenario, the team could be brave and rotate fourth line centers with Dominik Kahun and Jared McCann in the middle, thus squeezing Teddy Blueger to the WBS Penguins or elsewhere in the NHL.
“Some of the moves that Jim has made, although their not blockbuster deals, we believe they’re real smart, prudent moves that can help our team improve and get better,” Sullivan said. “I’m excited about the group of players that we have.”
Also, the Penguins could move Dominik Simon who figures to be their 13th forward this season, which would up their total salary cap bank account to create space for Blueger, too.
Of course, the Penguins could trade Jack Johnson as part of the above and have plenty of coin to spare and gamble on Riikola being ready for regular NHL duty. There is significant chatter around such a move. But with the above, the Penguins could enter the season without being forced to make a move. If one of their exciting young draft picks Sam Poulin and Nathan Legare prove they are ready for the show, the Penguins can pare down further.
Otherwise, they can wait for the right hockey trade, now or into the season. The Penguins trade rumors can persist but the team can move at its own pace.
The Penguins lineup is currently deep, it’s tough to play against, and with some small sacrifices, the larger ones aren’t necessary even if they may be desired.