It is possible the Pittsburgh Penguins already have their final roster. And it is quite possible, that they do not. The NHL salary cap has become a pesky thing this summer, sort of like a 55mph speed limit in the middle of the night on a lonely highway. Nearly half of the GMs in the league have succumbed to the temptation to get there faster and blow past the speed limit.
The red and blue rollers aren’t yet in Penguins GM Ron Hextall’s rearview mirror, but the Penguins and at least 12 other teams are all heading towards the speed trap that is the start of training camp in about five weeks.
Then things will get really interesting.
Two Pittsburgh Penguins Truths and a Lie:
The Penguins can get under the salary cap without making a trade. — TRUTH
It could hurt. It probably will hurt. However, the Penguins can limbo under the NHL’s salary cap without making a trade by sending Ty Smith and Drew O’Connor to the WBS Penguins, then exposing one more player to waivers.
Mark Friedman, Chad Ruhwedel, and P.O Joseph would be the prime candidates. All three are likely to get snapped up on waivers, and the Penguins would lack sufficient resources to call up a player for a short-term replacement.
Joseph and Friedman would be especially bitter pills because Friedman seems to be finding his stride — the gritty defenseman briefly supplanted Marcus Pettersson in the Penguins lineup late last season and played well in a couple of playoff games. On a team without much physical energy, Friedman is a bit of a “wild man” who stirs the pot, sometimes to the chagrin of head coach Mike Sullivan.
“You know, we want him to play his game. We want him to be who he is, but he’s got to make sure he stays on the right side of the line,” Sullivan said in early March. “The type of team that we have here and the type of game that we’re trying to play requires discipline in a lot of forms. And so, we don’t want to be a team that beats ourselves, and we want to be a team that plays to our strengths.”
The “wild man” quote came from Bryan Rust, who said it in the utmost positive way.
Friedman drew more penalty minutes (27) than he took (23) and added that physical element on the blue line. Stats according to MoneyPuck.
After three professional seasons, Joseph remains tantalizingly skilled but still more full of potential than production. The 22-year-old defender has as much chance of passing through waivers as I have of getting signed. None.
The Penguins Will Make the Playoffs in 2023 — Truth
Perennial rival, the Washington Capitals, will struggle without Nicklas Backstrom. Tom Wilson also projects to be out for the first half of the season. Washington’s big add this summer was Dylan Strome, who put up acceptable points with the Chicago Blackhawks, but did not excel with a solid two-way game.
He’s a stopgap until or if Backstrom returns from hip surgery.
New Jersey has stealthily added players like Dougie Hamilton and Tomas Tatar last summer and Ondrej Palat this summer. Vitek Vanecek will be an upgrade in goal, though an unspectacular one. New Jersey could catch fire as former first-overall pick Jack Hughes continues to catch his stride, but New Jersey is not in the Penguins league, nor with the New York Rangers or Carolina Hurricanes.
The same goes for the Columbus Blue Jackets. Both teams are improved and could battle for a wild-card spot, but the Metro Division is uncharacteristically top-heavy this season. And the Penguins are part of the clear-cut top three teams.
The Penguins are the same old team that lost four straight playoff series — LIE
That’s a significant change and several upgrades.
Also, call me crazy, but there seems to be different energy with Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang returning. There was joy in Letang’s press conference at the NHL Draft in Montreal.
All sides had a chance to look into the abyss. They came to the crossroads, especially in Evgeni Malkin’s case, and prepared to move on. The elation of getting contracts done, in my guestimation, will renew a bit of the fighting spirit. They have just a few more chances, and they know it, which should create a little more desperation.
Add Rickard Rakell to the mix, too.