The Pittsburgh Penguins final two preseason games are less likely to determine their opening night roster than their salary cap situation on Oct. 1. As the regular season hits, October is the deadline to get cap compliant, which means the Penguins current $331,625 overage will not be allowed. The coming roster decisions are few but difficult, just as Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan has endless lineup decisions (or options) which won’t end until the season does.
The Penguins roster decisions largely come down to their blue line and a backup goalie. They have 13 healthy forwards on NHL contracts, so that roster decision is settled, even if Sullivan may mix-and-match his lines. The Penguins have eight healthy defensemen, and it appears the fifth, six, seven and eighth spots are Jack Johnson, Juuso Riikola, Chad Ruhwedel, and John Marino. Two of them will stay.
Conventional wisdom posits the Penguins will put Marino in the AHL to round the corners of his game and pick up a few more tricks of the professional trade. The 22-year-old rookie from Harvard has impressed, according to WBS Penguins coach/GM Mike Vellucci. Marino will be in the NHL sooner than later, but unless the Penguins are willing to install him on the third pairing, minutes in the AHL are better than press box nachos in the NHL.
It would be a great surprise if the Penguins sent Jack Johnson to the AHL. It would save $1.050 million, but it would also leave the Penguins with a pair of depth defensemen as their sixth and seventh d-men, and leave the Penguins without one of their best penalty killers. Riikola does have the potential to be an everyday NHL player, which places him ahead of Ruhwedel.
Of course, published reports from The Athletic Tuesday night indicated a trade was possible. A swap of Tristan Jarry or any other Penguins salary changes the equation, however, CapFriendly.com does not list Jarry’s salary among the Penguins $81.8 million salary structure, so simply trading Jarry — based on CapFriendly.com — would not free up cap space.
We’ve also had our trade antenna up a couple of times during the past month, but there has been nothing since Olli Maatta and Phil Kessel were dealt in June. In the words of Billy Madison, it takes two to Tango.
Under the current situation, we project that Riikola stays, Ruhwedel and Jarry will be the odd men out. Would Jarry pass through waivers? We don’t know, but even if they trade Jarry, that alone will not alleviate their salary cap crunch. If the Penguins deal backup goalie Casey DeSmith, it would save about $575,000.
Pittsburgh Penguins Lines (Projection):
*Simon/Aston-Reese alternate as 13th forward early in the season.
Dumoulin – Letang
*Johnson as seventh defenseman.
The above lineup will limbo just under the salary cap. However, being so tight to the cap will leave the Penguins vulnerable to injury. If you missed it, check out PHN’s scenarios in which the Penguins could be forced to play shorthanded.