3 Scenarios for Penguins to Get Under the Salary Cap – Pittsburgh Hockey Now

3 Scenarios for Penguins to Get Under the Salary Cap – Pittsburgh Hockey Now

There is plenty of company this summer at the NHL trade trough. More than any previous July or August, NHL teams blew past the salary-cap limit, expecting a soft landing from teams hoping to become competitive by feasting on the leftovers of teams chasing the Stanley Cup. The Pittsburgh Penguins and GM Ron Hextall didn’t race past the cap the way others did, but they are above the ceiling, just the same.

And now comes the second part of the NHL offseason: A dozen teams trying to get under the cap, most via trade.

It’s like a game of full-contact musical chairs with only a few chairs and a dozen kids waiting for that record scratch.

Sure, the Penguins could just trade another defenseman. Ship Marcus Pettersson and his $4.025 million salary to Detroit. Done!

Except it’s not that easy. There are only eight to 12 teams with salary-cap structures that would allow them to take on salary easily. Moreover, there is plenty of competition for those free dollars. And Pettersson is a reliable NHL defenseman, even if head coach Mike Sullivan dabbled with putting Mark Friedman in his spot at the end of last season.

Or, you can flip the script and say that because Sullivan toyed with putting Friedman ahead of Pettersson, what trade value is there?

Regardless of the angle of attack, the Penguins are over the salary cap, and a simple trade of the player a team may or may not be able to live without isn’t that easy.

Scenario 1: Waivers.

The first scenario is a bare-bones, temporary solution.

The Penguins are about $780,000 over the salary cap, with 13 forwards, not including Drew O’Connor, and eight defensemen. For usage, PuckPedia.com demoted Mark Friedman. Ty Smith could go to the WBS Penguins without clearing waivers. Chad Ruhwedel and P.O Joseph would be the other candidates, but must pass through waivers.

Demoting Ruhwedel would give the Penguins less salary cap space than the annual American minimum-wage salary. Exposing Joseph to waivers wouldn’t be much better.

GM Ron Hextall could risk one of his forwards, such as Josh Archibald, to waivers and squeak under the cap. However, without enough money for a call-up, a couple of minor injuries, illnesses, or life events would leave the Penguins shorthanded. For example, one forward gets COVID, one is day-to-day, and the Penguins are caught with 11 forwards for a few games.

Or five defensemen.

So, while the maneuver would work and the Penguins would be cap-compliant with 12 forwards, or seven defensemen, the lack of additional cap space makes it not a long-term solution.

Scenario 2: Penguins Trade, Handcuffs.

On Monday, colleague Dave Molinari examined whether Ty Smith to WBS is guaranteed.

The Penguins have nine NHL defensemen including Smith, who is waiver-exempt but has two years of NHL experience. The 22-year-old is a step ahead of Penguins prospect defenseman P.O Joseph in his maturation, though Joseph will enter his fourth year as a professional.

An early-20s defenseman with a lot of ability who hasn’t yet fully established his game — it seems the Penguins could keep one of those and spare another. A few teams likely would accept that low-risk, high-reward proposition.

It’s not implausible to suggest Hextall could attach either Joseph or Smith to a salary the Penguins would like to move, rather than parting with a first-round pick to do it.

The Penguins are built for the next three years. That’s it. After that, the car warranty will expire, and there can be no more talk of the Penguins’ core, because they will all be in their late 30s. Jeff Carter will be 40 and probably no longer in the picture. Jeff Petry and Brian Dumoulin are also likely to age out, or be close to it, after 2025-26.

Smith and Joseph have talent, but neither is a franchise cornerstone defenseman. That’s hardly a knock, but it does make one slightly expendable.

If the NHL trade market is clogged with salary drops, and Pettersson is the preferred move, Pettersson with Joseph or Smith is a far more attractive trade proposal than Pettersson alone.

Xavier Ouellet and Taylor Fedun are in WBS as eighth defensemen.

And hey, Nathan Beaulieu is still a free agent.

Scenario 3: McGinn, Blueger…

Before the Pittsburgh Penguins acquired Jeff Petry from Montreal, there was scuttlebutt that Teddy Blueger was involved in the deal. Chatter is all there was, but the Penguins could sacrifice a player such as Blueger, who makes north of $2 million, and insert Ryan Poehling as the fourth-line center.

Perhaps Sullivan is comfortable with Drew O’Connor as the fourth-liner center?

Or use the savings to sign a bargain-basement fourth-line center. Brian Boyle, perhaps?

Brock McGinn is another serviceable, fairly paid player who could become a sacrificial lamb on the salary-cap altar. Poehling or O’Connor could step into his role and produce about the same amount of offense. Last season, McGinn chipped in 22 points (12-10-22) in 64 games.

Out-of-the-box solutions could arise, and Hextall could find a multi-player deal, but those scenarios are impossible to predict, even for those involved.

The Penguins have about six weeks before training camp. The clock is ticking.

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