Where can the Penguins cut salary?
So the Penguins look like they won’t be shedding Kessel’s 6.8M this offseason. It does sound like they will be clearing salary elsewhere
“Well, we’re going to have to move some people to clear up cap space,” Rutherford said. “A couple of players, probably.”
Let’s look at some of the mid-tier contracts on the Penguins.
Olli Maatta is a popular option to clear cap space. With Brian Dumoulin, Marcus Pettersson, and Jack Johnson being regulars in the lineup it doesn’t leave a lot of room on the left side. Olli Maatta isn’t a poison pill like Jack Johnson so the team would be able to trade for futures and not take back salary or get a player back in that same price range. I’ve advocated for a Maatta trade in the past. I did so because I thought his perceived value was higher than his real value. I don’t think that is the case anymore. You have to get ahead of these things and Pittsburgh did not. Moving Maatta out at his lowest value because you have to compensate for the Johnson contract is just bad business.
Another player that doesn’t get talked about a lot in trade rumors is Bryan Rust. I could see his 3.5M cap hit becoming expendable. His most common center last year was Sidney Crosby which means his most common defender was Kris Letang. You can’t ask for better QoT than that. He went through a horrific goal drought before coming alive halfway through the season. All players go through ebbs and flows over the season. It is unavoidable. However, you can’t go as long as Rust did while getting the favorable deployment he got. I don’t think this is a likely scenario, but I think you have to look at all the mid-tier contracts on this team when looking to shed money and he’s one of them. It also doesn't help that he is forced to play his off wing when Sullivan wants to use Guentzel and McCann on the top line and use Hornqvist as a top six winger.
Jack Johnson/Erik Gudbranson
Jack Johnson and Erik Gudbranson would be great contracts to lose, but those aren’t going to be easy deals to make. The salary problems on the Penguins are completely self-inflicted and useful players will probably need to be moved out because of the 7.25M wasted on these net negative players.
Patric Hornqvist’s 5.3M extension was always a dodgy proposition. A year into the contract it isn’t looking like a great investment. He has a full no trade clause for this year and next year. There are probably teams that still value Hornqvist’s grit and tenacity. Will he value those locations? Are the Penguins even interested in moving him? Doubtful.
Justin Schultz is a pending UFA and making 5.5M. He’s probably going to look for a raise when he’s already on the high end as it is. He doesn’t deserve a raise given his on-ice production. He’s being fairly compensated. I can see the Penguins not wanting to give him his next contract and I wouldn’t blame them. Right handed puck moving defenseman aren’t the hardest players to find a market for.
Rutherford has a history of trading for players and then moving on from them shortly thereafter. Nick Bjugstad’s 4.1M might be in jeopardy of being moved out if the start to his season is slow.
The money has to come from somewhere and if Rutherford is spouting off about moving players you can bet that somebody is going to go. Rutherford doesn’t do a great job of keeping his cards close to his vest and this is just the latest example.
Thanks for reading!