As we all know, 2011 has brought with it a spate of injuries to the forwards of the Pittsburgh Penguins. As a result, we have had the chance to see how guys who would otherwise have been relegated to the AHL for the season, fare at the NHL level. There have been some Sterling surprises (see what I did there?), and some slightly more disappointing showings (like Tangradi's fall down the depth chart), but so far they are all still considered by most to be AHL players enjoying successful call-ups.
We know that Evgeni Malkin is out until next year, but everyone else has the potential to return to the lineup before the end of the regular season. If they do, and if there was no such thing as a 23-man roster limit, our roster would include the following 21 forwards:
Craig Adams, Arron Asham, Mike Comrie, Chris Conner, Matt Cooke, Sidney Crosby, Pascal Dupuis, Eric Godard, Dustin Jeffrey, Nick Johnson, Tyler Kennedy, Chris Kunitz, Mark Letestu, James Neal, Mike Rupp, Jordan Staal, Brett Sterling, Max Talbot, Eric Tangradi, Joe Vitale, Tim Wallace.
Since there is a 23-man roster limit, and since a team typically carries 2 goalies and 7 D, that leaves 7 forwards to send back to the AHL, a few of whom may be required to go through waivers to get there. So who goes down?
Follow me after the jump for more details on waiver rules, and how I think it could play out.
First off, let's be clear on something: the team is not sending Adams, Dupuis, Kennedy, Letestu, Talbot or Rupp down. They'd all have to clear waivers, and the team doesn't want to risk that. Of the guys on one-way contracts, the only one I take to be at risk of being sent to the AHL is Eric Godard: he would have to get through waivers, but I think he might clear, and we'd be okay without him if he didn't.
So we're talking about the following 8 players:
|Name (GP-G-A-P)||Age||Playing Status||Contract Status|
|Chris Conner (43-6-6-12)||27||Healthy||UFA at end of this season|
|Eric Godard (17-0-1-1)||30||Suspended until March 12||UFA at end of this season|
|Dustin Jeffrey (13-4-3-7)||22||Cleared for practice Feb. 23||RFA at end of this season|
|Nick Johnson (4-1-2-3)||25||IR (Concussion, Feb. 16)||RFA at end of this season|
|Brett Sterling (6-2-3-5)||26||Healthy||RFA at end of this season|
|Eric Tangradi (14-1-1-2)||22||IR (Concussion, Feb. 11)||RFA at end of next season|
|Joe Vitale (6-1-1-2)||25||Healthy||RFA at end of next season|
|Tim Wallace (6-0-0-0)||26||Healthy||RFA at end of this season|
Second, here's the deal with waivers (as well as I can parse them out; feel free to check out Article 13 of the CBA for more details):
- When a guy is placed on waivers, he becomes available to the other NHL teams for a period of 24 hours. If he is not claimed, he stays with the Penguins' organization. If he is claimed, we lose him, and some other team gets him. It's how we got Craig F. Adams in the first place, and it's how we both got and got rid of Chris Bourque.
- Whether a guy has to go on waivers depends on a variety of factors including his age, the number of games he has played at the NHL level, the number of years since his first NHL game, and the number of games he has played in the NHL (or the number of days he's been on an NHL roster) since the last time he cleared waivers.
- Dustin Jeffrey, Eric Tangradi, and Joe Vitale are exempt from waivers due to their age + years/games played. Although he is 25 years old, Vitale is safe because he went to college first and this is his first year with games in the NHL.
- Nick Johnson, Brett Sterling and Tim Wallace are exempt from waivers provided they don't accumulate 10 games or 30 days on the roster since their last call-up. Sterling and Johnson were called up February 10th while Wallace was last recalled on February 12th; Sterling has played 6 games since his recall while Johnson and Wallace have made it through 4 games each. Johnson's "time on the NHL roster" continues to accumulate despite the fact that he is currently on IR. He can be sent back to the AHL before he returns from IR, but he will continue to receive the NHL version of his salary until he is concussion-less.
- One option for Johnson, Sterling and/or Wallace is to send them down for a day between NHL games, then re-call them -- which would effectively re-start the "10 games/30 days" clock. However, the team cannot do this artificially, or they risk being accused of attempting to circumvent the CBA. The only way to do this is if they can convincingly pretend that they think a particular injured player is about to come back, and then later claim that they were mistaken in that pretend judgment call.
- Chris Conner's 43 games in the NHL this season mean that he will have to clear waivers in order to be sent down to the NHL, despite the fact that he cleared waivers at the beginning of the season.
For the time being, let's presume that Shero doesn't make any more trades before the deadline. If he picks up a forward without removing any of these guys from the Pens' system, then this post will need a little tweaking. But until then, let's pretend it's not going to happen. Let's also pretend that all of our injured players are coming back.
That said, how should the Penguins manage their roster as guys return from injury?
The first question is whether there is a guy who is exempt from waivers, but whose value on the Pens' NHL roster for the rest of the season outweighs the risk of losing Chris Conner and/or Eric Godard. If either Sterling or Jeffrey had to clear waivers, or if Conner did not, I might take one of them in favor of Conner. But my current opinion (subject to change as I see fit) is that Conner is playing well enough to keep, regardless of the bittersweet sending down of Sterling and Jeffrey that would result.
That said, the second question becomes whether Conner or Godard should be put through waivers, if it comes to that. My current opinion on that (again subject to change as I see fit) is that we should keep Conner and waive Godard. Because Godard rarely plays, doesn't play during the playoffs, and can be effectively replaced in the star-protection department by Derek Engelland. I realize he's good in the room n'at, but I think the team's best interest would be to keep Conner over Godard.
What do you think?