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Could the Penguins afford to keep Patric Hornqvist?

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The Penguins face an important question about a key winger and around the league a market for his price seems to be set

NHL: Stanley Cup Final-Pittsburgh Penguins at Nashville Predators Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

If I’m Patric Hornqvist’s agent, I print this tweet out and frame it, all while doing a happy dance after seeing the news yesterday that Columbus has re-signed winger Cam Atkinson to prevent him from going to free agency this summer.

All of those guys (aside from Turris) are good comparables to Hornqvist as middle-aged NHL wingers, most with some jam in their game and reliable 20-30 goal and 50-60 point guys in a good year. And hey, what do you know that’s what Hornqvist is too, plus being having the perception shine of being a major driving motor in 2 Stanley Cup runs in the last two years.

Clearly Hornqvist, who turns 31 in January, is in great shape financially if he goes to free agency July 1st. The Penguins window to re-sign him started this summer, but obviously haven’t, so perhaps they know they can’t afford the relentless Swedish winger.

Just for fun though, could we make an exercise that pays Hornqvist a near-market rate and still have the team in place for 2018-19? What would the team’s cap and outlook be if they did? To answer, let’s give it a go with CapFriendly, and assume that Hornqvist will even be willing to sign for a slight discount of what the open market might pay, and sign for 5 years and $5.5 million per season. It’s unknown if he would even accept such an offer, but obviously we’re making a leap to say he wants to stay in Pittsburgh and would be comfortable with what would be a generous and fair deal.

Making that move and that move only puts a team core for next season looking as such:

If the cap remains at $75.0 million for next year, in this scenario the Penguins have $8.5 million of space and still need to sign 5 forwards, 1 depth defensemen and 1 backup goalie for 2018-19. Of importance, the status of restricted free agent Bryan Rust who is having another fine season and certainly due a raise and will eat into that chunk of available space.

Again, just for fun, let’s make some potentially dangerous assumptions to see how the team can hold itself together if they were to keep Hornqvist.

  • We’ll give Rust $2.75 million for 2 years, slightly less money than Conor Sheary got, since Rust scores slightly less. Seems about reasonable for both parties as they will look to compromise instead of going to arbitration, much like Sheary did this past summer. Ideally maybe the Penguins can get a 3 year contract out of this like they did with Sheary but we’ll give Rust a break here with two years.
  • We’ll say Riley Sheahan signs his qualifying offer of $2.075 million. (If this upsets you, you can pretend Sheahan is traded and the team has $2 million to spend on a 3rd line center next year, the concept is more important than the actual player for this exercise).
  • Daniel Sprong is an RFA but has no leverage. Therefore the Pens get him for a cheap $700,000 deal, one-way contract. His motivation to sign this is knowing that he actually makes all $700k, 10 times more than the $70,000 yearly salary in the AHL he’s making this season, plus he knows he’s more in the NHL plans. This might even err on the side of being too generous, but it should be somewhere in the ballpark.
  • Same situation for Tristan Jarry, RFA coming of his ELC he has no leverage and accepts a one-way $700,000 contract for a season to at least establish himself as the full-time backup NHL goalie in 2018-19.
  • We’ll allot $700k for the 4th line center and $700k for the 13th forward and call them Carter Rowney and Tom Kuhnhackl for this exercise. If you want to imagine this is Greg McKegg or another UFA signing, that’s fine too, the money is the important aspect.
  • Ditto the 7th defender, we’ll call him Frankie Corrado on a $650k bargain basement price, could be whoever.
  • Sadly (or perhaps not sadly) we’ll assume that UFA Ryan Reaves has a higher market value than the space Pittsburgh has available, so he departs as a free agent.
  • There’s certainly no room at the inn for UFA Ian Cole, who also skates off to greener pastures.

Here would be the Pens lines, roughly imagined for 2018-19 after all that movement. We’ve fit a full team but one with only $232k of cap space (so let’s all hope that cap shows some modest growth!)

And here a long term outlook:

A big concern is Jake Guentzel, whose contract ends after 2018-19 and is due a raise. Most (or all) of that should be baked in, since Carl Hagelin and his $4.0m salary expire at this time, and for this projection we have not traded Hagelin (a salary cutting move that certainly could be possible).

Either way the 2019-20 season the Penguins would be starting to feel a squeeze if they kept Hornqvist. In this scenario, we have $63.1 million on the books already in 2017 for the 2019-20 season, and that only counts 12 players.

However, those 12 players are 6 forwards (all top-6 players), 5 defensemen (all could be considered top-4) and a starting goalie, so at least the key players would be in place and the GM would have to round out the 2019-20 season with a lot of cheap, younger players and probably hope for the best.

**

To answer the initial question- could the Penguins afford to sign Patric Hornqvist to a contract the likes of Atkinson or Oshie have recently received? Yes, though it would certainly create a very tight space for the future and ensure that the 4th line and 3rd pair guys are all going to be low-paid young players and/or replacement level veterans.

The next natural question is would it be a good idea to sign a rough-and-tough 31 year old like Hornqvist for a 5-6-7-8 year deal like his peers are getting? Probably not in the back-end of the deal, but by that time in 4-5 years this Pittsburgh team will be at the end of it’s current cycle anyways. There’s also a new CBA negotiation in a few years and the last two CBA’s (the only two with a salary cap) have included amnesty/compliance buyouts. It wouldn’t be prudent management to bank on a potential future escape clause, but such a possibility shouldn’t be totally ignored either, given league history of continually helping teams disappear bad contracts through labor negotiations.

All of those theoretical questions are a bit deeper than what was intended to explore in this exercise, which was simply to see if retaining Hornqvist was even a possibility financially for Pittsburgh. If he’s reasonable and wants to stay (and why wouldn’t he be?) and if the team would be willing to trade flexibility and depth for keeping an important veteran, the money and cap certainly is juuuust doable. We’ll turn it over for you to judge if it would be wise.

Poll

Should the Penguins re-sign Patric Hornqvist?

This poll is closed

  • 18%
    Yes, they should prioritize signing Hornqvist to market rate cost/term and make other moves as necessary to fit cap-wise
    (251 votes)
  • 50%
    Yes, sign him if possible but only it fits like shown above, worry about 4-5 years from now 4-5 years from now
    (688 votes)
  • 31%
    Nah, he’s too costly to fit in team’s salary structure for a long-term deal
    (434 votes)
1373 votes total Vote Now