By any indicator Matt Hunwick had a rotten 2017-18 season. Signed on July 1, 2017 as a free agent, the veteran Hunwick joined Pittsburgh as the team was bidding goodbye to Ron Hainsey and Trevor Daley. The Penguins hoped Hunwick would help replace those vets, and Hunwick was coming off a strong close to the 2016-17 season with Toronto.
However, it didn’t work that way. Hunwick was concussed just six games into the season, missing more than a month with symptoms. Fair or foul, that seemed to never let him get on track all season and by mid-January Hunwick was out of the regular rotation. The Pens defense was remarkably healthy this season for once and the veteran never really got a chance to get back in as in-season trade acquisition Jamie Oleksiak played well, as did Chad Ruhwedel as lower pair options. Hunwick only played 9 regular season games after January 24th, and 0 in the playoffs as he anchored firmly in healthy scratch territory.
So now Pittsburgh is left with two more years remaining at an annual $2.25 million cap hit for a 33-year old defenseman in Hunwick who seems to be adrift to many possibilities. Let’s rank them.
Option #1: Hunwick stays as 6th/7th defenseman
This would be the path of least resistance since it requires no action. The Pens have all their defensemen for next year under contract (save Oleksiak as an RFA). Maybe they elect to give Hunwick another shot and hope that he comes to camp healthy, is more familiar with the coach, the system, the team and will be better in Year 2 as a Penguin.
Hope isn’t often the best strategy with an older defenseman, but it might be the only one available.
Odds of happening: 50%. It makes the most sense to keep him at least to start the season and see how it plays out. Pittsburgh isn’t exactly flush with defensive depth as it is. No guarantee he would end the season on the Pens NHL roster, though
Option #2: Buyout
The Pens are one of the few teams in the 13 year history of the NHL salary cap to never buy out a player. And the math makes this a bad idea in this case to start right now. From CapFriendly here is what happens if Pittsburgh buys out Hunwick this summer:
It would be nice to save a bit of money in the next two seasons, however the price would be a $708k hit from 2020-2022 and that doesn’t make a lot of sense to kick the can down the road for a team that flirts with the upper limit any year anyways.
Odds: 1%. Never say never I guess, but this would be a foolish play given the alternatives
Option #3: Bury in the AHL
Moving Hunwick to the minor leagues would be a more palatable way (for the team at least!) to shed part of Hunwick’s cap hit without a future penalty. A team can get $1,025,000 taken off their cap hit for burying a player in the minors. So Hunwick would be counting $1.225m against Pittsburgh’s cap while he was in the AHL, assuming he went unclaimed after being waived. That would be better than a buyout since the cap hit would end in 2020 when the contract does.
Odds: 19%. Would the Pens send a vet down to the AHL? Might damage the reputation a bit among future free agents to know that Pittsburgh is cut-throat enough to make a guy go ride the buses again. Still, business is business and this is a viable possibility for a team that’s always up against the cap.
Option #4: Trade
This is probably the preferred option for all parties. Hunwick could get a fresh start and maybe a better fit, the Pens could move on to hopefully use the money on a player who would fit them better too.
But obviously the huge issue is that NHL teams don’t really line up for older defensemen who are coming off bad seasons and signed for their age-33 and 34 seasons. It would take some magic and the exact right scenario to drum up interest.
Even then, Pittsburgh might have to take back a comparable player/contract in such a trade. It would only make sense in a Daley-for-Scuderi type fashion that teams are going to dish out an old, expensive defenseman for an old, expensive defenseman....And at just $2.25m, they can be a lot more expensive than Hunwick’s contract which isn’t necessarily a back-breaker.
Odds: 30%. If they could they probably would, but the question becomes if the interest to acquire Hunwick is there
What do you THINK will happen to Matt Hunwick this summer (note: not necessarily want)
This poll is closed
Stays with the Pens
Gets bought out
Gets demoted to the AHL after camp