Penguins GM Jim Rutherford made qualifying offers to a couple of Pittsburgh’s current restricted free agents before the deadline Monday. Jamie Oleksiak and Bryan Rust received their offers, and Pittsburgh retains their rights. Both have the option to elect for arbitration if a deal can’t be struck, but just the fact that those two are in talks of returning is a good sign for the Penguins’ depth in the upcoming 2018-19 season.
However, the team declined to make qualifying offers to center Riley Sheahan or winger Tom Kuhnhackl.
Sheahan really grew into his role as a third/fourth line center hybrid last season after the trade for him, and the chances of him receiving an offer this summer are very high. There’s a chance Rutherford hasn't qualified him yet due to wanting to weigh his options, play the field a bit more, and see if he can sign another defenseman or bring in a big addition like Jeff Skinner (as we’ve been alluding to on the site) or another significant name on the trade market.
Coming off a 2017-18 salary of $2.075 million, it would have been relatively expensive to tender Sheahan, but Rutherford doesn’t often find his hands permanently tied up by the lack of cap space. My guess is a deal gets done somehow, but Sheahan’s representation will seek as much as they can. With only $8.53 million left in cap space (save a future trade), tiny details like these need to be ironed out, and the lack of a qualifying offer means Pittsburgh won’t have to pay Sheahan through the arbitration process that could ultimately award him a higher salary than the team would be comfortable paying.
Let’s not forget that the Penguins declined to make qualifying offers to Justin Schultz and Tyler Kennedy in past years and still ended up bringing them back for less money. There’s no need to fret about this little hitch in the road just yet, especially with the reports that the team is still going to work to sign Sheahan.
As for Kuhnhackl, we may have seen the last of the German penalty killer in a Penguins’ sweater. It’s a sad outcome for the two-time Stanley Cup champion to not be in talks with a new contract in Pittsburgh, but Rutherford is very adamant about balancing out the skill of all four lines to get more production out of them. He’s really working towards adding depth guys to the fourth line specifically to alleviate some of the pressure on the top-six and power play units. Kuhnhackl just didn’t bring the sort of offense Rutherford’s referring to, and that’s enough to say goodbye.
To do that, a trade may be the only way to do so under the crunch of the cap. This is Jim Rutherford, after all.
“If we clear more cap space, it may give us a chance to sign certain players to longer term contracts. So we could get that,” he told Josh Yohe of The Athletic. “And then it would leave us some cap space to let us do something at some other time. But does it give us a chance to sign a bigger contract? Probably not.”
Rutherford definitely has a lot more magic up his sleeves, and the summer is really just getting started. His masterful way of avoiding the cap by mere margins will undoubtedly slither its way into free agency, and that’s good news for a team wanting to make some trades and bulk up its bottom-six.
The next two months are about to get really interesting.