The Pittsburgh Penguins have found some salary cap space. Thanks to the Anaheim Ducks taking the full freight of Erik Gudbranson (seriously, thank you Anaheim). But they have it nonetheless.
Also, quick aside, the Pens have done a lot to manage the salary cap. PensBurgh has been credibly told that CapFriendly (while an amazing and awesome resource) is incorrect right now in their outlook on the team. Apparently — and you can verify on the team press releases if you want to dig it up — Evgeni Malkin was not placed on long-term injury reserve. Note the timing of the Gudbranson trade: it was ONE DAY before Bryan Rust was removed from LTIR. Trading Gudbranson made the Pens cap compliant. This is also why all the Pens’ call-ups from the AHL this season (Adam Johnson, Joseph Blandisi, Sam Lafferty) were classified as “emergency loans”, there was some sort of convoluted cap benefit.
Long story very short: the Pens masterfully managed the salary cap, in a way that impressed very smart people for the first time in really a long time to work around all the injuries they suffered, and only placed Rust on LTIR. This is important because it means they’ve been banking all the cap space (since they’ve been under the cap after Saturday) this past week.
OK that wasn’t very short, but some people will enjoy it. Hopefully the rest can get back.
HOWEVA (Stephen A voice), the bottom line is the Gudbranson trade does open up room for Pittsburgh, who was extremely constrained until they moved a high price defenseman. We can debate and guffaw about the asset management issues about going down that path, but at this point it is what it is. Gaining cap space in today’s league IS a victory in and of itself.
And, according to Elliotte Friedman in 31 Thoughts, more wheels could be in motion:
Pittsburgh is absolutely going to add. It’s just a matter of when GM Jim Rutherford decides to. It is also believed an extension with Marcus Pettersson is all but done. He can’t sign until Jan. 1, at the earliest.
In our new reality of actually having cap space, there’s a lot of avenues to consider. Goaltending? Looks more than fine. Forwards? Well, they have too many good ones (and now a capable, trusted guy in Sam Lafferty waiting deep in reserve).
Upgrading the defense? DING DING DING!
We all saw what one injury to Brian Dumoulin did to the Pens’ blueline. They were using Kris Letang and John Marino on their off-hands, very unusual considering they’re right handed and you almost never see a RH shot in the NHL playing on the left side.
It looks pretty clear that defense would be the area that Pittsburgh would need to strengthen. Their forwards are deep and finally healthy and they have three solid options in net.
Two teams Friedman described as “tense” for early season starts were Chicago and Calgary. Calgary is especially interesting.
GM Brad Treliving isn’t afraid of change. I don’t get the sense anything is imminent, but he’ll look to see what’s out there.
If the Flames are looking for change, there could be a natural match there. Defenseman T.J. Brodie has seen his name in the trade rumors for a while now, and his ES TOI dropped from 19:04 in 2017-18 (most among CGY defensemen), stayed at 18:33 last year (most among CGY defensemen) to 15:56 this year (fourth most among CGY D, and only 10 seconds per game above 5th). Brodie’s clearly being phased out in Calgary and is a free agent at the end of this season on a $4.6 million cap hit. Could he be bait for them at this point? Seems reasonable if the return offers them a new dynamic.
For the Pens, it would be great. Maybe a steady player like Brodie could slot in with Justin Schultz. Or work with the rookie John Marino. And either way, that’s a top-four replacement-in-waiting in case of a future injury, while making the Pens one of the deepest and most complete teams around.
Of course, there is the matter of what to send back to make Calgary agree. Another name often in the rumors has been Bryan Rust. Seems a bit much based on value, but could be of interest or a starting point. Or perhaps would a center and some size in Nick Bjugstad be more to their liking? Or just pure cheap youth in Zach Aston-Reese and possibly an additional future piece? The Pens could afford to trade one of those players and still have a really deep forward group. And the cap hits work for both sides, and to an extent helps Calgary shake things up and get a bit younger and an added player up front.
Not saying do it, or pack anyone’s bags, but it’s always interesting to see what could be out there or which teams are the more active ones in sniffing around. I know if I’m the Pens, I’m looking to boost the defense. Calgary is seemingly pretty frustrated and it’s no secret Brodie’s contract is ticking loudly and his role has been de-emphasized.
Regardless of if this specific avenue is possible to go down or not, the Pens under Rutherford are going to be active and looking to use their newly-found cap space to upgrade the team. This should be a fun an exciting development to watch moving forward.