One thing we know about the Pittsburgh Penguins is that every year on the 1st of July when free agency opens, the team prefers to be players. This has essentially been the case dating back to 2008 after then-GM Ray Shero pushed the figurative chips to the middle of the table when he went out and acquired Marian Hossa at the trade deadline that spring. The team fell just shy of their ultimate goal that year, losing in the Stanley Cup Final to the Detroit Red Wings in six games, but the message was clear — the Penguins were going for it.
Since then, the team has been open for business when free agency comes along, whether we are talking about them trying to re-sign Marian Hossa, throwing their hat into the Zach Parise and Ryan Suter sweepstakes, or trying to push their way into Columbus’ trade for Brandon Saad, they like to be involved in bigger matters around the league.
When Jim Rutherford took over as GM of the Penguins leading into the 2014-15 season, his first free agent signing was a low-risk deal, bringing Christian Ehrhoff to Pittsburgh after he had been bought out by the Buffalo Sabres. In the end, it didn’t work out, primarily for health reasons, but those are the kind of moves that teams who have Stanley Cup goals and potential for should be willing to make. When the Penguins want to be on the stage, they seem to have ways of making it so. This was as obvious as ever on July 1, 2015 when everyone was waiting for free agency signings and the Penguins went out and traded for Phil Kessel, making everything else that happened that day seem a little meaningless. With all that said, that brings us to the curious case of one Corey Perry.
Why is Corey Perry Available?
In March of 2013, when Perry signed an 8-year, $69 million dollar contract extension with the Anaheim Ducks, he was coming off of a 15-goal and 36-point 44-game (lockout shortened) season, I don’t think anyone expected he wouldn’t play out the duration of his contract. Flash forward six years later — the Anaheim Ducks have struggled mightily recently, and after Perry missed the first five months of the season with a knee injury, the team decided to buy out the remaining two years of his contract, thus making him an unrestricted free agent on July 1.
➡ 2007 Stanley Cup— Anaheim Ducks (@AnaheimDucks) June 19, 2019
➡ 2011 Hart Trophy and Rocket Richard Trophy
➡ Four-time NHL All-Star Game selection
➡ Winner of six separate team championships (including two Olympic gold medals)
➡ Most games played in franchise history
A Duck for life
Thank you, Corey Perry! pic.twitter.com/P3jlVxkTNK
As we’ve gone over the fact that the Penguins like to be players around the league, it wasn’t surprising to read in Elliotte Friedman’s 31 Thoughts column that the team has shown interest.
While there is cause for concern regarding Perry’s injury that sidelined him for five months last season, it isn’t implausible to think that he could bounce back well moving into the next season and still thrive as a productive player. After all, we are talking about a player who up until two seasons ago was a perennial 30-plus goal scorer. As we know, with wingers having come and gone through Pittsburgh, 30-40 goal scorers don’t show up out of thin air, and sometimes (ahem, James Neal), their production isn’t repeatable. Sure, the injury can scare you a little bit with his being 34-years-old and the number of games he’s logged for club and country combined, but I personally feel like there’s a higher reward vs. risk if the terms can be right.
Why Should the Penguins Be Interested in Corey Perry?
While mentioning the injury and the reasons for being bought out, I circle back to the previous statement about 30-40 goal scorers. Legs can slow players down, injuries can slow players down, but goal scorers with the track record of Perry don’t forget how to score goals. We are talking about a player with a stat line between the 2013-14 season and the 2015-16 season scored 110 goals in the regular season. Going into his first down year of 2016-17, he still scored 53 points with an additional 11 points in 17 playoff games.
Corey Perry (being bought out) has a good bit of value still; above average in most areas and brings a lot of power-play value. pic.twitter.com/stUoc2Dpe3— Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) June 19, 2019
“But he is a dirty player” will surely be an expected reaction to the idea of the Penguins signing Perry. Jim Rutherford has made it clear time and again that he wants the Penguins to be tougher and have more grit and heart, and he has made roster moves to try and back up those feelings he has. Whether it was trading a first-round pick for Ryan Reaves or trading Tanner Pearson for Erik Gudbranson, Rutherford loves him some physical play.
Perry is the type of player who can satisfy both ends of the spectrum for Rutherford, while scoring goals and producing offensively, but he’ll also be the first guy looking to tell T.J. Oshie to get away from Matt Murray’s crease when the Penguins and Capitals kick it off for the first time next season. If you really feel the need to make your team tougher, at least make it tougher with a guy who can play.
Would Corey Perry Want to play For the Penguins?
Why would Perry want to play in Pittsburgh? Sure, the weather here can stink, and it’s not in Orange County California, but you do have two factors whose names start and end with Crosby and Malkin. The opportunity to contend for a Stanley Cup is on the table, even if management has had missteps to put that goal farther out of reach than it previously had been.
The Sidney Crosby factor has come into play for the Penguins in the past, especially having been brought up in regard to the Penguins signing Jack Johnson, and farther back when the Parise sweepstakes were going on. When it comes to Crosby and Perry, the pair have been teammates on the international stage on more than one occasion. The two were teammates were both part of the 2005 World Junior gold medal winners, 2010 and 2014 Olympic gold medal winners, and 2016 World Cup of Hockey gold medal winners.
What Would It Take From the Penguins End?
It’s always tricky trying to navigate or figure out what kind of contract will be enough to get it done and get it signed with players whose contracts have just been bought out. When the Penguins signed Christian Ehrhoff in 2014, the situation was a bit different. Not only was he only 31-years-old, he was also just guaranteed an $850,000 payday every year for the next 14 years by the Buffalo Sabres when his contract was bought out using a compliance buyout entering the new (and existing) Collective Bargaining Agreement. It ended up that Ehrhoff signed a one-year deal with the Penguins at the same AAV ($4 million) as his 10-year deal with the Sabres, and unfortunately for both his and the teams endgame, injuries kept him from really finding his footing and he ended up moving on the following summer.
In the case of Perry, his previous cap hit (from the aforementioned eight-year extension) was north of $8 million per year. Given his age and the injury history, I don’t think it’s unrealistic to expect whomever he ends up signing with to look to try and keep the cap hit for his new deal at least below half of what it previously was. I also can’t imagine a team looking to go longer term than maybe two years, again given the injury history and age, as well as production over the past two seasons.
How Do the Penguins Make It Work With the Salary Cap?
It would take some work — specifically using the same method that the Penguins used last summer to get out from under the ill-advised signing of Matt Hunwick. The Penguins tied Conor Sheary and Hunwick together and dealt them to the Buffalo Sabres and bought themselves $5.25 million in cap space in return for a conditional fourth-round pick. That begs the question of what do the Penguins do this summer to buy themselves more cap space? We already saw them deal Olli Maatta in exchange for Dominik Kahun, clearing some space. We know that the Penguins tried to attach Johnson to Phil Kessel in a vetoed deal with the Minnesota Wild. So where do they go from here?
It starts with finding someone willing to take on a bad contract in return for getting a good player. Where we start is we attach Bryan Rust and Jack Johnson at the hip. While there can be criticism of Rust’s production, including this year, he's cost-controlled for three seasons at $3.5 million per year. While last year may have felt underwhelming from the Penguins’ perspective, he still scored 18 goals and 35 points. Attaching Johnson to the deal could complicate matters, quite simply because he isn’t any good. Where do you deal the players to and what do you ask for in return? Paging one Pierre Dorion on Line 1, please.
Ottawa's been vocal about tearing it down but I'm not sure we have seen a teardown like this before. Going to be fascinating to look at in a couple of years.— Travis Yost (@travisyost) June 25, 2019
This is the CapFriendly page. Remarkable. pic.twitter.com/l9Kh0Zzx4g
The Ottawa Senators not only will need to reach the cap floor for the coming season, they’re going to need to reach the cap floor for the next several seasons coming. Johnson’s contract was fronted with a few million dollars in signing bonus money, which could potentially soften the blow for Ottawa in terms of actual cash dollars needed to be paid out. What do the Penguins get in return? Similar to the deal made with Buffalo for Sheary and Hunwick, ask for a conditional pick, or an AHL player who won’t affect the NHL-level salary cap.
If the Senators are willing to throw you a fifth-round draft pick, swap a fourth-round pick with them for good measure to make them think they're robbing you blind.
What Does the Cap Picture Look Like This After a Trade?
If you can make a cap-dump trade like that work, you’ve bought yourself plenty of wiggle room to sign all your RFAs, fill out your roster, and still bring a guy like Corey Perry aboard for $4 million per year on a one-year or two-year deal. Via the lovely Armchair-GM feature on CapFriendly, we have a vivid picture of what the roster construction could look like if this all happened.
What do you say? If the Penguins were in talks to sign Corey Perry as an unrestricted free agent under these contract terms, would you go for it?
Should the Penguins sign Corey Perry?
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