Tuesday October 5th, a great day for the Penguins! Birthday of Mario Lemieux, anniversary of Sidney Crosby’s first NHL game. And now, the day the team announced they would fire Jack Johnson into the sun. (Well, not really, they’ll just pay him $7 million dollars over the next six years to now play for them, which seems like a better deal).
There’s much more to talk about the unqualified and totally predictable disaster that was the Jack Johnson signing to an over-blown contract to play a role well above his abilities and the subsequent pain it caused the team when Johnson was the worst player on the roster for the last two years. And surely that will happen.
But right now is the whirlwind week for the NHL. The draft is Tuesday and Wednesday. Free agency on Friday. Where are the Pens now?
One thing is for sure, the promise Jim Rutherford made to get younger and faster for next season will be upheld. Just go to hockeydb and sort the Pens’ lineup from last year by age. Here’s the top half of the oldest players.
Patrick Marleau won’t be back. Jack Johnson is now bought out. Patric Hornqvist was traded. That’s every 30+ year old player that isn’t a key, bedrock member of the team (Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang) that have been pared off the roster.
Beyond that, Justin Schultz will be gone. Nick Bjugstad was traded. Those moves are likely to make the Pens younger and quicker of a team as well.
Marleau and Schultz were always going to be moving on, but Rutherford was able to go the extra mile by finding trades or ways to shed Johnson, Hornqvist and Bjugstad. Regardless of whether you think he did well in those trades or not, the unavoidable fact is that he certainly has made the team younger and it will be an overall fasting skating team by removing those elements who are probably the least proficient at actually skating and getting around the ice at their position (Bjugstad as a center, Hornqvist as a winger and Johnson as a defenseman).
How do the Pens stack up on the salary cap? We just went over it on Friday, check it out here. It seems counter-intuitive that buying out a player saves money, but Pittsburgh definitely will in the short-term. Instead of paying Jack Johnson $3.0 million of a real salary to play for them, they’ll pay him $916,667 this season to not pay for them. The salary cap savings are even more pronounced, instead of carrying a $3.25 million cap hit in 2020-21, Johnson’s cap number will be $1.1 million (that will fluctuate over the next six seasons).
In a nutshell, it’s a great short-term move for the Pens. They remove their worst player and pay just a minimal fee. It would have been better to never have signed him, or found a trade for him, but clearly that ship has sailed, this is the best of a bad situation.
According to CapFriendly, the Pens’ cap situation is in good shape for 2020-21. It is showing $4.7 million in space for a lineup that only needs two more forwards signed to get to a normal playing situation. However, the team might still be looking to upgrade the right side of their defense as well.
This week business should pick up further with the expected impending trade of Matt Murray. And then, come free agent day we might find out if the Penguins have learned from the mistakes made that brought in Johnson in the first place as they’ll likely look to add a forward or defender from the open market.