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Colton Sceviour waived as logjam at bottom of Penguins’ roster reaches breaking point

General manager Ron Hextall begins the process of upgrading his roster by cleaning up what he was left by Jim Rutherford.

Philadelphia Flyers v Pittsburgh Penguins Photo by Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images

Colton Sceviour was on the NHL’s COVID protocol list on Saturday and Sunday. By Monday at 12 noon, he was on another list — the waiver wire.

The Penguins have been searching for a better fourth line, and Sceviour has been more a part of the problem than the solution. Sceviour’s 41.1% expected goal share is 18th among 21 skaters, he has just two points on the season in 16 games. Both were goals, but he’s been held off the scoreboard in his last 12 games and counting.

Worse yet for Sceviour, his $1.2 million salary is almost double of league minimum and in the range of other options like Anthony Angello and Sam Lafferty. Sceviour isn’t out of place on the ice, but his salary can buy almost two other players, which becomes a problem for his status.

Perhaps worse still, the Pens are getting healthier. Evan Rodrigues recently made his return to the lineup. So did Brian Dumoulin. The jury is out on what happened to Jared McCann last night, but besides Jason Zucker, just about the whole team is healthy right now. That almost includes defenseman Juuso Riikola, who is participating in practice.

After claiming Mark Friedman off waivers two weeks ago, Pittsburgh is over-full with players now that health has returned gradually as well.

Something is going to have to give. Waiving Sceviour gives the Pens options about what can happen next.

If another team claims Sceviour, that would obviously settle that. Pittsburgh loses the player but gains cap space. In the likely event no team puts a claim in (which we’ll know shortly after 12 noon tomorrow), then it opens up what Pittsburgh can do.

They could elect to do nothing for the time being and carry on with Sceviour. The Pens are at 23 players right now, though Riikola could be back from IR soon. In that case, the easiest step would be to assign Sceviour or Angello to the taxi squad, which would remove that player from the 23 man limit. It would also reduce Sceviour from a $1.2 million to a $125,000 salary cap hit, pro-rated out each day from now on, since the relief limit is $1,075,000.

General manager Ron Hextall doesn’t have to tip his hand just yet, but waiving Sceviour shows that the so-called “evaluation stage” for the roster may be nearing it’s end. The fourth line, of which Sceviour, Laffery and Mark Jankowski have been the biggest components this season, has been a failed experiment and all individuals are more than trending down, they’re playing poorly enough to drag the team down. Waiving Sceviour now begins the process to clear most of his cap hit, which is going to be necessary as a first step to revamp and change that line.

And, really, it’s the first step of Hextall beginning to clean up some of the mess left for him by his predecessor. Sceviour was a trade throw-in this summer to help balance the salary outlay between the primary trading components of Patric Hornqvist (due $5.3 million actual salary in 2020-21) and Mike Matheson (due $3.5 million of real salary in 2020-21, against a $4.875m AAV cap hit). Adding Sceviour’s $1.2 million helped Florida balance their books for this season and bring the first year of the transaction closer to neutral.

At this point, let’s not even think about the fact that on ice results looks like Rutherford sold Hornqvist at least a year too early. The Swedish winger has 20 points (9G+11A) in 24 games for the Panthers. Matheson has four points (2G+2A) in 16 games and had difficulties in his own zone (on ice for 14 GA in 16 games, allowing the most Corsi events against of any defender on the team). Let’s also forget that Matheson is signed through 2026.

If we did think about that, it would mean that Hextall probably has to live with the Matheson component of that trade for a while longer. Right now, it’s more on the coaching staff to try and acclimate Matheson to the team and get good performances out of him, because the front office is not going to be able to do much to work around that.

But Hextall can and is starting to re-shape the easier piece of that transaction to re-work in Sceviour. Being placed on waivers doesn’t necessarily mean his stint as a Penguin player is completely and officially 100% over, but it is a first step towards getting to that result.

And it’s the first step for the Penguins to start managing the logjam of players that are littering the bottom of their roster, almost all of whom are not having a positive impact on helping the team, and in fact playing at or below replacement levels. That will also be the opening to switch pieces around and try and upgrade that area that needs attention, because replacement level players have to be swapped out and replaced quickly on contending teams.

Bringing in Friedman was the initial salvo, but also just an unforeseen opportunity about the timing of when the Flyers perhaps somewhat unexpectedly cut a player Hextall knew and liked.

To achieve more and real change, it’s going to take decisions on the roster status of players currently around like Sceviour and his ilk (Riikola, Jankowski, Lafferty etc) in order to open room and salary space to allow for more changes to the roster by Hextall.