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The Penguins waive Juuso Riikola and Colton Sceviour as trade deadline nears

A look at what today’s roster moves of waiving Riikola and Scveiour mean for the Pittsburgh Penguins

Pittsburgh Penguins v New Jersey Devils Photo by Andy Marlin/NHLI via Getty Images

The Penguins have made a transaction on Saturday, just about 48 hours ahead of Monday’s NHL trade deadline that could open up some salary space. The team placed forward Colton Sceviour and defenseman Juuso Riikola on waivers.

What are the reasons as to why they would want do this now? As you might expect, the answer is it opens up more financial flexibility and gives the team options.

There are two outcomes that could happen in the next 24 hours:

  1. At noon tomorrow the NHL will announce if any teams across the league put a claim in and will take a player for no compensation. This would be fairly unlikely, being as Sceviour was recently waived and went unclaimed on March 8th. Riikola has a contract for next season, and teams have generally been very picky about adding salary commitments for next year.
  2. All the NHL teams take a pass on Sceviour and Riikola and they stay with the Pens.

Scenario two is much more likely to happen, so what happens then? The Pens can:

A) Do nothing at all and continue with both players on their NHL roster. Sceviour, after all, dressed for the Pens on March 9th — the very next day and game after he cleared waivers.

B) Put on one or both players on the taxi squad, where they can freely move them for up to 30 days or 10 games played. Or just leave them on the taxi squad for the rest of the season (as it seems they have done with Yannick Weber, who was signed when the Pens had all those defensive injuries, and been an NHL roster non-factor for months now).

Scenario A is possible for Sceviour, if he clears waivers tomorrow at noon there’s a pretty good chance he will dress for the game tomorrow night against the Devils. This move to waive Sceviour doesn’t necessarily mean his time in the Pens’ lineup is over (unless a team out there claims him, of course).

Scenario B is pretty likely for Riikola. Placing a player on the taxi squad allows teams to “bury” a player’s salary, up to $1.075m, from the daily salary cap calculations. Given the Pens’ current health and depth on defense, it seems likely Riikola could be on taxi squad for the rest of the year, being as he hasn’t played a game since January 19th.

This could also be done for Sceviour, especially on non-game days. (The Pens did this for seven total days in March after Sceviour cleared waivers to place him on the taxi squad for non game days and get some slight cap relief).

The timing of these moves happening now is no coincidence either. Monday is the NHL trade deadline day. Trade deadline day is a point of the season where roster items change. The NHL no longer imposes a 23-player max limit after the deadline — though teams still must remain salary cap compliant for the remainder of the regular season, which imposes a different kind of limit. The traditional waiver process to send players to the minor league (or more pertinently the taxi squad this season) ends for the year on deadline day as well.

The date on the calendar is advantageous and no coincidence either, with now just under 30 days left until the end of the regular season, and a period that Pittsburgh will freely be able to move Sceviour from taxi squad to NHL roster back and forth between days they do or don’t have games.

So the Pens have to get these details done. It could suggest if they drop both Riikola and Sceviour to the taxi squad full time, that clears up a prorated daily amount of $2.15 million ($1.075m for each player) to be able and bring in new player(s) before the trade deadline on Monday.

Frankly, this late in the year the Pens could have been much more aggressive with this practice of stashing players on the taxi squad who would make it through waivers. Philadelphia waived Shayne Gotisbehere (who at three years left on a $4.5 million cap hit was untouchable, Matheson’s five years at $4.875 is way worse because term matters most). Carolina did the same with Jake Gardiner (two more years left at a $4.05m cap hit) and Washington recently has done the same waiving forward Richard Panik (two more years left at $2.75m). All three of these veterans cleared waivers, and all have been stashed on the taxi squad while called up to the NHL roster for game days to play, saving their team some money on days they don’t have games.

If the Penguins really wanted to maximize their savings, they would have waived Matheson weeks ago and been stashing up more money for the rest of the year on non-game days. However, Pittsburgh has also had to dip into the LTIR bucket with all the injuries to high priced players that they’ve had this season, so it may not have always been as simple or as cut and dry as being able to leverage Matheson’s bad contract to their maximum advantage.

The fact that the Pens haven’t been totally managing towards saving the most cap space possible doesn’t necessarily indicate that they will go that route with today’s waiving of Sceviour and Riikola being a big shining sign that a big trade is coming. If they really wanted to gain as much cap space as possible, players like Riikola and Matheson would have been waived a long time ago.

Today’s decision to waive Sceviour and Riikola simply opens up more paths and more options for the Pens as far as how they want to build their roster at the trade deadline and for beyond with the rest of the 2020-21 regular season. Having options and gaining as much flexibility as possible is always a favorable thing, which is the main reason for why these transaction happened, and why they happened today.