Radim Zohorna started the day today on the Penguins’ third line after playing two solid games in the NHL. He ends the day in Wilkes-Barre. On paper anyways.
But Zohorna’s roster status is just part of a bigger puzzle for Pittsburgh starting a journey that will end with Alex Nedeljkovic going on long term injured reserve. The goalie was injured last night during during the game against Dallas and tried to fight through it and practice today. However, he pulled the plug on that and he left early. For today, he’s officially only on the regular injured reserve.
The Penguins have placed goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic on injured reserve and re-assigned forward Radim Zohorna to the @WBSPenguins.— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) October 25, 2023
Goaltender Magnus Hellberg and forward Corey Andonovski have been recalled from WBS. pic.twitter.com/Lh0KIpVVeC
So why is Zohorna and Corey Andonovski involved with an unrelated injury to a totally different player?
As you might suspect, the answer involves salary cap maneuvering.
If your eyes glaze over from the gory detail, here’s the long story short, tl;dr summary: Zohorna will be back on the NHL roster tomorrow and was moved out for a quick beat to open up the most flexibility possible for the Penguins’ salary cap.
If you’re here for the details, then here goes. Andonovski carries a $925,000 salary cap hit this season and Zohorna is on a $775,000 cap hit. Zohorna can be safely “assigned” to the minors in a paper move since he just cleared waivers earlier this month. The difference of their salaries (+$150,000 extra to the cap) is important - and why Andonovski was chosen as the AHL player being “recalled” - because this math gets Pittsburgh the closest to the salary cap that they possible can for today, as CapFriendly points out.
Tomorrow, the Pens can push Nedeljkovic off to the long-term injury reserve and flip Zohorna and Andonovski back while taking a more favorable capture figure than if they just kept Zohorna all along. Before tomorrow’s game against Colorado, expect those transactions to sort through with Zohorna back in the NHL lineup as if he never left it at all.
As you may have caught in the note above from the Penguins, goalie Magnus Hellberg has been recalled to the NHL under emergency situations. Hellberg will still count against the salary cap as normal, the emergency designation means he is slated to return to the AHL once Nedeljkovic is healthy. The benefit of terming it as an emergency recall is that Hellberg will not have to pass through waivers when the time comes to send him back. A handful of teams are carrying three goalies and worried about claims, Hellberg himself was claimed on waivers last season three times (!) and now the Pens won’t have to worry about losing goalie depth over this if Hellberg plays reasonably well in the NHL.
Hellberg going back to the AHL will likely be some time down the road because if and when Nedeljkovic officially goes to long-term injured reserve, he will be ineligible to play for 24 days and the next 10 games, making the earliest possible return on November 19th against Vegas. (It goes without saying that he would also need to be healthy by then too). All that to say, Hellberg suddenly becomes a player looking at some action at the NHL level this season.
CapFriendly has an excellent primer to remind about what LTIR means and doesn’t mean. Can’t recommend brushing up enough. To quote a key and common passage, the Pens won’t “bank space” or benefit from Nedeljkovic or any player going on LTIR, but making a move like this does allow them to go over the upper limit. By swapping Zohorna for Andonovski, they’ve found more space to push that limit.
When a player is placed on LTIR, their cap hit remains on the teams cap payroll and it continues to count as it always did. It also does not provide the club with additional cap-space savings that can be banked for future use while the team operates above the salary cap. Instead, LTIR provides relief if the club’s averaged club salary, or payroll, begins to exceed the upper limit. The amount of relief that the club receives is calculated on the day the player is placed on LTIR.
If you can read that and follow, then that’s great the complicated situation was explained halfway decent. It’s fine to stick to the main takeaways from these developments as simply as possible though:
- Pens and Kyle Dubas = working the cap system rules as they can and should
- Alex Nedeljkovic = going to be out a while
- Magnus Hellberg = all of a sudden is a very important player for the NHL club in the next few weeks as its backup goalie
- Corey Andonovski = very slight bonus of drawing NHL pay for a day
- Radim Zohorna = still a part of the NHL plans
Clear as mud?