In addition to all of their problems on the ice, the Pittsburgh Penguins are not doing well off the ice either. The team is out of salary cap space, and as a result can’t bring back defenseman Jan Rutta from the long-term injury reserve without making a trade or sending multiple players down to the AHL.
According to Frank Seravalli at Daily Faceoff, option A for “make a trade” could be the way to go on this on.
Scoop: GM Ron Hextall sent a note to his NHL counterparts over the last few days to alert them that Kapanen is available as the Penguins wrangle salary cap constraints. According to CapFriendly.com, the Pens do not have enough space to activate Jan Rutta from LTIR without a corresponding move. That could be accomplished by waiving another player, but it could also happen by trading Kapanen – which would alleviate next year’s burden for Kapanen as well. Seems to make a lot of sense. This one could be more imminent than some of the others on the board as the bet is Pittsburgh wants to get Rutta playing again.
In many ways, Kapanen is the poster boy for the Pens’ struggles this season. Hextall chose to NOT make Kapanen avalable last summer to NHL general managers, when Pittsburgh instead sent Kapanen a qualifying offer to retain this rights. Hextall decided to do this and lock in paying a premium rate for the arbitration-eligible player, despite the fact that Kapanen had an inconsistent 2021-22 season that included more in-game demotions, benching and healthy scratches than periods of production and smooth sailing.
Prioritizing and re-signing Kapanen was a sign that management and coaching weren’t aligned. Mike Sullivan only played Kapanen 14:32 per game in 2021-22, down a full minute from an average of 15:32 in 2020-21. That mark is down to only 12:02 with the player further cratering and fulfilling worst case scenarios.
Kapanen still has one more season next year at a $3.2 million salary. It remains to be seen just what team would be interested in taking him, or if the Pens could stomach a move like Ottawa just made when they jettisoned Nikita Zadorov and his bad contract for the price of also giving up a second round pick.
And while the whole “moving with urgency” thing has never been a staple of Hextall’s managerial work, there is reason to do so now with Rutta’s health and the minor boost that could provide the defense.
The NHL trade deadline is in one week, Friday March 3rd.