It turns out former Penguins GM Jim Rutherford is part of the reason Mikael Granlund likely isn’t going to get bought out this offseason.
New president of hockey operations Kyle Dubas said during his media availability in Cranberry Friday that he sees buyouts as a “last resort,” in part because of the deal Rutherford made with the Toronto Maple Leafs for Phil Kessel in 2015.
“We had that situation in Toronto, on a retention trade to Pittsburgh,” Dubas said. “You’re looking at it, seven years down the road, and you still have that space, in a hard salary cap environment, limiting you.”
Kyle Dubas, President of Hockey Operations: "Last year, the group here got great performances out of its core players and still missed [the playoffs]. So we need to have players in the third and fourth lines that can add certain utilities." pic.twitter.com/pvhEl8Sbt7— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) June 23, 2023
In order to send Kessel to Pittsburgh, the Leafs agreed to retain an annual 15%, or $1.2 million, of his eight-year, $8 million AAV salary. At the time, Kessel had seven seasons of that contract left to go.
That cap hit was still on Toronto’s books when Dubas took over in 2018. It remained there for the next four seasons, only expiring when Kessel’s contract finally ran out in 2022.
Every dollar counted when the Leafs’ core four of Auston Matthews, John Tavares, Mitch Marner and William Nylander took up almost half of the team’s salary cap, so that $1.2 million lost each year hurt. It’s no wonder Dubas isn’t comfortable having his first move with the Penguins be a deal committing them to years of a similar burden.
“I think with regard to buyouts, I’ve always believed that you try to find a more creative solution, and it’s a last resort,” Dubas said. “And I don’t feel that we’re at that point right now.”
The Penguins’ most obvious buyout candidate is Mikael Granlund, who after 21 underwhelming games with Pittsburgh last season is signed on for two more years at $5 million AAV.
His buyout, however, would linger on the Penguins’ cap for the next four campaigns. The cost would sit under $1 million for next season, but would jump up to closer to $2 million for the next three years.
The NHL buyout window closes on June 30th. Given Dubas’ comments, it doesn’t seem like the Penguins will be using it.