EDIT: I worked on this leading up to the Free Agency period and before the trade that sent Phil to Arizona. I will be getting to that in a separate piece, and I don’t want to edit this too much, BUT for everyone saying “this deal with Phil helped us make cap room!” it really only opened up about 2M, which isn’t very much at all. Buying out Jack Johnson would save us 3M for instance, so we still need to move some other guys to have usable space. In other words, the main thing we needed in a Phil trade (cap space) we did not get. GREAT FUCKING TRADE JIM
Here are my notes on the current salary structure and layout of the team heading into the 2019-20 season.
So those Malkin trade rumors were utterly ridiculous. We would never be able to get equal value and he is a Hall of fame player who has played his entire career in Pittsburgh. Sidney and Mario love him. He isn’t going anywhere.
If it were to happen, it would have to be to a west coast team because no, you don’t want to play him in the playoffs. 100% no way would we ever trade him to a Metro rival like the Rangers that’s just stupid as hell I have no idea why that always gets brought up because it would literally never happen.
Trading Kessel is also short-sighted. He is one of the best scoring wingers in the entire NHL. He makes the team better, especially the powerplay.
Now, because Rutherford has done some dumb fucking deals recently, they are in a tough spot.
But that doesn’t mean you start blaming the best players on the team, and it doesn’t mean you trade them. It means you give them better options to work with and take responsibility for the bad moves you’ve made.
AKA moving some other guys for draft picks, stocking up a bit, and making a run at some legit free agents because there are a BUNCH of those.
This is not a trade our best players situation (which is such a tired and ill-conceived narrative).
This is a trim some fat off the books and sign some good players situation.
Rutherford made some of these deals. Reign him back a bit, do not allow any franchise altering moves here for long term money. DO NOT sell low on franchise cornerstones (FUCK). As recently as 2 seasons ago he did so with Marc-Andre Fleury. Look how horribly that has panned out.
For one you have to think someone would have been willing to pay something for Fleury, anything really, as opposed to what they ended up doing. It isn’t talked about, but we actually PAID Vegas to take him in the expansion draft.
You know you have to move one of them; make a decision and get value for them (Fleury or Matt Murray). They chose to keep Murray, so you have to get something for Fleury. It’s common sense. Not to mention, there were teams that NEEDED goalies, and you could easily have pointed to recent postseason success and clear playoff chops in building perceived value. It’s not like that would have been a false narrative.
Rutherford should have been able to fetch SOMETHING for his services in a trade. I mean, if you are going to move on from Fleury you should fucking get something for him in that scenario, not have to pay someone to take him! This was utterly BOTCHED and doesn’t get talked about enough.
Further, however, one could make the argument they made the wrong decision as well, as far as for taking Matt Murray over Fleury in the first place. I’ll be getting into that in another piece down the line.
Anyway, it’s not smart to even talk about trading Malkin, Kessel, or Letang.
PERHAPS one could justify Letang because the Penguins DID manage to win the Cup without him in 2017, but at the same time, he is a part of the leadership core and a minutes munching offensive creator.
Objectively, he does help the team and our window is still open RIGHT NOW.
So we need to clear cap space (stupid hard cap!) and sign some mutha fuckin’ legit free agents!
They already pulled a move off for Maatta to make room for Jake Guentzel’s fat raise from less than a M to 6 per season. This move was to be expected, not a move that Rutherford was forced to make because Phil vetoed a trade to Minnesotta.
Sadly Jim Rutherford has made a couple of boo boos recently (besides the handling of the goalie situation) and those other shitty moves might end up costing us this free agency period unless he makes some moves to correct his mistakes (which he did not do).
Most glaringly he signed Jack Johnson to a really bad contract last summer. Literally, a cringe-worthy deal the second it leaked, before it was even final. What I would of given to stop him from signing it! But alas, I have no contact within the organization.
It’s the type of deal that makes the team worse on the ice and harder to add to off of it.
So to rid ourselves of Johnson’s onerous contract we have to either buy out the remainder of it (my preferred option), or trade him to a team like Ottawa that could absorb the cap hit.
The thing is, with trading it, you know, is how bad it is.
It’s so bad that to get any team to take it, we would have to incentivize it big time.
For fuck’s sake Jim!
He has 4 years left for 3.25M per year. This past season, the first of the deal, he played poorly enough that even if it was a one year contract, it still would have been considered a big time mistake.
4 years left on it for chrissakes!
To top off the horrendous amount of pressure this puts on our cap situation, does it look like Jack Johnson will be able to find better form with age going into his 33 year old season?
It does not.
In fact, it seems likely he’ll get worse, which makes this a cap strapping deal for a declining black hole in the lineup when we need all the cap we can get to sign players to help us win another Cup THIS SEASON MAN.
So, it looks like GMJR should bite the fucking bullet and buy out the remaining years on Johnson’s deal. It would look like this and pay out over 8 seasons:
Year 1: 2.979 (2.98) M in savings with a $270,833 hit
Years 2 and 3: 1.98 with a 1.27 hit
Year 4: 1.3 with a 2.02 hit
Years 5-8: 1.02 the other way with additional salary and a matching 1.02 hit
This would be shitty, but it would also save the pick in any potential Ottawa trade, and most likely the player as well (resign ZAR and Blueger, Pettersson is a no brainer).
If we can agree that he should be bought out or traded (certainly NOT retained because in that scenario the team is WORSE off out of the 3 choices on and off the ice) you have to ask yourself what’s more important: a first round pick (that it would take to trade him) or a long term financial commitment that gets you out of a bad contract? It’s not like the hit is that high, just for a long time, and the Cap is only set to go up!
Let’s buy his ass outta tahnnnn!
This year we have the highest cap savings from a potential buy out and it is the most important time frame to have it!! We could potentially swing for a big name guy here.
After Year 3 of this buyout structure Letang, Malkin and DeSmith are all coming off the books for a total of 18M, which turns into 16 when you factor in the buyout that offseason. At that point in their careers, it’s tough for me to see any of them getting raises, except perhaps DeSmith.
This season it’s CRUCIAL we make a signing of at least one impact player while on the other side of it, not actively get worse by holding onto Johnson. There are A LOT of good teams out there and the rich are being gouged by the hard cap. By scooping quality players we add them to our team, yes, but we also make sure other teams don’t get them!
Anybody could win the Cup the next couple of seasons! Let’s get another one for Sid, Geno, The Thrill and Tanger! This is a great FA class and we should be LEGITIMATE buyers.
On current team structure around those dudes
In my mind, we NEED Shultz and Dumo. They’re too good and signed to very manageable numbers. I want to see Pettersson resigned. Hornqvist’s deal is a Pittsburgh special and I just don’t see other teams valuing him as highly as we do; I doubt a deal materializes that involves him and also makes sense for the team.
Guentzel is a special case… but his Crosby chemistry keeps him safe in my mind. He is the first true home grown high end talent we’ve had on the wing since Ryan Malone. Thank your lucky stars for that Shero draft magic.
This leaves few players with term who can be moved to create the cap space we need to sign some legit FAs.
Erik Gudbranson is an option but he surprisingly held his own after coming over from Vancouver. He stabilizes the GRIT and TOUGHNESS component 100% and isn’t as much of a liability as Johnson, although he def makes questionable calls with the puck sometimes. He has two more years at 4M. In all honesty he would be hard to move and we kind of need him so doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
Nick Bjugstad is intriguing because he never really did anything (some nice goals towards the end of the regular season, but also quite invisible lots of the time) and I don’t have any ties to the guy at the moment. He was also playing both W and C so I’m not really sure what our current 3rd line C situation is. Since Bonino left we’ve had trouble stabilizing the position. Is he the answer? He’s signed for another two years at $4.1 per so he is a prime candidate to clear out some room.
Jared McCann has another year on a cheap bridge deal and is good at hockey so I don’t see him being moved. It’ll be good to see him with a whole summer in Pittsburgh under his belt.
Bryan Rust is an interesting case. He has three more years at $3.5 per. This isn’t cheap by any means, but again, we need good young wingers to contribute offensively. I feel like a change of scenery might help him too. I’m torn on moving him, but he is one of the only other players making legit $$ on the team that makes sense to move.
It looks like this.
Our current cap space after the Phil trade is 5.09M
3.5 for 3yrs
Buy-out: 2.98 in the first year
Traded: 3.25 for 4yrs
4.1 for 2 yrs
If we buy out Johnson, which would be the preferable option, it would be about 15.67M in Cap space to play with if we moved all of these players for draft picks or guys on ELCs. 15.94 if his whole number is moved in a trade.
Marcus Pettersson is a must sign, and generally I’ve left out blue line additions in this piece. He is a big time piece though and should be persuaded to take a bridge deal. I don’t see that going over 2.5M per season just yet, which leaves us with about 13.17 to finangle some other guys.
We have two forwards who it would be nice to sign as current RFAs, but also not entirely necessary. Zach Aston-Reese and Teddy Blueger are good pieces but they are by no means deal breakers. All things considered, I would say we should resign those guys. But if we can make noise in this FA pool, it would be prudent to trade them for some draft capital.
Projections for notable UFAs
Panarin (27): 10-11M for up to 8 years on mega deal cashing in on high end talent in prime of his career. He is a winger so I’m not sure if he will get more than 11, but if a bidding war ensues, it’s not an auction the Pens would win. He would have to take a pay cut to win in Pittsburgh, but if he did, it would make our top 6 the scariest in the NHL.
Pavelski (34): 7-8M/3-4 years on last real deal in NHL
Nyquist (29): 5-6M/4-5 years on potentially last real deal depending on how he ages
Dzingel (27): 4-5M/3-4 years on first deal post bridge with great numbers behind him last few seasons
I’ve excluded players in this category that seem impossible for the Pens to sign due to interest in other teams like Duchene (Nashville), Johansson (Boston), and Zuccarello (Dallas/NYR).
Of course, for the team you want the final number to be on the low end of these projections so you can make more room for other signings. Certainly, arguments could be made both ways, because I do generally like to see players get paid. It’s a fine line.
If a player is signing with the Penguins, it should be understood you might have to take a pay cut for the chance to win. Either way the market for UFAs this summer is not going to be super great for all of these guys with such a low cap ceiling (Projected to be 83M settled at 81.5M) and so many RFAs wanting real money.
Artemi Panarin. Theoretically, we could give him something like 2 years for 23M, while sacrificing flexibility in signing ANY defensive depth until they moved somebody else. This would necessitate trading our RFAs, too. Maybe not a good idea tbh but it made me happy to imagine it.
Joe Pavelski. He is certainly more realistic than Panarin. The guy might be 34, but he is still a tremendous player and leader. Currently wearing the “C” for the Sharks. Great chemistry, character guy. Still has the chops to play on any line in the league and contribute. Best tip artist in the league. Could see him bringing a cool element to the dressing room too, especially with Phil as they are both Wisconsin-born American guys who love ping pong and chugging beers, probably (I left this in because imagining it made me happy god damnit)
One thing that might derail this beauty of a combination is his most likely want for term on his last real deal in the NHL. With that in mind, I’m not sure he signs here.
But you know, Rutherford just gave Jack Johnson 16.25 M over 5 years at age 31 so who knows, but I could see him wanting at least 4 years on like 7.5 M… which we could actually fit and I wouldn’t be mad at.
This would bring also bring up a scenario where we would have 3 of the most badass U.S. born players in the NHL on our team (Pavs, Jakey G, and The Thrill). Would be cool. I can’t tell if I’d rather sign Panarin or Pavelski, but damn if either doesn’t straight up excite me. (same with this :'( on being left in)
Holy shit, signing either one of them be so awesome.
These next two guys make the most sense to improve the team while also maintaining realistic expectations.
Gus Nyquist. Would be a FANTASTIC get. He’s a skilled winger who can play up and down the lineup, with proven passing and goal scoring ability. Top 6 guy.
Ryan Dzingel is rumored to be close to resigning with Columbus. Would be a tremendous signing, as he is younger, and also a top 6 guy that can slot in anywhere on the lineup. Has put up very solid numbers the last few seasons at multiple positions with random scrubs for line mates. Versatility, youth, and a scoring touch unseen by anyone on the current Pens lineup outside of our tops guys.
The guys below are also worth keeping an eye on and could help bolster the team chemistry while also adding veterans with jive to the bottom 6.
They’re lookin’ pretty spry ya feel me.
Or at least, they could potentially still do some things.
Corey Perry intrigues the fuck out of me. He won’t need money, because he is getting paid by the Ducks anyway, so he might take a big time discount to chase a Ring a la so many before him in similar situations. Sure, he’s lost a step, but he is still good at hockey, and he has a shit ton of experience. Big time agitator. Would probably be a good voice in the room, too; he’s someone you have to listen to.
Colin Wilson is underrated and has performed well enough in the playoffs throughout his career. Would bolster the second power play unit, as he gets nice in front of the net too. With a defined role I could see him excelling. He would be as close to a natural 3rdline center you’re going to get. Could probably do low 4s for 2-3 years.
Brandon Tanev is my favorite player out of this group, however. He’s tenacious and scores nice goals in key moments. I love his game. We might be able to get him for 2-4 M on ~3 years.
Others worth looking into include:
Dick Panik (27) 3-4M/no more than 2 years
Throws hits and scored 22 goals 2 seasons ago. Got something to prove if he wants another deal. Might be better than Jason Zucker.
Val Filppula (35) 1-3/1 year max
Savy vet, character guy, still produces. Would be good for the room. Lots of playoff experience
Brian Boyle (34) 1-3/1 year max
Read Val Filp’s but he also throws hits and is a big boy at 6-6 245.
Michael Ferland (27) 4-5/3-4 years
Throws hits, still in prime, has a scoring touch. Large man.
Pat Maroon (31) 2-3/2-3 years
Throws hits, just won the Cup and scored potentially the most clutch goal of their run in Double OT of Game 7 of the second round. Another big boy at 6-3 225.
If we made enough room for one of these guys, that’d be great. Pat Maroon over Bryan Rust? At this juncture and for the Penguins, yes.
See a trend? Most of those guys throw hits, run cheap and can still score here and there. They would also add character to the room.
Possible Penguins FA Combinations with ~15M in space
So, realistically we could sign Perry for 2M or less for one year and Nyquist at close to 5-6 for 3 or 4 years and still have about 7M for Pettersson and a guy like Colin Wilson.
In another rendition, we could go hard for Pavelski (YES PLEASE) at 7.5 for 4 years, which leaves us 6.5M for Marcus and maybe Brandon Tanev.
Don’t get Brandon Tanev or another one of those guys? Don’t trade Bryan Rust. Clearing Bjugstad and Johnson for Pavelski is a GREAT idea IMO.
Anyway, both of those potential scenarios excite the hell out of me.
If one of those top guys don’t work, Tanev, Ferland, and Wilson look like upgrades too, depending on how you look at it. I for one feel like Wilson would be a very safe 3C option moving forward at least 3 seasons.
Rust is similar to Tanev and some of the other lower line guys I have listed. It feels like he needs a change of scenery to spurn him forward. I’m torn on him, to be honest, but he is one of the only contracts on the team it makes sense to move, and sadly, WE NEED THE ROOM (because GMJR is a fuckin’ scrub at managing his cap space).
Realistically, many separate combos of the aforementioned players look better than Rust, Bjugstad, and Johnson. When considering the upgrade it would offer the team in on-ice performance, the changing up of the team chemistry, it’s a no-brainer. So, instead of cutting pieces out of the core, you add good locker room presences to help the star players share the load.
What was one of the biggest reasons we won the Cup in ’09? Bill Guerin, Ruslan Fedotenko, and Max Talbot adding true veteran presences outside of the main guys. What about in ’16 and ’17? Plenty of guys fit that description who are no longer around, and the biggest one in the locker room is Fleury. His effect on the room was severely underrated. Daley, Bonino, and Hagelin, fit that bill on the second and third runs. Add Lovejoy in ’16 and Hainsey in ’17.
We need more high character players who ADD to the room and the ice. It’s that simple.
Johnson and Bjugstad being moved makes sure we can fit two of them, while also clearing necessary space for Pettersson in the lineup and in the books. We don’t need Johnson clogging anything else for us at this point!
Now, let’s explore how we can move ‘em
Team that fits best: Carolina
They need offensive talent. He is signed for two more years, has shown flashes, and is tall as fuck (6-6). They have draft picks they can move and ample cap space.
I just see Carolina being the most interested as they are a good team with legit need for offensive depth. He didn’t play here long enough for me to care about trading him to a division rival.
He should be able to fetch at least one 2ndround pick.
Other teams that might work: Colorado and NYI
Team that fits best: Colorado
This makes a lot of sense. They need offensive talent and have ample cap space. He is signed for three more years, and is a proven winner with 2 Cups to his resume as well as some super clutch moments in the playoffs (notably both goals in a Game 7 2-1 victory in the 2016 Eastern Conference Finals).
I’d ask for their second round pick in 2021 which and maybe a throw in younger player or a late round pick too. Rust isn’t quite worth a first round pick, but just one 2nd doesn’t feel like enough. Especially because it would be a year down the line.
Or hey, maybe you do a guy like Samuel Girard straight up. Or someone like Compher. The point on our end is clearing space and getting a usable piece in return.
Rusty is a guy I do not want traded within the division if he were to go.
Other teams that might work: Anaheim, Dallas, LA
Compensation would be a 2ndand 4th/5th, or a young player like Honka.
Actually, I would love a Rust for Honka move. Make that happen Jimmy you fuckin’ cuck.
Lastly, as covered above, we should just buy out Jack Johnson
If ownership cheaps out and decides to trade him instead, Ottawa is the only team I could realistically see taking him off our hands, and it would cost a lot for us to incentivize that.
Basically, you have to package him with something worth taking…like our first round pick next year. That wouldn’t be enough, however, so we would also have to package one of our younger guys to sweeten the pot. For instance one or two of Simon, ZAR, Jarry or Blueger would need to be included for this to work. That’s the sacrifice we make with a window that is open RIGHT NOW if you refuse to buy him out.
Losing these assets is better than keeping him on the roster next year and missing out on a prime UFA.
Ottawa is in full on rebuild, and giving them another 1st round pick would be a pretty big deal for them, as it would give them 3 first round picks in the upcoming draft. They are set to be one of the worst teams in the league next year, so at the very least, theirs will be high.
The trade would look something like this
OTT gets Jack Johnson, 1stround pick in 2020 draft, and Player X (one of Simon, Jarry, ZAR, or Blueger)
PIT gets Dylan DeMelo, Round 2/3 pick and CAP SPACE
This would give Ottawa 6 picks in the first two rounds of the 2020 draft (depending if we could coax a 2ndrounder coming back).
So, if we clear this space we have at least a couple of picks coming back. Maybe some prospects for the pipes.
The point being, however, these moves would clear enough cap space to sign AT LEAST ONE legit free agent like Pavelski, Nyquist or Dzingel, while having the extra room to go out and get a player like Perry, Tanev, or a depth Dman like Lovejoy or Hainsey.
We would also have more draft picks than usual.
This sets us up to sign some free agents in a tremendous class
Our Championship window is open NOW
If we make these moves, we will be a better team next year, but will Jimmy Rutherford be able to admit how bad that Jack Johnson signing was this soon?
Johnson is a big time negative up and down the lineup. He NEEDS bought out or traded.
Bjugstad just doesn’t move the needle enough to warrant keeping that cap hit.
Rust is clogging room and might be better suited to a fresh start.
THIS NEEDS TO BE THE TEAMS FOCUS
Keeping our team’s core intact and signing at least one of those top free agents with the cap space we clear by moving out the above mentioned players.