Should Hextall, Penguins Pay the Price? Flames Set the Market to Move Salary

According to CapFriendly, there are 14 teams currently above the $82.5 million salary cap, including the Pittsburgh Penguins. General manager Lou Lamoriello and the New York Islanders would not pay the price. The Calgary Flames and GM Brad Treliving did, as they attached a first-round pick with Sean Monahan to facilitate the Montreal Canadiens trade.

Consequently, Nazem Kadri will skate in Calgary this season, not at the UBS Arena, and the NHL trade market is set.

Will Penguins general manager Ron Hextall pay the price?

Should they?

The Penguins have three players with salaries above $4 million who do not meet the untouchable classification: Brian Dumoulin, Marcus Pettersson, and Jason Zucker. Speculation has far outpaced reported trade talks, but if the Penguins are to make a trade involving salary, one of those three is the likely candidate.

The Setup: Market Prices, Fewer Teams Available

Until this week, perhaps hope existed that the Penguins could move one of the salaries and not attach a coveted first-rounder. However, Calgary broke the seal, and by attaching a first-rounder to Monahan, they signaled to the other GMs that a team forced to move salary will indeed pay the piper.

There is a caveat with Monahan. His production has fallen off a cliff. He had 82 points in 2018-19 but fell to just 23 points (8-15-23) last season as another hip injury slowed him down. He had left hip surgery one year ago. He had right hip surgery in April. His $6.3 million cap hit for this season far outpaces his production.

Monahan could rebound well this season if he can finally skate unencumbered again. However, rival GMs are unlikely to split hairs. Montreal got a first-round pick for eating Monahan’s salary for just one season. That’s the price. Take it or leave it.

And there is one less team able to take on salary, too.

In full disclosure, several teams over the salary cap have significant LTIR exemptions coming. The Washington Capitals are more than $5 million over the cap but will put Nick Backstrom’s $9.2 million salary on LTIR, just as the Carolina Hurricanes will put Max Pacioretty on LTIR to get under the cap limit.

After LTIR, approximately 8-10 teams are projected to be over the cap. And there are only a handful of teams with the salary cap space to take on a $4-6 million contract, which is why the NHL trade market is clogged.

And there are only a few teams with cap space to burn and an interest in improving. Let’s face it, not all teams with cap space want to get better this summer. The Chicago Blackhawks are in the tank. The Arizona Coyotes don’t have the scratch to spare.

The other teams, such as the Detroit Red Wings, have young players who will need big contracts next summer. In Detroit, Dylan Larkin and Tyler Bertuzzi will assuredly want to be well paid. Bertuzzi made our list of the top five star players who could be on the NHL trade block this season because he wants terms and dollars.

They won’t be keen to take on several years of a defenseman like Pettersson.

Pittsburgh Penguins (No) Choice

Should Hextall and the Penguins pay the price to move a salary? The choice comes down to a simple factor. Will the immediate benefits outweigh moving a first-round pick?

Would potentially losing PO Joseph for nothing, or next to nothing, be a greater loss than the pick?

Would giving up a first-round pick to shed Jason Zucker benefit the Penguins? If he’s healthy, Zucker could have a bounce-back season and be a top-six Penguins winger.

At this point in the offseason, what could Hextall do with a few million? Sure, Evan Rodrigues would be a nice insurance policy against several Penguins positions, but essentially trading a first-rounder for “E-Rod” might be a bridge too far.

Not even Rodrigues and Boyle.

The Islanders wouldn’t pay it, not even for Kadri.

And so the new cost to dump salary far exceeds the benefits to the Penguins, which can limbo under the salary cap bar with a couple of demotions. That isn’t the ideal situation, but it sure beats sacrificing a first-round pick.

Unless Hextall can swing a Penguins trade — a hockey trade, player-for-player — in which they save a few bucks, the Penguins camp battles may have added significance this season. A few bubble players could be fighting not for lineup spots but for NHL spots.

That’s the only recourse because punting another first-round pick seems unthinkable. No, the Pittsburgh Penguins and Hextall should not pay the price.

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