Penguins general manager Ron Hextall is still looking for salary cap relief | TribLIVE.com

2022-09-24 04:50:19 By : Ms. helen lee

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The preseason starts on Sunday for the Penguins and the regular season is right around the corner on October. 13.

But Ron Hextall is still in offseason mode in one fashion.

The team’s general manager is trying to find a way to get his team’s roster compliant with the NHL’s salary cap.

While the league’s cap isn’t truly enforced during the offseason, the Penguins are projected to be $1,480,175 above the ceiling of $82.5 million according to Cap Friendly.

Hextall has less than three weeks to get that figure in compliance.

“Obviously, there’s some mechanics that we’ll have to do to get under, “Hextall said. “We have good depth. We’ll see how the preseason games go. We’ve got some tough decisions to make, make no mistake.”

Perhaps the toughest of those decisions will come on the bloated blue line where at least nine NHL-caliber defensemen are under contract.

Veteran incumbents Brian Dumoulin, Mark Friedman, Kris Letang, Marcus Pettersson and Chad Ruhwedel have been supplemented with the arrivals of newcomers like Jeff Petry, Jan Rutta and Ty Smith. And there’s the ascension of talented prospect P.O Joseph, who is no longer exempt from waivers for any transactions involving Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League (AHL).

That surplus is a good problem to have in Hextall’s eyes. But a problem, nonetheless.

“I really like the mix on (defense) that we have between guys that are puck movers and skill guys and kind of defensive defenders,” Hextall said. “I really like our mix with the guys that we’ve added along with the guys that we had. We have nine NHL defensemen, they can all play. We have some tough decisions. Quite honestly, right now, we don’t exactly know where we’re going. Obviously, we have some ideas. But some tough decisions for us.”

One decision might involve a trade or two. But given the NHL’s somewhat stagnant revenues in recent years due to the pandemic, the salary cap has not grown a great deal over the past handful of seasons. As a result, 12 of the league’s 32 teams are currently projected to be over the salary cap per Cap Friendly.

(Note: The Penguins are actually the least over the salary cap out of that group.)

Further to that, only half the league - 16 teams - have more than $1 million of cap space. AP Penguins defenseman Marcus Pettersson is entering the third year of a five-year contract with a salary cap hit of $4,025,175.  

“You look at it, there’s a lot of teams over,” Hextall said. “Some teams, you kind of wonder what they’re going to do. We’re obviously in that situation. There’s only a few suitors in terms of wanting to take on money. It’s a tough market right now the last couple of years with basically a flat cap. It’s been challenging for all of us, for sure. You know what we went through this summer with our guys in trying to fit everybody in. It’s a tough market right now and yes, it does make it hard to make a move.”

Hextall held court with media following the second full day of training camp in Cranberry on Friday and addressed a number of subjects.

• Unlike last season, when franchise pillars such as forward Evgeni Malkin and defenseman Kris Letang and vital contributing forward Bryan Rust were entering the final years of their previous contracts, the Penguins don’t have nearly as many concerns on pending unrestricted free agents, at least in terms of the sheer volume of them.

But there is one major component of their roster scheduled to go to market in the 2023 offseason in starting All-Star goaltender Tristan Jarry.

Hextall acknowledged he has had some initial discussions with Jarry’s representation on a potential contract extension, but offered few details.

“We’ve been talking to (Jarry),” Hextall said. “We’ll see where it goes. There’s no real urgency there I don’t think from either side. But we’ll continue talking if we can get something done. I don’t anticipate talking when the season starts but who knows? We have been talking a little bit. We’ll see where it goes.”

• Hextall also offered a hearty endorsement of the goaltender.

“(Jarry), just in the time I’ve been here, he’s really getting to that age where he’s really growing up in terms of being an athlete and maturing,” Hextall said. “He’s been through some things that you go through to make himself a better player and a better athlete. Maturity-wise, I think (Jarry) is in a much better place to handle things than he was a year and a half ago. And in probably another year and a half, he’ll be even more so. (Jarry) has grown a lot and we’re certainly happy with him.”

• Smith as well as forward Drew O’Connor are still exempt from waivers for any assignments to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. While each player has shown they are capable NHLers, the team’s salary cap concerns could leave Hextall few options than to send them to Northeast Pennsylvania to open the season.

“It’s certainly an option,” Hextall said. “But we want to put the best team on the ice on opening night that we can. So if they’re part of it, we’re going to try to find a way. You look at all your options and you start to break them down, talk it through with your staff and the coaches. Make those decisions when the time is right. But that’s a fair discussion that will be part of it.” AP In 22 games last season, Penguins forward Drew O’Connor had five points (three goals, two assists).  

• Smith was acquired in July through a trade that sent defenseman John Marino to the New Jersey Devils. The Penguins’ primary motivation in that deal was to shed Marino’s salary cap hit of ($4.4 million). But Hextall has long had his eye on Smith, a first-round pick (No. 17 overall) of the Devils in 2018.

“We liked him where I was (previously the Philadelphia Flyers general manager) his draft year,” Hextall said. “All the (Penguins) scouts liked him. We talked about him, went over reports. We just felt like he was a good fit for our group. He’s a young defenseman, first and foremost. Skates very well, he’s very agile, he’s got good puck skills, a lot of deception with the puck. We felt like he’s a real good fit for our group.“

• Hextall exulted the diversity his blue line has at the moment due to the offseason additions he orchestrated.

“We changed some things on the backend,” Hextall said. “With adding Petry and Rutta and Ty, we felt like the mix was really good with the guys that we had. You’ve got Petry, another guy that can play on your power play. Ty can play on your power play. Petry can kill penalties, Rutta can kill penalties. We feel really good about our defense and the changes that we made.”

• One thing that didn’t change was the presence of skilled winger Kasperi Kapanen. The team opted to re-sign the restricted free agent winger despite a disappointing 2021-22 season in which he had only 32 points (11 goals, 21 assists) in 79 games.

In July, the team avoided arbitration and re-signed him to a two-year contract with a salary cap hit of $3.2 million, identical to the cap hit on his previous contract.

“It just kind of made sense for us,” Hextall said. “He had two restricted years so when you look at your (arbitration) case and everything, that’s kind of how your numbers flush out quite frankly. The negotiations weren’t as time-consuming as some other ones because there is an (arbitration) number that both sides are typically very close. He had two restricted years and (Kapanen) has some good things for us. If you look two years ago, he had 30 points in 40 games. A little bit of a down year, certainly last year. We wanted more from him. I think he’d tell you the same thing. We expect (Kapanen) to bounce back and be a better player for us.” AP Penguins defenseman P.O Joseph appeared in four games last season and did not record a point.  

• Regardless of his status with regard to waivers, it sound like Joseph’s time is now.

“P.O got better last year,” Hextall said. “He has spent enough time in the (AHL) now where it’s time to come up and show us what you can do at this level. But he’s certainly got the skill level. He’s a great skater. He had a pretty good year last year (with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton). The consistency part for any young player I think is what can help him the most.”

• Even with the futility of four consecutive seasons without a postseason series victory, including two under his watch, Hextall professes optimism that the group he has reassembled can still contend for the Stanley Cup.

“Okay, we lost the last two years (in the first round of) the playoffs since I’ve been here, Hextall said. “We certainly felt like we could have won both series. That’s what gives you the hope that it’s still there. These guys are still very good players. Obviously, in (re-signing Malkin) and (Letang) this summer, we felt this group could still go on a run and do a lot of damage. We’re happy with our group. I see (Malkin) right now and he’s a hungry guy. It’s like, wow, that’s pretty good. We just signed him to a four-year deal and I think he’s been here (training in the Pittsburgh area) for a month. He looks like a beast right now. (Letang), the same. They’re hungry guys. This group is hungry.

“I’m really excited about where we are right now as a team. The feeling around the room, there’s a lot of hunger. There’s going to be some good fights for jobs. And I like where we’re at. It’s hard to win in this league. It’s hard to win a round in the playoffs. It’s certainly hard to win the Stanley Cup. But that’s our mission.”

Follow the Penguins all season long.

Seth Rorabaugh is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Seth by email at srorabaugh@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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