With the NHL’s salary cap staying low due to the new collective bargaining agreement, the Pittsburgh Penguins had some decisions to make last summer. One of those was to trade winger Tyler Kennedy, who projected to make more than the Penguins could afford to pay a bottom-six forward.
Kennedy’s rights were dealt to Sharks, and they signed him to a two-year, $4.7-million contract before he could become a free agent July 1. With Pacific Division-leading San Jose (19-3-5, 43 points), he’s already matched last season’s 11-point total (3g, 8a) in 19 fewer games.
The lockout-shortened campaign was difficult for Kennedy, a hard-charging straight-line catalyst who usually seemed a good fit for the way Dan Bylsma likes his Penguins to play. Kennedy missed quite a few games due to injury during his six-year tenure in Pittsburgh, but he dressed for 80 contests in 2010-11 and produced 45 points (21 goals) with the additional ice time.
Otherwise, Kennedy has been a dependable 0.5 point-per-game player in the NHL, even though his hands aren’t quite as quick as his feet. He may shoot from bad angles too often, but Kennedy’s night-to-night performance is fairly consistent.
If the salary cap were a bit higher, the Penguins probably would’ve liked to retain Kennedy, despite his difficult age-26 season. As it stands, he’s locked in alongside center Martin Havlat for San Jose, which has bombarded the league with its speed-oriented attack in the early going.
Although the Penguins (19-9-1, 39 points) aren’t having great difficulty scoring – their 3.0 goals per game ranks sixth of 30 teams – they haven’t gotten more than six points from a bottom-six winger this season. Tanner Glass (2g, 4a) leads the way in that regard, but Pittsburgh’s third and fourth lines are seldom a threat to score.
That’s probably the way it has to be, considering the money the Penguins have allocated to Sidney Crosby ($8.7 million cap hit this year), Evgeni Malkin ($8.7 mm), James Neal ($5 mm), Pascal Dupuis ($3.75 mm) and Chris Kunitz ($3.725 mm), plus the $5 million each owed defenseman Paul Martin and goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. With Kris Letang‘s $7.25-million salary kicking in next year, there wasn’t much room left for Kennedy.
If an NHL team has multiple stars, it’s going to be top-heavy, at least until the new Canadian TV money helps lift the cap closer to where it was before the lockout. The Penguins are certainly in that category, which means players like Kennedy are luxuries they have to do without – at least for the time being.