Moves the Penguins Should Make Prior to Opening Night

VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA - JUNE 22: Jim Rutherford of the Pittsburgh Penguins attends the 2019 NHL Draft at Rogers Arena on June 22, 2019 in Vancouver, Canada. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA - JUNE 22: Jim Rutherford of the Pittsburgh Penguins attends the 2019 NHL Draft at Rogers Arena on June 22, 2019 in Vancouver, Canada. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

With the regular season fast approaching, the Pittsburgh Penguins must still make a move to get under the salary cap.

The Penguins are only days away from kicking off the 2019-2020 regular season. While every team is finalizing rosters as the preseason concludes, the Penguins have more decisions to make than just who to demote from the NHL club.

After re-signing defenseman Marcus Pettersson earlier this month, Pittsburgh is now over the salary cap and will need to find a way to shed some salary. There have been plenty of rumors concerning who might go, but who should go?

Looking at this team, there is a lot to like. At the forward position, there is more speed and skill than last year, and there is more depth scoring. The only forward I would rather not see on the ice to start this season is Dominik Simon, but I do not dislike him, so much as I dislike the role he was given on Sidney Crosby‘s line.

Defensively, this team has a solid top four, and a lot of depth behind them. The issue is that two players in the “depth” category are scheduled to make a combined $7.75 million this season. We will get to them in a minute.

At goaltender, the Penguins have their man in Matt Murray. Behind him are incumbent backup Casey DeSmith, and the younger (and cheaper) Tristan Jarry.

Starting on defense, Erik Gudbranson and Jack Johnson are the players in question and are two players that should be moved.

I do not hate Johnson as many Penguins enthusiasts do, but I do believe that for a player who should play low minutes and only really contribute to the penalty kill, $3.75 million for the next four years is a bit excessive.

As for Gudbranson and his $4 million salary in each of the next two seasons, I still feel that he should never have been acquired. The Penguins desperately needed speed and skill, as well as salary cap flexibility, and Gudbranson meets none of those requirements.

At goalie, Jarry seems to be the odd man out, as he has yet to impress at the NHL level. While there has been lots of talk regarding him being traded, sent to the AHL, or claimed off waivers, a move here would not be as impactful for the Penguins this season.

Trading Johnson and/or Gudbranson makes the Penguins’ defense younger, faster, and much cheaper. The team would potentially clear more than $7 million in cap space if they decided to move both, which is critical not only this season, but in the offseason as guys like Alex Galchenyuk, Justin Schultz, and Matt Murray all look for new contracts.

Sure, moving a player like Bryan Rust ($3.5 million) or Nick Bjugstad ($4.1 million) would create the same financial flexibility, and trading Jarry would ensure that he doesn’t get claimed on waivers, leaving the Penguins with nothing in return, but they all have more to offer than the pair of overpaid defensemen.

Will the Penguins move on from Johnson and Gudbranson, allowing for more cap space and the opportunity for Chad Ruhwedel and Juuso Riikola to play regularly? Probably not. However, it certainly seems to be the move(s) that would provide the most substantial benefit, even if Pittsburgh must add a pick or a prospect to get the deal done.

A mid-round pick would be all the more return the Penguins need and given the teams’ depth at the position, and annual lack of salary cap space, it would be worth it.

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Do you agree? What move(s) should the Penguins make to get under the salary cap? Leave your comments below!