The Pittsburgh Penguins are currently over the salary cap limit, per CapFriendly, with $81.66MM committed to 23 players. That does not include restricted free agent defenseman Marcus Pettersson, who reportedly has been waiting for the Penguins to clear the necessary space to sign him to a long-term contract. GM Jim Rutherford even stated that he hoped to sign the 23-year-old blue liner to a long extension and would likely need to move out another roster player to do so. So, a trade is coming to Pittsburgh before the start of the season, right? Probably not, as it turns out. The Athletic’s Josh Yohe recently caught up with Rutherford who has changed his tune on making a deal. “It might turn out that we won’t be able to give Marcus the contract that we want to be able to give right now,” Rutherford said, “But if that’s the case, we’ll make everything work with the cap. And we can do that without trading anyone.”
Yohe speculates that the Penguins could fit Pettersson under the cap on a cheap one-year deal, even though that is not the preference of either side. By demoting one of the defensemen Pettersson would be replacing on the roster, Zach Trotman or Juuso Riikola, the salaries offset somewhat. Trotman in particular appears to be more of a placeholder on the roster if Pettersson is not signed by the beginning of the regular season, as the veteran did not see any NHL action last year. Yohe also adds that keeping Tristan Jarry at $675K as the backup goalie over Casey DeSmith at $1.25MM would also add much needed space, although would be a risky endeavor. DeSmith would be an attractive claim candidate for a number of teams as an affordable backup with term on his contract. The team could choose instead to trade DeSmith, but Rutherford clearly doesn’t see that as a possibility in the current market.
Making a trade remains the simplest way for Pittsburgh to clear space for Pettersson, but Rutherford’s hands appear to be tied. “You can’t make a trade when you can’t find anyone to trade with” he stated to Yohe. The Penguins have been a fixture on the trade market over the last few years and may be running out of willing partners. Last year alone, Rutherford made nine trades during the regular season, only to keep going this off-season with trades shipping out Phil Kessel and Olli Maatta. It could also be the competitors aren’t buying what Rutherford is selling. Defenseman Jack Johnson remains the player that the team would most like to move, but he has little to no market value at his inflated salary. The team also has reportedly tried to flip former Florida Panthers forward Nick Bjugstad, whose value has declined somewhat. As for their more homegrown products, defenseman Justin Schultz and winger Bryan Rust have come up in trade rumors, but have been associated with high asking prices as well.
By saying that no one will make a trade, Rutherford likely just means that no team is currently willing to bite on the players he is open to moving at the price he is willing to take. If that continues, and Pettersson is willing to take a one-year deal with the hopes of driving the price up on an extension next summer, then Rutherford and the Penguins would be better served not to make a desperation trade and instead try to squeeze the young defender onto the roster. It may be difficult season for Pittsburgh when it comes to roster flexibility, but it may be their best solution to the current issue.