While the Penguins will be without Jason Zucker for a while yet with his lower-body injury, GM Ron Hextall expressed some optimism that he will be able to return before the end of the regular season in an interview with Seth Rorabaugh of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. It has been a tough first ‘full’ season with Pittsburgh for the 29-year-old as he has just four goals and three assists in 17 games but he’d undoubtedly give them a lift for the stretch run if he’s able to return.
Of course, there are some salary cap considerations at play. Zucker is currently on LTIR resulting in some extra flexibility (up to his $5.5MM AAV) for the Penguins heading into the deadline. However, with the belief that he’ll be able to return, Pittsburgh can’t really use that money to add an impact piece as they’d need to get back into cap compliance before they can activate him. Accordingly, their potential for spending will be limited.
While the full interview is definitely worth a read, here are a few other highlights from Hextall’s discussion with Rorabaugh:
- If the new GM had his way, he’d be able to add some grit to the roster before the trade deadline, calling it something on his wish list. Given that the Pens are likely to be shopping for lower-priced players due to Zucker’s possible return, it’s an area that they could address, albeit on a more limited scale such as the fourth line.
- Long-time veterans Kris Letang and Evgeni Malkin are eligible to sign contract extensions this summer but Hextall didn’t seem to be too much of a rush to get the ball rolling on that, saying he’d get to those when the time is right. Deals can’t be signed until the official start of the 2021-22 calendar but as we’ve often seen in recent years, frameworks for those deals have been hammered out before that time.
- Hextall also acknowledged that there are some players on both the college and European free agent markets that are of interest to the team. College free agency should really start to pick up over the coming weeks while the international market is another couple of months away from really getting going.