Pittsburgh Penguins winger Jake Guentzel underwent successful surgery on Wednesday to repair a lingering right ankle issue, general manager Kyle Dubas said in a statement today. The 2017 Stanley Cup champion will be re-evaluated in 12 weeks, meaning he’ll miss around the first month of the 2023-24 season.
Guentzel underwent his surgery in Minnesota, where he’d been playing summer-league hockey up until the procedure. Dubas said as Guentzel was ramping up preparation for training camp, “it was apparent that his ankle injury was not resolving in a way that was satisfactory to [him] or the Penguins.”
Financially, this is quite an important move for Pittsburgh. Guentzel’s timetable for a return means his $6MM cap hit is a candidate for LTIR to start the season, which would give the Penguins some more offseason cap flexibility as they try and position themselves to acquire top-flight defender Erik Karlsson from the San Jose Sharks.
Regardless of any potential ulterior motives at play, Guentzel is a two-time 40-goal scorer whose presence is invaluable for a team likely to be stuck in a tight Eastern Conference playoff race. Pittsburgh surely has no plans of missing the playoffs for a second straight year, and they’ll need Guentzel’s best after he returns from injury to stay ahead. In the meantime, they’ll rely on veteran addition Reilly Smith, a member of last year’s Stanley Cup-winning team with the Vegas Golden Knights, to shoulder some of Guentzel’s load. He’s the most likely candidate to slide up to first-line duties alongside Sidney Crosby and one of Rickard Rakell or Bryan Rust.
Guentzel has become synonymous with first-line duties on the Penguins throughout his seven-year career there, stapled to Crosby’s wing for much of his NHL time. He’s averaged over 20 minutes per game over the past four seasons, routinely producing around a point-per-game clip since breaking out for 40 goals and 76 points in 2018-19.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time Guentzel will miss a significant chunk of a season for injury-related reasons. He missed the last 30 games of the 2019-20 campaign thanks to a shoulder injury.
Notably, Guentzel’s injury guarantees them cap compliance to start the season, even if a Karlsson trade doesn’t pan out. The Penguins were more than $3MM over the cap after signing Drew O’Connor earlier this week, even if it was a slightly inflated figure thanks to three goalies currently on their NHL roster. Now, with Guentzel projected to land on LTIR to start the season, CapFriendly projects Pittsburgh to have roughly $2.75MM in space.