As a result of the pre-arbitration settlement with Drew O’Connor earlier this week, the Penguins now have a 48-hour window that began today to buy a player out. Unlike the regular buyout window, however, there are some additional restrictions on who can be bought out during this stretch. The player must have a cap hit of at least $4MM and must have been on the roster at the trade deadline.
There is one obvious candidate to go this route in forward Mikael Granlund, who was a speculative buyout option back in June. The 31-year-old was acquired from Nashville at the trade deadline in somewhat of a surprising move and he struggled with his new team, notching just one goal in 21 games following the swap. That’s not the type of return they were expecting on someone that has a $5MM cap charge for two more seasons.
It’s not that Granlund is a bad player by any stretch – he’s coming off a 44-point year and had 64 points in 2021-22 but this is not a marketplace for a team to trade a player on an expensive contract and get fair value. If GM Kyle Dubas doesn’t want to pay future assets to get a team to take on Granlund’s deal and has an eye on completing an Erik Karlsson trade with San Jose, a buyout would be one way to create cap space.
Next season, Granlund’s cap hit would go down to just $833K, yielding more than $4MM in short-term savings. That amount jumps to $1.833MM for the following three seasons, however. But if making that move helps acquire Karlsson, it’s an option to consider.
There is also one other speculative candidate for a buyout and that’s Jeff Petry. The defenseman is widely expected to be traded as part of any potential Karlsson swap but he also holds a 15-team no-trade clause which certainly is a complicating factor. If none of the teams that aren’t on his no-trade list are interested in picking him up, Pittsburgh might be forced to buy Petry out and then use Granlund as the offsetting salary ballast in a swap.
That route doesn’t yield as much in the way of savings, however, with the veteran having signing bonus money in both remaining years of his deal, one that carries a $6.25MM AAV. That cap charge would drop to $3MM next season with a buyout before increasing to $4.5MM in 2024-25 so the savings aren’t as significant. (The Penguins would then carry a $1.25MM charge for 2025-26 and 2026-27.)
It’s worth noting that Pittsburgh will have some short-term flexibility at the start of next season thanks to Jake Guentzel’s ankle surgery that will keep him out for the next three months, making him LTIR-eligible. But in order to activate him midseason, they’ll need to be cap-compliant. Accordingly, they can’t really use any of his money to offset Karlsson’s cost, whatever portion of the $11.5MM they’d be taking on.
Dubas has been hesitant to go the buyout route in the past but this is a bit of a different situation now. The team has 48 hours to make a decision and if going this way helps to facilitate the acquisition of Karlsson, it’s one they’ll strongly have to consider if the trade options either aren’t there or are too punitive in terms of what it would cost to get a team to take on the deal.
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