There aren’t many impact unsigned free agents remaining at this point in the offseason, but one name of note is forward Tomas Tatar. Tatar has been linked to several teams, including the Buffalo Sabres as an inexpensive replacement for the injured Jack Quinn. One team that popped up in the rumor mill last week was the Pittsburgh Penguins. Rob Rossi of The Athletic wrote that the Penguins were keenly interested but it all came down to whether Tatar would get a guaranteed contract offer elsewhere as the Penguins appeared to be offering a PTO for training camp in Pittsburgh with the expectation of a contract after. But can the Penguins realistically fit in another contract for a player coming off a season in which he scored 20 goals and 28 assists in 82 games?
In most off-seasons, the answer to that question would be an emphatic no. But the summer of 2023 has been unlike any other offseason. Players like Blake Wheeler have signed for less than $1MM annually. Matt Duchene took a one-year contract for $3MM despite being a year removed from topping 80 points, and Tatar remains unsigned despite providing consistent secondary scoring.
But all of this doesn’t necessarily mean the answer is a resounding yes, the Penguins would need to do some cap gymnastics to fit Tatar into the sliver of room they have under the salary cap ceiling. Currently, the Penguins have just north of $220K, which is obviously well below the NHL minimum.
Penguins general manager Kyle Dubas has said previously that he would use waivers as a means of becoming cap compliant, and the Penguins have plenty of players who could be placed on waivers to open up room for Tatar. Alexander Nylander and Rem Pitlick are two players that could be exposed and sent to the AHL to open up the room, but would that be enough to sign Tatar? The answer is a giant unknown at this time, but as we inch closer to training camp it becomes more and more possible.
Dan Kingerski of Pittsburgh Hockey Now explored another idea in an article as he wondered if a potential Jeff Carter trade would be possible. The 38-year-old London, Ontario native is in the final year of his contract with a cap hit of $3.125MM and is coming off a season in which he scored just 13 goals and 16 assists in 79 games and looked lost at times both offensively and defensively. Kingerski provides options in the article, the most interesting of which would have the Penguins retain 50% of Carter’s contract and staple a second-round pick to him to facilitate a move. While this scenario seems possible, the biggest caveat to a potential deal would be Carter’s full no-movement clause. Given all these moving parts, it seems unlikely any contending team would have room to take on even half of Carter’s cap hit and even less likely that Carter would waive his no-move to make it happen. Kyle Dubas has worked one miracle this summer in moving out Jeff Petry and Mikael Granlund for Erik Karlsson, but can he make another one happen?
Much like the Karlsson situation it feels like the longer this drags out the likelier it becomes the player ends up with the Penguins. But to make it happen Tatar is going to have to take a massive pay cut and perhaps accept just a one-year contract. A far cry from the $3.3MM annually that Daily Faceoff projected he would get on a three-year deal when free agency opened.