The 2015-16 NHL season begins tomorrow and the Pittsburgh Penguins have been anticipating starting the season with Eric Fehr on long-term injured reserve. With this morning’s news that Pascal Dupuis is out with a lower body injury, they should have even more cap space to work with.
This afternoon, the Penguins sent Olli Maatta down to the AHL and recalled Oskar Sundqvist. The moves that are made today may very well be for salary cap reasons, so it is best not to read too much into the lineup until they hit the ice in Dallas.
Roster situation The current Penguins roster consists of 16 forwards, seven defensemen, and two goaltenders for a total of 25 players, which they need to trim down to 23 before the season begins. Three of those players are currently injured: Pascal Dupuis, Eric Fehr, and Tom Kuhnhackl. They placed Dupuis on injured reserve while both Fehr and Kuhnhackl were designated injured non-roster. This gets the team down under the roster limit at 22 players. However, they do still need to make sure they are also salary cap compliant.
As it stands now with 25 players on the NHL roster, the Penguins are at $74.699 million out of a $71.4 million salary cap. The use of the bonus cushion allows them to artificially inflate their cap to $74.707 million, leaving them just $8 thousand under the salary cap. In order to maximize the amount of savings they would get from the long-term injury exemption they either need to get as close to the cap as they can or as close to the salary of the player they are trying to use it on as possible.
Cap solution Now that the Penguins are as close to the cap ceiling as possible they can choose to place Dupuis or Fehr on LTIR and receive almost his entire salary in temporary cap relief. An interesting note about Kuhnhackl is that being injured in training camp and starting the season as a non-roster player makes it so his cap hit is adjusted by the time he spent in the NHL last season, which in this case happens to be zero.
However they choose to do it, they can then reassign players to get the opening roster they plan to start the season with, they do not need to stick with the paper transfers they make in order to maximize the cap relief. They will, however, need to make sure to free up enough cap space when those players are healthy enough to return to the lineup.
Player implications One player whose status is still up in the air is Kuhnhackl. He is eligible for waivers this year so normally he would need to clear before he could be assigned to the AHL. However he was injured during training camp and there is a stipulation in the CBA that suggests he may be allowed to be sent down without waivers if he stays for less than 30 days.
The player who benefits most from the injuries is 18-year-old rookie Daniel Sprong. He played well enough in training camp to earn himself an extended look; the team can keep him up for nine games before sending him back to the juniors without burning off the first year of his contract. However, the injury could mean he may stick around for the entire season. Like the injury to Kris Letang in 2013-14 that opened up a roster spot for Maatta to stick around past his initial trial period, Sprong may very well benefit from the injuries and make the jump earlier than anticipated.
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