The Pittsburgh Penguins don’t have a ton of financial flexibility at the moment with only $1 million available in cap space and, like most teams, are waiting to see how the Seattle Kraken expansion draft plays out. While they try to anticipate the outcome, general manager Ron Hextall is likely mulling over several moves that could have a ripple effect on his roster. One transaction he needs to be considering, trying to find room to sign free-agent-to-be Zach Hyman.
It was reported earlier this week the Toronto Maple Leafs and Hyman are very far apart in contract negotiations, and he’s now been permitted to speak to other teams about a potential sign-and-trade. While this might not necessarily be option #1 for Hextall as the Penguins don’t have many assets that could entice Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas, perhaps Hextall could clear some cap with a separate deal(s).
It’s believed the team would be interested in getting defenseman Marcus Pettersson’s contract off the books and as I reported earlier this month, they should be trying to find a new home for Jason Zucker. That’s where Hyman could come in and replace Zucker on the team’s second line and give them a player that is much tougher to play against and more likely to have instant chemistry with the Penguins’ top players.
Zucker has two seasons left on his contract with a $5.5 million cap hit, and there’s potential he doesn’t make the protected list on July 17. Losing the shifty winger for nothing is certainly not ideal, but when you have basically no cap space, getting $11 million off the books over the next two seasons is certainly appealing. He’s never meshed as much as the Penguins would like with Evgeni Malkin and you can bet your bottom dollar if Hextall and Brian Burke were in charge back when this deal was presented, they wouldn’t have pulled the trigger like Jim Rutherford decided to.
One potential landing spot should Zucker be dealt, the Los Angeles Kings. The team continues to look for top-six forwards to add to their group. Considering Zucker is a California native, he wouldn’t have them listed on his trade protection and given the fact Hextall has quite the history with the Kings, the stars could align between the two.
Hyman Brings a Ton to the Table
As for Hyman, he’s a versatile winger who can play both sides of the ice and in all situations. The Maple Leafs had him playing mostly with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner and last season, in 43 games, he tallied 33 points and would have smashed his career-high over an 82-game span. The University of Michigan product can be a net-front presence on the power-play and you won’t find anyone who works harder to retrieve pucks and get into those dirty areas. Malkin would absolutely love playing with Hyman and if you ask his other winger, ex-Maple Leaf Kasperi Kapanen, I have no doubt in my mind he would second that.
Last season the 29-year-old Hyman made $2.25 million and is on his way to a hefty raise. Expect to see his new deal come in around $5 million per season, which could move depending on the length of the contract. I wouldn’t expect the Penguins to sign him to a max seven-year deal, but I think management would be comfortable handing out multiple years. They are going to need to if they want Hyman’s attention.
Penguins Have Interest and Need to be Creative
It’s been long reported the team has an interest in Hyman and a lot of that stems from Burke watching him play for the past six seasons in Toronto. While he was “out of the game” Burke worked in Toronto broadcasting and saw the Leafs forward up close and personal. He has raved about his play throughout the years and is a huge fan of the winger’s work ethic, hockey IQ and maybe, more importantly, the person on the inside. Hyman’s a huge member of the community in Toronto and was always open to doing more to connect with the fan base. He’s also a children’s author and has several titles published that share inspirational stories to kids.
While the interest is certainly there and the fit makes sense, it’s the money that’s the biggest hurdle. The Penguins will gain some cap space via the expansion draft, but the week between Seattle picking their team and July 28 free agency is where Hextall and Burke need to get to work. If they can send Zucker on his way and move Pettersson, it will create the flexibility executives crave. Easier said than done in a flat salary cap world, but not impossible. The team would then be able to target more than just Hyman; however, if the Penguins want to add a player that will move the needle for the team, he should be priority #1.