The month of July has been filled with plenty of business for the Pittsburgh Penguins, including new contracts, the draft and several trade deals. General manager Ron Hextall is clearly committed to setting the team up for success not only for next season but also in the years to come. However, one of the latest contract extensions given out by the team to Kasperi Kapanen has left fans with some questions.
Kasperi Kapanen Extension
On July 21, the Penguins signed Kapanen to a two-year contract extension with an average annual value of $3.2 million, the exact same amount he was making on his previous contract. After scoring 11 goals and totaling 32 points in 79 games last season, most expected the team to part ways with him. If by some miracle they re-signed him, it was expected that he would at least take a pay cut to free up some cap space.
When the Penguins announced the Kapanen extension, there were more than a few questions surrounding the news. There is no denying that he struggled through most of last season, and it is also no secret that the Penguins are working through cap space issues.
The biggest question on almost everyone’s mind is why renew his contract at all? The Penguins could have just been trying to avoid arbitration with Kapanen since it is used by players to settle contract disputes. However, it may have benefitted the team to go there because there is a good chance they would have won.
Another question surrounding this deal has to do with the term. It would have made more sense for the Penguins to sign Kapanen to a one-year deal and assess his progress after next season. Instead, they committed to him for the next two seasons and did not decrease his pay despite his poor performance last year. His play last season simply does not warrant the $6.4 million he will be making over the next two years.
Where Does Kapanen Fit?
Regardless of how people feel about Kapanen’s extension, the fact is the deal is done, and now the Penguins have to figure out how to best use him in the lineup. He proved last season that he does not belong anywhere near the second line with Evgeni Malkin. He will more than likely end up on the third line with Jeff Carter, though that combination does not sound very promising.
Last season, one of Kapanen’s biggest issues was that he simply did not use his speed. If he can get that part of his game going again, he will be a weapon on the roster. One area he could definitely excel in is the penalty kill. The Penguins had one of the stronger PKs in the league at the beginning of last season, though somewhere in the middle of the year, it fell apart. It was that part of their special teams that sealed their fate in the first round of the playoffs against the Rangers, and it is no secret that it needs major reconstruction. Trying Kapanen out in a more shorthanded role could be a genius move. At the very least, it might make opponents think twice before they pass the puck across the ice for fear he will meet it at the blue line and take it in the opposite direction. The Penguins believe he is capable of more, and trying him out on the penalty kill could help him gain the confidence he needs to rediscover his game.
The bottom line is that most people would have parted ways with Kapanen after last season. It seemed like all year the Penguins were just waiting for him to get better, and he never did. So why are they investing two more years in him? Hextall is gambling on Kapanen and expecting him to bounce back. Every decision the general manager has made during the offseason has been a good one, but is this the one he will regret? Only time will tell.
My name is Sylvie McCarthy and I am a graduate of the University of North Florida. I have spent time as a sports writer for the Casper Star Tribune in Casper, Wyoming and the Picayune Item in Picayune, Mississippi. Sports is my passion, and I am so excited to be writing for The Hockey Writers where I will be covering the Pittsburgh Penguins.