How do the Penguins become salary-cap compliant?
With their season opening in less than a week, the Penguins still have a handful of issues to sort out, most prominently their salary cap.
As their roster stands, they are projected to be $331,625 over the NHL’s limit of $81.5 million according to Cap Friendly, a website that tracks NHL salary information.
That overriding quandary will dictate how the Penguins sort out their roster, most notably their backup goaltending position and their defense. All NHL teams must be compliant with the salary cap by Monday. How will the Penguins accomplish that over the weekend?
General manager Jim Rutherford spoke by phone with the Tribune-Review on Thursday afternoon and addressed a number of subjects including backup goaltenders Casey DeSmith and Tristan Jarry, defenseman Jack Johnson, defensive prospect John Marino and his critique last spring of the roster being too content.
Yourself and head coach Mike Sullivan have said the battle for the backup goaltending job is open between DeSmith and Jarry. How has that competition progressed this preseason?
I think it’s progressed well from the fact that everybody has played very well. So, if you’re looking for an answer of who’s separated from who based on the play, I don’t think there was any separation.
It doesn’t sound like they’ve made your job easy in the event you need to trade one.
No. Part of what will dictate this decision will be the interest in one of them and how it plays out within our cap, which is very tight, as you know.
Jack Johnson is always a point of fierce discussion among media and fans. How have you assessed his preseason?
It’s been OK. I think for some reason, right from the start when he got here, there was more of a microscope on him. When you watch defense play on both sides of the rink in the games that we’ve played, there’s mistakes made. When Jack makes a mistake, it seems to get magnified like on the one goal in Detroit. But overall, I think Jack has played fine. He supposedly trained different, and it shows up in his mobility. I believe he’s more mobile. He’s had some times where’s he’s been paired with certain guys that he’s looked good. When he’s been with (prospect John) Marino, there seems to be some chemistry there. The coach is moving guys around, trying guys with different guys. I would say that his camp has been fine.
It sounds like you still view him as potentially having a future with this team. Has any decision been made regarding his status with the club moving forward?
No. In the meetings that I have with the coaching staff, they like what he does. They believe that he can do some things that other guys don’t do as well such as penalty killing and things like that. We’re going to have to do something with our defense because we like the way Marino has played. When you look at the cap and you look at the numbers on defense, we have to do something. But it doesn’t necessarily have to be Jack.
You mention Marino. Has he surprised you in this camp and preseason?
I had limited knowledge on Marino. (Director of player development) Scott Young and (special assignment scout) Kevin Stevens were the guys that followed him very closely last year. They were the guys that recommended we acquire this player. Not only recommended, but kind of pounded the table. They were (passionate) about his future as an NHL player. Everything they talked about in how they described this player has been accurate to the point that they felt that if we could acquire him and bring him out of school early, that he could play in the NHL this year. To this point, that’s been accurate.
Note: The Penguins acquired Marino’s signing rights from the Edmonton Oilers in a trade this past offseason.
How have your new forwards — Alex Galchenyuk, Dominik Kahun and Brandon Tanev — looked this preseason?
When we talked about trying to change the dynamic of our team and get back to some more speed and playing with a higher tempo, Tanev has clearly done that for us. Certainly when (Sullivan) balances out the lines with (Bryan) Rust on the one line and (Jared) McCann on the other line and when we had (Sam) Lafferty here, our team certainly seems to be playing with more pace. So that’s been good.
Alex just got the one game. He had the goal. Basically in that game, (he) played the way we would expect him to play. He’s working through this injury and working through some time to have chemistry with (Evgeni Malkin), which seemed that they were gaining on that.
Then Kahun’s case, he’s been on different lines and moving around. (It’s) hard to get with two players to get comfortable with. But you can certainly see that he has a high skill level, and he’s doing fine.
Marcus Pettersson appears to be in a position to take a considerable step forward this season.
He hasn’t hit his ceiling yet. He took a big step forward when he came here in the trade last year. Played in the third pairing and did an extremely good job. Now, he’s taking another step because at this point in time, he’s playing with (Justin) Schultz, which puts him on the second pairing. It gives him more responsibility. But he’s a good player with a very, very high ceiling.
During your season-closing press conference last spring, you suggested the roster at that time may have been too content with the success it had enjoyed. Do you feel that has been properly addressed with the roster you have at this time?
It’s too early to tell, but I certainly see a difference around the team off the ice. I see a difference on the ice in the approach. I didn’t like our game against Detroit (Wednesday) night, quite frankly. We won the game, but we got into some of our old habits, a little bit too loose and that’s got to be tightened up. But overall, if you’re asking me just about people being content, I don’t see that same level of content. I see a little bit more urgency to the point that we understand that with the parity in this league, there aren’t any easy teams, there aren’t any easy games and we better come to play every night.
Seth Rorabaugh is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Seth by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .