Drew O’Connor Gives Pens New Option in Potential Karlsson Deal

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If the Pens end up snagging Erik Karlsson from the Sharks, forward Drew O’Connor is likely to thank. 

On Wednesday, DOC filed for arbitration. In doing so, he unlocked a free buyout window for the Pens. Dubas can create his own cap space to acquire Karlsson by removing a player with a high cap hit. 

Dubas said previously that he did not plan on using a buyout this off-season, but that was during the regular buyout period, and I’m sure the idea of a second buyout period wasn’t on his mind. However, thanks to restricted free agent O’Connor, the Penguins will now have a buyout window that will close 72 hours after his arbitration case is awarded or settled. 

I doubt most teams with a player file for arbitration will use their second buyout window, but for the Pens, it could be huge as Dubas is trying to acquire Karlsson and clear cap space. 

Dubas is reportedly very interested in Karlsson, who is a three-time Norris Trophy winner, including this past season, and is looking to acquire him. Dubas said in a press conference Monday that he has looked into a potential deal for the star defenseman. 

Now as I’ve mentioned in previous articles, any deal between the Pens and Sharks is likely going to require a third team due to Karlsson’s $11.5 million cap hit and the fact the Penguins don’t have too much to offer in terms of prospects, and that the Pens will need to shed a LOT of cap space to make the deal work. 

A way the Penguins could shed some cap space? The second buyout window they now have, of course! 

Now Karlsson, who hit 100 points last year, does have a no-movement clause. However, he has reportedly requested a trade. However, to make a trade work, the Sharks are going to very likely end up retaining salary. In one of my articles that has yet to go live as of writing this, I mention that the Sharks could retain anywhere from 20 to 40% of Karlsson’s cap. Now it’s not known just how much exactly the Sharks are willing to retain, but that was my guess. 

Keep in mind, due to the CBA, a team can’t retain more than 50% of a player’s cap hit. 

Anyway, with the buyout window the Pens now have, there are two players they could quite possibly buy out, which would be forward Mikael Granlund and defenseman Jeff Petry. Dubas has met with Petry this summer in Michigan and mentioned in his post-free agency press conference that Petry is a big part of the Pens moving forward. 

Now the Pens did shop Petry, however, during the NHL Draft in Nashville with no takers, according to several reports. It’s very likely (and would make a lot of sense) that Petry would be moved in any Karlsson deal. 

Petry, a right-shot defenseman just like Karlsson, has a high cap hit of $6.25 million, which lasts for two more years. He also has a modified no-trade clause and no-movement clause as well. 

Now if the Pens decide to buy out Petry, they would save $3.25 million next season, $1.75 million the following season, then be negative $1.25 million the following two seasons. However, a Petry buyout is less likely than forward Mikael Granlund. 

Granlund counts $5 million against the cap for the next two years. If the Pens do decide to buy him out, the Pens could save $4,166,667 next season and $3,166,667 the following year. Then he would only count $1,833,333 against the cap the following two years. 

The Penguins are also very close to the cap limit. They have $58,000 in cap space left. Teams can, however, be over the cap by 10% in the off-season. 

In my opinion, Dubas should take advantage, as the Penguins can afford the cap penalties one (or both) of these players would have if they were bought out. The core is not getting any younger and likely has 1-2 seasons left of being competitive, and the cap is expected to rise significantly following this season. 

The last time the Penguins used their buyout was on defenseman Jack Johnson during the GMJR era. During the pre-FSG era, the previous owners were seemingly against buying out players, especially Mario Lemieux. 

However, with new ownership, they all seem more interested now in making bolder moves to try to win the cup. They have handed the hockey operations over to Dubas and made him the main man in charge. Last year, FSG made the priority of getting Geno and Letang back. Will this year’s priority be getting Karlsson?

Nik Shermeto

PT ‘23 | 🇺🇸/🇨🇦 | Penguins writer for Inside The Rink | Thoughts are my own.

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