If the Pens Want Tatar, Say Goodbye to Carter or O’Connor

The Penguins improved their bottom six this off-season with the free-agent signings they made and should have no problem with the defensive side of things. As for the offensive side? There’s still a problem there. They have no proven goal scorer in the bottom six. 

However, the rumors lately of the Pens going after Tomas Tatar could fix that problem for the Penguins. He is a 32-year-old solid scoring winger who can play in the bottom six. He would pair nicely on that third line, and he is good at playing on a fast and skilled team. Tatar put up 20 goals and 48 points on the New Jersey Devils last season. 

In 2021-22, Tatar had a down year, only putting up 15 goals and 30 points, but the year prior, he had ten goals and 30 points in 50 games with the Montreal Canadiens. 

He also can be solid defensively as well and probably is cheaper than what people thought since he is still unsigned. 

However, of course, is the salary cap problem. But, GM Kyle Dubas did say he was not afraid of using waivers to create cap space. Either way, the Pens are still about $220,000 over the cap as of right now. Getting Tatar for under $1 million could be possible, but it is unlikely, in my opinion, as Tatar is a player who deserves more. 

Another notable thing in Dubas’ presser on August 7th was that he wanted to start the season with a 22-man roster, and due to cap reasons, it is currently only at 21 players. 

However, another unexpected problem has arisen too. The AHL “veterans” rule. An AHL team can only dress up to five NHL veterans, players who have played 260+ NHL games. However, a sixth can be added if they have played less than 320 NHL games. Teams can sign as many vets as they want, but only six can be in a game at a time. 

The Pens have already met their six veterans limit for the upcoming year, so signing another vet would create a possible problem for the Baby Pens. That would also cause the Pens to likely waive a new player, which wouldn’t look good for the organization at all. 

But, this problem does have two possible solutions. 

Solution #1: Move Drew O’Connor

The Penguins signed DOC this summer to a two-year deal with a $925,000 average annual salary right before acquiring Karlsson. 

Last year, O’Connor put up five goals and 11 points in 46 games played. O’Connor played his best hockey in the latter part of last season when the team needed him most. He became a solid type of power forward the Pens have been hoping he would be, even though he only got one goal and two points in the 13 games he played in March. 

O’Connor also played for Team USA at the 2023 World Championships, getting a whopping three goals and eight points in 10 games while playing center. 

O’Connor could become a solid third-liner for another team that could be interested in the 25-year-old. 

Option 2: Move Jeff Carter

Jeff Carter is the most expensive player in the Pens’ bottom six and only one of three players who make over $1 million in the bottom six. The other two, Lars Eller and Noel Acciari, were both signed in July, so I doubt any of them would be moved at all. 

As much as defensemen Pierre-Olivier Joseph and Ty Smith could get a bigger return, their contracts are both less than $1 million, so trading them would not fix the cap space problem at all. 

Now the big problems with this are simple. Carter is 38 and has a full no-movement clause in his contract. He can block being placed on waivers and being traded. Also, if he retires, his salary goes 100% against the cap. Also, for those wondering, his salary cap hit is $3.125 million. 

If the Penguins can convince Carter to accept a trade, I could see the Penguins moving Carter along with something like a second-round pick to a team. 

A trade is pretty unlikely, as getting Carter to accept a trade and a team to accept Carter would be hard at this stage of the off-season. One great solution would be that Carter re-finds his scoring touch and can produce in the bottom six. 

In my personal opinion, I don’t see the Pens getting Tatar, but it’s not impossible. I feel like the roster they currently have will be their training camp roster, but if they can do anything, I feel like DOC will be the player out the door.

Nik Shermeto

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

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