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Insider Only Breakaway Buzz: NHL/Economics, Penguins’ Ownership, Evaluating a potential lost season

*Rumblings, Musings, Opinions*

1. The NHL as expected extended their self-quarantine recommendation through April 30 for the players. It had previously been through April 15th.

Nothing has changed for the National Hockey League from a few weeks ago. Top league officials continue to be willing to wait things out for another couple months to see if there’s any chance to finish the 2019-2020 season. The league is going to wait until at least Mid-June before a decision is made, sources say. As reported a little while ago here, the best case scenario the league currently see’s is a July return for players in a training camp setting, a message the NHLPA also gave to players in a recent conference call, followed by August-October completion of the 2019-2020 season and the start of the 2020-2021 season in mid-to-late November. That’s where the thinking process is believed to be at, but everything right now is just wishful thinking. There’s just so many hurdles to overcome that has had a lot of pessimism among players and team officials of a potential return this summer, but the NHL and others obviously hope to have the chance to be part of the healing process in a few months to restart their seasons even in unorthodox settings.


2. One thing to watch in the coming months is Gary Bettman and Co working the pandemic into negotiating a long-term collective bargaining agreement with the players union of 8-10 years. NHLPA insiders have been speculating that it’s a route Bettman is likely to push to off-set the large number of economic uncertainties for next season and beyond because of the pandemic. Economic losses from the 2019-2020 season could dictate a 35-40% decrease in the salary cap, something that won’t be feasible for teams to manage, and that has players fearing a hard line is going to be coming from the league on the need to slash salaries. Some in the know sense the NHL see’s an opportunity to get NHL players to the table.


3. The Penguins have close to $70 million in actual cash owed next season to just 16 rostered NHL players. Ownership’s operating budget for the 2019-2020 season was set at around $80-$82 million for player salaries at the NHL level, per sources. It will be interesting with a lost month of the regular season + lost playoff gate revenue that this ownership group strongly relies on each season, whether Pittsburgh has the appetite to keep player salaries (actual cash) in the $80+ million range next season. One thing Penguins’ ownership almost always try to avoid is dishing out large amount of signing bonuses that are paid out on July 1 of each year. After paying out less than $5 million in signing bonuses over the last three seasons combined, Pittsburgh is on the hook for $6 million in signing bonuses to rostered NHL players when the new league year happens.

Evgeni Malkin’s contract is back-loaded with $5 million each in signing bonuses due for the final two seasons. Malkin ($5 million) and Brandon Tanev ($1 million) each have signing bonuses due on July 1, though, the league is negotiating to push the deadline back since the current season has yet to be cancelled.


4. If there’s no resumption of the 2019-2020 season, it is such unchartered waters on how the Penguins will navigate to evaluate this year’s club. The big decisions like the goaltending situation would have never got to play out. Matt Murray entered the season with a perceived value of around $7-$7.5 million per season. What is that value now from a pure performance standpoint combined with the current economics? No one has a clue and does it become strictly a financial decision to trade Murray or on the other side, is Murray going to be forced to take a 1-2 year deal near his current salary because of the economics? The Penguins still view Murray as a franchise goaltender but losing the season will have become a lost opportunity to see the goaltending situation play out much clearer for management.

Another one is where does Penguins management come in on Kris Letang without seeing how things played in the playoffs? Barring a long playoff run, things were trending in the direction where the Penguins again owed it to themselves to explore trade offers for Letang and not get cold feet this time around. Multiple sources confirm Rutherford had the appetite to move Letang last year at the draft until he got backlash from those in S Want the Full Story? Get "Inside Access"

Even much smaller personnel decisions like Evan Rodriguez who would be due a $2.1 million tender as an RFA that the player would surely accept. He’s a bit of an intriguing 4th line level player but if the season would be cancelled, there just wouldn’t be enough of an evaluation period to this point to warrant the Penguins making that type financial decision.


5. Great things going on at 937 The Fan today in raising money for the Feed the Need radiothon.

About The Author

William DePaoli

TIOPS Insider

William DePaoli is the President/Founder of Inside Pittsburgh Sports LLC and can be reached at wdepaoli@insidepittsburghsports.com

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