The Pittsburgh Penguins trade of Olli Maatta Saturday night helps create over $3 million in cap space, while the Penguins added a young bottom-6 player with some skill and good offensive zone instincts on an entry level deal.
Having $11.25 million tied into three bottom-pairing level defensemen in Maatta, Jack Johnson and Erik Gudbranson was awful asset management heading into the summer and while Maatta’s trade value had dropped significantly as prior to the 2017 trade deadline the name Olli Maatta was able to get a return call from the Avalanche in trade talks at the time for Matt Duchene, Maatta was the best route of the three to gain any type of value in a trade.
This is now just the start of the Penguins hopes of revamping their d-core. They’re shooting for an impact move among the top-2 pairings and Rutherford also seeks to create more cap space.
One of the things to watch with the Penguins moving forward as they look to re-tool around Sidney Crosby and maximize this 3-4 year window they believe Crosby still has in being a top-5 player, is whether ownership starts becoming a player in the signing bonus game.
As the trend of the NHL over the last several years has been agents seeking large portions of a long-term contract for clients to be structured into signing bonus money among high-level star players and mid-tier players, the Penguins have found a way to stay pretty much out of the signing bonus game and it’s by design despite being an organization that spends to the cap in actual cash.
The Penguins are a cap team and have a billionaire owner, but this has been an avenue ownership has largely been against going and for several years now. The organization is still ran on a budget where they rely on two rounds of home playoff games to keep things running smoothly.
With their star core and mid-level players over the years, Pittsburgh has been the rare year-to-year cap team that isn’t even a low-level player in dishing out signing bonuses.
Sidney Crosby’s 13 year, $104 million cheat deal has $0 in signing bonus money. Signing bonuses were not a huge thing when Crosby signed his extension back in 2012 but it was already becoming a trend back then, especially with star players.
Zach Parise that summer signed a 13 year deal with $25 million in signing bonuses.
Shea Weber signed a $110 million offer sheet in 2012 with $68 million in signing bonuses.
The next summer (2013), Evgeni Malkin signed an 8 year extension with Pittsburgh. The Penguins to this day have yet to payout a signing bonus to Malkin. He is due a $5 million signing bonus on July 1, 2020 for year seven of the deal and another $5 million signing bonus on July 1, 2021 for the final year of the contract. Whether Malkin is still a Penguin next summer remains to be seen as rival clubs are not certain he will be.
Now whether you’re a star-level player like John Tavares who got $70+million in signing bonus money included in his contract from the Leafs this past summer, or a mid-level player like Tom Wilson ($16 million in signing bonuses), this has become the new wave for agents when negotiating contracts and it isn’t going anywhere.
It’s not just the big market owners who have been forced to go this route to secure players in free agency. In 2016 Andrew Ladd got $31 million in signing bonuses included in his contract from the Islanders. Milan Lucic’s contract has $23 million in signing bonuses from Edmonton.
Mark Stone’s 8 year contract with the Vegas Golden Knights in March includes $48 million in signing bonuses over the duration of the contract which sets the template for Matt Duchene, Artemi Panarin this summer and the Sharks current $11 million a year offer to Erik Karlsson is heavily loaded with bonuses.
A mid-level player like Micheal Ferland, a favorite of Jim Rutherford’s, saw talks break down with the Hurricanes this past winter because of a desire to use the Tom Wilson contract as a template and it was the Wilson signing bonus structure the Ferland camp tried to use that saw no traction towards a deal.
From star players to mid-tier players like Ferland and Wayne Simmonds, another player the Penguins Want the Full Story? Get "Inside Access"
“They [Penguin ownership] just won’t do them,” a high-ranking agent said Want the Full Story? Get "Inside Access"
Since 2014 there’s been two minor exceptions where the Penguins have included signing bonuses into a players’ contract.
Justin Schultz whose 3 year, $16.5 million contract from the Penguins (Signed in 2017) includes $3 million in signing bonuses, a $1 million bonus paid out each July 1 for the duration of the contract.
Even that small amount in the Schultz contract had to have Penguin management go to former COO Want the Full Story? Get "Inside Access"
Same with Jack Johnson who somehow got a $2.25 million signing bonus for year 1 of his five year contract, something Johnson’s agents Pat Brisson and Jim Nice of CAA strongly pushed for because of Johnson’s financial situation.
While Toronto’s William Nylander, a comparable player to Jake Guentzel will receive $24 million in signing bonus money over the six years of the contract, Guentzel will receive $0 in signing bonuses as his entire six year contract is base salary. Patric Hornqvist reps at Newport Sports pushed and pushed to get over $10 million in signing bonus money included in Hornqvist’ 5 year contract signed in 2018, but Pittsburgh held firm and won out with the Hornqvist contract being all in base salary.
And how much does the Penguin organization look to avoid paying out large signing bonuses at the start of the new league year?
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