McKenzie on Penguins’ cap space, Capitals’ free agent decisions (Video)

James O'Brien
NBC Sports

About 1:20* into the video above this post’s headline, hockey insider Bob McKenzie shared some interesting tidbits with NBCSN’s Kathryn Tappen regarding potential future moves for the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins.

In the case of the Penguins, McKenzie reports that the team is happy with what they’ve seen from the wonderfully named Greg McKegg so far, but they’re still looking to add a more proven third-line center.

When it comes the the Capitals, McKenzie notes that there’s still plenty of work to do regarding pending free agents John Carlson and Lars Eller.

Let’s break down the facets of both situations.

Deadline dealers or something sooner?

So, at the moment, Cap Friendly pegs the Penguins’ cap space at about $2 million. That number could go up a bit in demoting a cheaper, younger player to the AHL, which they’d need to do if they added a player via a trade.

McKenzie is right in stating that the Penguins have a rare amount of breathing room in the Sidney CrosbyEvgeni Malkin era. They can chalk that up to making tough decisions like parting ways with Marc-Andre Fleury and having crucial bargains in Matt Murray and Jake Guentzel‘s rookie contract.

Theoretically, the Penguins could work something out for Matt Duchene, thus sparing him from absorbing more abuse from childhood heroes (has Adam Deadmarsh badmouthed Duchene yet?). That would likely require the Avalanche to retain some of Duchene’s $6M cap hit.

At least, it would now. What if the Penguins instead opted to be trade deadline buyers?

Well, Cap Friendly estimates their deadline cap space at about $9.3M.

Some rentals work out like Bill Guerin did for the Penguins, while others fall closer to, say, Alexei Ponikarovsky. If McKegg is the guy at 3C for longer, here’s how he looked coming into Thursday:

Three games played: one assist, 24-20 on faceoffs, six shots on goal, 15:38 time on ice average, solid possession stats.

Not too shabby, but when you’re shooting as high as the Penguins are, you might want to invest in some third-line center insurance.

A quick look at Eller, Carlson

Even if you don’t think John Carlson, 27, is too great in his own end, you’d probably have to admit that he’s well worth the near-$4M cap hit he’s carrying right now because of his outstanding offensive output.

The scoring side of Carlson’s HERO chart makes your eyes pop so much that you almost miss the not-so-great “shot suppression” category.

So, the question is, how much will Carlson cost and would it be worth it to the Capitals?

Washington is carrying cap hits in Matt Niskanen‘s $5.75M, Brooks Orpik‘s $5.5M, and Dmitry Orlov‘s $5.1M on defense. Overall, they have $58.9M in cap tied up in 13 players, according to Cap Friendly.

As a UFA with some big scoring numbers, Carlson could command a nice raise. The Capitals showed courage in letting Karl Alzner walk, so it will be fascinating to see what they do with Carlson.

Personally, Lars Eller is a very nice player, but possibly a luxury at his current rate of $3.5M. In a way, allowing him to walk might sting just as much because he’s been a handy answer to what was once a long-standing Capitals question at third-line center.

Still, the Capitals need only look to the Penguins and Chicago Blackhawks to realize that successful NHL teams sometimes allow valuable players to walk.

***

All of these cases are pretty interesting to watch. These two teams remain prominent because of their stars, but also their willingness to adapt.

* – Before that, McKenzie shares some interesting numbers and analysis about the league’s crackdown on slashing. Stay tuned for post on that, possibly on Thursday.)

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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