With September upon us, the start of the NHL season is only weeks away. Many teams are holding rookie showcase tournaments, and most training camps start in the next few days.
The Pittsburgh Penguins are no different . The Pens will have their first preseason game a week from Sunday as they travel to Columbus to take on their new divisional opponent Blue Jackets. However, before they can worry about preseason rosters and which young prospects will finally get their shot, the Pens are faced with one glaring issue: as of today, they are currently $1.1 million over the salary cap for the 2013-2014 season, a problem they must rectify before the puck drops for the regular season on October 3rd.
This means that one of the thirteen forwards or eight defenseman that the team currently has under contract will need to be traded away to alleviate the pressure from the cap, and right now all signs point to defenseman Matt Niskanen as being the piece that gets moved.
Rumors of a trade involving Niskanen have been circulating for a number of months now. After he arrived in Pittsburgh as part of the James Neal trade, Niskanen proved himself to be a more than capable 3rd-paring defenseman who could play decent minutes every night. However, his $2.3 million cap hit is simply too much to pay for a 5th defenseman, especially when the Pens have so many young D prospects in their farm system. What’s more, the offseason signing of free-agent D-man Rob Scuderi to a multi-million dollar contract seemed to suggest that it was only a matter of time before Niskanen was shipped out.
Apparently even Niskanen himself can see the writing on the walls.
In an interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Niskanen said that ”I know the situation we’re in, being over the cap, it’s pretty evident that Ray (Shero) has to make a decision. Someone who probably otherwise is a regular on our roster (will be traded)”.
Where Niskanen will end up is anybody’s guess. I can think of at least a half dozen teams who are at a loss for defenseman and would highly value Niskanen’s skills. Since he is being moved to free up cap space, whichever team he is traded too will most likely send back either draft picks or a prospect whose minor league contract won’t count against the cap.
I like Niskanen, and I think that most Pittsburgh fans will wish him the best, as they should. Had his contract been a bit lower, maybe the Pens could have kept him, but sports is a business after all, and sometimes you have to make decisions that you’d prefer not to.