The Pittsburgh Penguins are running out of patience.
After losing four games in a row and sitting outside of a wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference, the Penguins front office is desperate to shake things up and give their team a kick in the backside.
On Friday, head coach Mike Sullivan was asked why forward Kasperi Kapanen was missing from practice. Sullivan was clear and honest with his answer.
"[Ron Hextall] informed me before practice that [Kapanen] was held out because he's going to go on waivers this afternoon."
Coach Sullivan on Kapanen's absence from practice: "Hexy informed me before practice that he was held out because he's going to go on waivers here this afternoon."
— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) February 24, 2023
"When a team doesn't live up to expectations, change is inevitable — that's part of it," Sullivan said. "Kappy is a really talented player. To a certain extent, it's on all of us because we didn't find a way to maximize his potential."
The move will allow Pittsburgh to activate defenseman Jan Rutta off injured reserve as he prepares to return to play after missing 15 games with an upper-body injury.
Kapanen has seven goals and 13 assists, and is a minus-8 in 43 games so far this season. The 26-year-old is averaging just over 12 minutes of ice time per game, his lowest mark since the 2017-18 season.
Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman reported on the 32 Thoughts podcast on Friday that at least one Eastern Conference team showed interest in trading for Kapanen earlier this season, but Hextall preferred not to deal the forward to that team.
Part of Elliotte’s reporting is that an eastern team had interest in Kapanen earlier in the season before Hextall said he didn’t want to deal him there.
— Hunter (@HunterHodies) February 24, 2023
Kapanen is in the first year of a two-year, $6.4 million contract he signed in July 2022. The Penguins are set to save $1.125 million in cap space if the Finnish winger clears waivers.
Kapanen has 1 year remaining @ $3.2M Cap Hit. If clears waivers & sent down, #LetsGoPens save $1.125M of cap hit.
To activate Rutta from LTIR, they need to clear $1.44M, so they would need to send 1 additional player down if Kapanen clears & sent downhttps://t.co/UXcXzCIfCt https://t.co/ztnflx5TvP pic.twitter.com/fDLguHmjvN
— PuckPedia (@PuckPedia) February 24, 2023
One of Pittsburgh's biggest issues this season — and a recurring weakness since its back-to-back Stanley Cups — is depth scoring. Predictably, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin lead the team with 69 and 58 points, respectively. Jake Guentzel is close behind with 51 points, and Rickard Rakell, Bryan Rust and Jason Zucker all have over 30 points. The bottom falls out after the top-six, though, with only one other forward registering at least 10 goals.
Jeff Carter, fresh off a new two-year contract and a 45-point season, has struggled to keep up at age 38, scoring only eight goals and registering 20 points in 54 games in 2022-23. Brock McGinn and Danton Heinen have been limited to just 15 points each.
The last time the Penguins missed the playoffs was in 2005-06, Crosby's rookie season. There is reason for concern that their streak will be snapped this season.