Jake Guentzel Out for First Three Months of Season Due to Ankle Surgery

Normally, breaking news in the NHL offseason would mean about a big free agency signing or a big trade. However, this time around, it is related to an injury.

Jake Guentzel, the Pittsburgh Penguins’ top scorer, underwent successful surgery to fix an issue with his right ankle, per general manager Kyle Dubas, who recently had the interim tag removed from his general manager position.

Guentzel was playing summer league hockey in Minnesota up until the procedure. Dubas noted that Guentzel was preparing for training camp, but that “it was apparent that his ankle injury was not resolving in a way that was satisfactory to [him] or the Penguins.” As such, he will be re-evaluated in 12 weeks, meaning he will miss the first month of the 2023-24 season.

Penguins to Be Without an Important Piece to Their Team

It’s a tough break for Guentzel, as he is entering a contract year this coming season. He has been Sidney Crosby’s linemate since his rookie season in 2016-17, averaging over 20 minutes of ice time per game over the last four seasons. Since the 2018-19 campaign, he has routinely produced at a point-per-game rate, along with two 40-goal seasons.

However, this isn’t the first time Guentzel will miss a significant portion of the season because of injury. He missed the last 30 regular season games of the 2019-20 season due to a shoulder injury before the COVID-19 pandemic suspended the season.

The Penguins are not wanting to miss the playoffs for a second straight season, and they need Guentzel to be at his best when he returns from injury. In the time when he is out, Reilly Smith will be counted on for top line duties with Crosby. Smith was originally acquired from the Stanley Cup champion Vegas Golden Knights as the Penguins were looking to recoup for the loss of Jason Zucker, but now Smith will take on a larger responsibility for the time being.

This could also mean a bigger opportunity for players like Alex Nylander, Andreas Johnsson, Sam Poulin, or Valtteri Puustinen to get a shot on the NHL roster, whether it be anywhere on the top six or back-filling for a position for whoever ends up on the wings of the top six.

Moving Guentzel to LTIR Creates Financial Flexibility

On the other side of things, it can be argued that this is an important move for the Penguins to create financial flexibility. It frees up $6 million in cap space, as they were more than $3 million over the cap after signing Drew O’Connor earlier on the week. The number might be a little inflated because of three goaltenders signed to the active roster, but now they have about $2.75 million of cap space.

The Penguins are one of the frontrunners to land Norris Trophy-winning defenseman Erik Karlsson, and they are looking to position themselves at the front. Though if they were to acquire him, this could take additional moves as it is a multi-step process, such as moving on from either one or both of Mikael Granlund and Jeff Carter. Dubas is not willing to go the buyout route, saying that he is hesitant to go there. In the event of a Karlsson trade, a third team may likely get involved for salary retention.

There aren’t a lot of options for the Pens to free up cap space unless the Sharks are willing to take on a bad contract or two, though the latter is unlikely, since the Sharks are going to retain more salary than they are comfortable with. One of them could be Ty Smith, who played just nine games with the Penguins last season after being acquired in the John Marino trade.

However, given the Pens have to be cap compliant when Guentzel comes back, this doesn’t give a lot of benefits in the grand scheme of things, aside from taking off the pressure from the salary cap positioning.


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