The Detroit Red Wings need to consider claiming Kasperi Kapanen

(Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
(Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images) /

With the Detroit Red Wings making a strong playoff push over the past two weeks, winning seven of their last eight games, general manager Steve Yzerman should consider claiming recently waived forward Kasperi Kapanen.

On Friday, the Pittsburgh Penguins waived the 26-year-old forward just six months after signing him to a two-year extension that averages $3.2 million. The Penguins are tight against the cap and needed to clear some salary with defenseman Jan Rutta set to return to the team. Penguins general manager Ron Hextall recently made Kapanen available via trade, but nothing materialized, forcing him to place the speedy winger on waivers.

The Penguins are currently on the outside looking in at the playoff picture, sitting tenth in the Eastern Conference but trailing the Detroit Red Wings by just a point for the second wild card position. The two organizations appear to be headed in different directions. The Penguins are 8-12-4 since Christmas, while the Red Wings are 14-10-1 over the same span but have been surging of late.

The Detroit Red Wings need to consider claiming Kasperi Kapanen.

Kapanen, the son of former NHLer Sami Kapanen, hasn’t performed as well as the Pittsburgh Penguins had hoped since acquiring him from the Toronto Maple Leafs ahead of the 2020-21 season. The Penguins traded a first-round pick in the 2020 NHL Entry Level Draft along with Evan Rodrigues, Filip Hallander, and David Warsofsky in exchange for Kapanen, Pontus Aberg, and Jesper Lindgren.

Kapanen has recorded 29 goals and 82 points for the Penguins over 162 games since the trade. The speedy forward is averaging just over 12 minutes of ice time this season and about 14 on average during his time in Pittsburgh.

This season, Kapanen has totaled 20 points, including seven goals in 43 games; he’s also skating to a minus -8 rating and a Corsi For Percentage of 48.2, which is a career-low. Kapanen is also posting a career-worst Relative Corsi For Percentage of -3.0 during even-strength situations this season. Despite all of that, Kapanen is maintaining a 2.3-points per 60 minutes pace, which is the second-best of his career and a 0.6 increase from last season.

Claiming Kapanen would not be a franchise-altering transaction, but Yzerman should consider it. Sure, this might be viewed as a reclamation project, but by claiming Kapanen off of waivers, the team is getting a decent bottom-six winger for essentially nothing. Detroit would be on the hook for $3.2 million next season, but that won’t hamper any of their long-term plans.

Kapanen may replace a current bottom six forward that may not factor into Yzerman’s long-term plans or perhaps will receive a better offer elsewhere on the open market. Detroit’s current forwards that are pending unrestricted free agents are; Dylan Larkin, Tyler Bertuzzi, Oskar Sundqvist, and Pius Suter.

So why add to an already log-jammed lineup?

There is nothing wrong with healthy competition. As the Detroit Red Wings have gotten healthy, head coach Derek Lalonde has been forced to make difficult lineup decisions each night. Most recently, Lalonde removed rookie Jonatan Berggren from the lineup in favor of Jakub Vrana and Filip Zadina, both of which have taken their turn as healthy scratches in recent weeks. With Lucas Raymond set to return from injury soon, Lalonde must make another difficult decision.

In addition to the one forward, the Detroit Red Wings have been scratching two defensemen, usually Gustav Lindstrom and Robert Hagg, but recently it’s been, Lindstrom and Jordan Oesterle. With Raymond returning, don’t be surprised to see Vrana sent back to Grand Rapids because he will not need to clear waivers, but I’d prefer to see Detroit place Hagg or Lindstrom on waivers to clear the roster space.

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If Detroit were to claim Kapanen, it would be a competitive decision to push Zadina, Vrana, and Berggren. The Red Wings could later place Kapanen on waivers if he becomes the odd man out and assign him to Grand Rapids. It’s something Yzerman should at least explore.