Penguins ship Hunwick, Sheary to Sabres in cap-clearing deal

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It was only two days ago that Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford joked, “I’m a creative. I’m not a magician” when asked about finding room to fit John Tavares on the roster. But on Wednesday, he managed to clear some salary cap room and find a taker for defenseman Matt Hunwick’s contract, thanks to his former assistant Jason Botterill.

The Penguins and Buffalo Sabres completed a trade on Wednesday that sees Hunwick and winger Conor Sheary head to the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for a conditional 2019 fourth-round pick that can become a third-rounder. (Per Darren Dreger, the pick becomes a third-rounder if Sheary scores 20 goals or 40 points or the Sabres move Hunwick before next year’s NHL draft.) No salary is retained. The move clears $5.25 million of cap space, bringing Pittsburgh’s total to a little over $10 million for Rutherford to play with, according to Cap Friendly.

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It’s been a busy week for Rutherford having already re-signed Bryan Rust, Dominik Simon and Daniel Sprong to new deals. This trade allows him to attempt to bring back defenseman Jamie Oleksiak and forward Riley Sheahan. While Oleksiak was given a qualifying offer this week, Sheahan was not and can become an unrestricted free agent on Sunday. That will still leave some money freed up to add to the blue line or on the wing.

The contracts of Sheary ($3 million cap hit) and Hunwick ($2.25 million cap hit) each run through the 2019-20 NHL season. Sheary has scored 41 goals over the last two seasons, with 37 of them coming at even strength. But with Sprong coming, it was clear his time in Pittsburgh was up. With his speed, he could thrive playing next to Jack Eichel. Hunwick, meanwhile, suited up for only 42 games this past season and was one of the Penguins’ worst blue liners in possession, per Corsica, while averaging 17:31 a night. He couldn’t crack Mike Sullivan’s top six for any of their 12 playoff games this spring.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.