When the news hit that Pascal Dupuis had torn his ACL and would likely be out for the season, you weren’t alone if an early thought was "well who are the Penguins going to replace him with". With so many injuries the team might be content to tread water until after the Olympic break, see who wants to deal and go from there.
Even though the Penguins enjoy trading for players where they have "years of control" in terms of young players under contract and/or years away from free agency (like James Neal), those players are often difficult to acquire and cost significant assets. A better bet is the classic "rental" player of a guy that will be an unrestricted free agent in July. GM Ray Shero has done this often with some big-time hits (Marian Hossa, Bill Guerin), some big misses (Alexei Ponikarovsky, Alex Kovalev) and some in-betweens (Brenden Morrow, Jarome Iginla).
Who are this year’s candidates?
Can’t make a trade without a partner and now it’s time to take a look at teams already pretty much out of the playoffs:
- Buffalo Sabres- last place by a mile, they’ve already made some moves and will be looking to make more as they try to build. But with new Team President Pat Lafontaine at the helm, he might not be looking to swing any deals until he can get a permanent GM in place. (Best rental candidates: Matt Moulson ($3.13 million cap hit), Steve Ott ($2.95m), Cody McCormick ($1.25m)
- Edmonton Oilers- another disappointing year up in Edmonton, as their seeming perpetual rebuild continues with another trade deadline where they'll be looking to deal vets for youth. . (Best rental candidates: Ales Hemsky ($5.0 million cap hit), Ryan Smyth ($2.25m), Ryan Jones ($1.5m)
- Calgary Flames- Brian Burke is searching for a GM, but it’s clear he doesn’t like the look of his team and changes will be coming in Calgary. (Best rental candidates: Mike Cammalleri ($6.0 million cap hit), Matt Stajan ($3.5 m), Lee Stempniak ($2.5m)
- New York Islanders- There’s no love lost between the Pens and Isles organizations, but with Garth Snow’s job possibly on the line, he can’t afford to be petty if Pittsburgh will give him the best offer . (Best candidates: Tomas Vanek ($5.75 cap hit [retained salary]), Peter Regin ($750k)
- Florida Panthers – Another seemingly endless cycle of rebuilding, the Panthers might be game to serve up a veteran for some youth . (Best candidates: Marcel Goc ($1.7m), Brad Boyes ($1.0 m)
- Nashville Predators – In need of a shakeup, the Preds could be looking to shuffle some personnel and certainly Poile and ex-employee Shero have a great rapport . (Best candidate: David Legwand ($4.5 m)
- Colorado Avalanche – They’re not a bottom feeder, but CBC’s Elliotte Friedman said "Jamie McGinn is reportedly available in Colorado. He makes $1.85 million US and is up after this season." McGinn leads Colorado forwards with 86 hits this season, and he’s scored 20 goals since the lockout, so his hands aren’t bad either, and if he's available, he has to go on the radar.
As we all know from the Jarome Iginla acquisition- just because you acquire a good player it's not going to be that beneficial unless there's a place in the lineup where he's comfortable to play. The Pittsburgh Penguins have the hole a first line right wing, and they could probably still use an infusion of size/physicality/secondary scoring on the 3rd line that they haven't addressed since Matt Cooke departed. With Beau Bennett returning from injury to fill some role, they could try him on the top line and try to acquire a grinder...Or use Bennett with Brandon Sutter in a more hybrid offensive minded 3rd line and try to swing for the fences to acquire a legitimate 1st line talent to play with Sidney Crosby.
Of the list of 15 players above, some are natural centers, making them less attractive to the Pens. Others are not systematic fits- like Hemsky, who while being a good player, wouldn’t mesh with the north-south, physical, aggressive forechecking and wall-battling game that the Penguins ask of their wingers.
Here's four reasonable candidates that would be fits.
#28 / Left Wing / Edmonton Oilers
Jun 14, 1984
Cap hit: $1.5 million
|2013 - Ryan Jones||26||2||3||5||1||19||0||0||1||32|
Pros: Physical, speedy, would add to depth and give the Pens someone in the Matt Cooke type mold that they’ve been looking for and make them tougher to play against (41 hits in 24 games this season). His $1.5 million salary would also be a big bonus to not break the Pens salary cap and possibly allow them to make another acquisition, and I’m just guessing but the cost of picks/prospects in return is probably lower for him than most of the other names on the list. Also scored 18 goals in 2010-11, and 17 goals in 2011-12, so there’s a history of production….
Cons: Hasn’t produce a ton of points lately (4g,7a in 51 NHL games since 2013 on). Doesn’t play much (0:44 per game this year) on the PK unit, and only plays 10:27 a night total in Edmonton this year, and 12:58 per game last year. If he’s not good enough to get regular minutes on a poor team, will be have the all-around tools to stay a factor in Pittsburgh?
Verdict: Won’t sniff Top 6 minutes, so he wouldn't be thought of as aa Dupuis replacement but could give some grit for the bottom six that the Pens haven’t replaced since Cooke left.
#13 / Center / Calgary Flames
Jun 08, 1982
Cap hit: $6 million
|2013 - Mike Cammalleri||34||13||8||21||-20||16||3||0||3||109|
Pros: With 32 points in 32 career playoff games, he’s a big-time playoff performer. Has great hands and good enough speed to where he should be effective as a right winger for Sidney Crosby to replace Dupuis this season. Elite shot and would probably give the Pens their best pure sniping winger (other than James Neal) in a long, long time.
Cons: The salary. At $6 million cap hit, even pro-rated for when the Pens would acquire him, it would probably take a salary going the other way (Jussi Jokinen and his $2.1 million?) to get the deal done. OR, what could be a factor would be if Calgary would agree to retain some of his salary, which they could afford to do, but it also means with that leverage they’re going to get more in return. Also, with Calgary not having a full-time GM currently, the management instability or a potential new regime’s idea and strategy may make Calgary a difficult trading partner.
Verdict: In a perfect world, all business aside, Cammalleri makes the most sense- he’s the best offensive rental player potentially on the market, and with the Pens having a hole on their first line, is just the type of player they need. However given his salary, the unknown management climate in Calgary and the potential high demands they might ask for in terms of an elite prospect in return, it might not be the best idea or easiest trade to finalize. Has to be an option, but it would take a lot of finagling to pull off.
#26 / Left Wing / Buffalo Sabres
Nov 01, 1983
Cap hit: $3.13 million
|2013 - Matt Moulson||40||14||13||27||-6||22||8||0||1||100|
Pros: Excellent offensive player, has experience playing with a superstar center and a proven track record of production. Is a natural RW and with Dupuis down, the Pens could use a RW…Moulson’s salary is slightly less than the amount the Pens LTIR’d with Dupuis going down, so on paper it would fit this year’s salary structure to acquire him.
Cons: Buffalo is also searching for a permanent GM and the newcomer may have grand ideas about what he wants in return in order to trade Moulson, who will be one of the top rental options this deadline day. The price of a trade may not be conducive to making the deal.
Verdict: Depending on what Buffalo would seek, Moulson as a Penguin is a natural fit. Pittsburgh needs an offensive minded winger who’s capable of playing top-line minutes with a star center and can produce points. Moulson has proven beyond a doubt that he can do exactly that.
#11 / Left Wing / Colorado Avalanche
Aug 05, 1988
|2013 - Jamie McGinn||35||6||5||11||5||17||0||0||1||58|
Pros: Leads Colorado forwards in hits, at 6’1, 210 he would add some size and grit to what’s been a smaller bottom six forward group in Pittsburgh. He’s also scored 40 NHL goals since the beginning of the 2011-12 season, which suggests that there might be a benefit of scoring to go along with the physicality. Also is the youngest player on the list and could be a good candidate to try and re-sign.
Cons: Hasn’t had the production (55 goals in 307 career NHL games) or opportunity to be a Top 6 winger, may be better slotted on a checking line role and not a Dupuis replacement. Also, with Colorado being a playoff caliber team, they may be targeting an NHL caliber asset in a replacement, and that’s probably not what Pittsburgh will want to give up (picks and prospects), so the Pens and Avs may not be the best of trading partners.
Verdict: Depending on the cost, McGinn would be a great option to add to a potential 3rd line for Pittsburgh. If you assume Beau Bennett can get healthy and play with Crosby, plug McGinn in with Brandon Sutter and Jayson Megna and you’ve got a fast, physical and dynamic 3rd line. It’s definitely worth exploring, though Colorado might be looking for a different return to boost their own playoff run.