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Penguins Swap AHL Forwards - Preview of Things to Come?

Pittsburgh has no cap space and the NHL Trade Deadline is less than a month away. These minor moves might be all they are able to make.

Frederick Breedon

Thursday, the Penguins traded longtime AHL forward Paul Thompson for Columbus forward Spencer Machacek in a prospect-for-prospect deal.

Thompson, in three-plus seasons with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Baby Penguins, posted 35 goals and 61 points in 170 regular season games. Machacek is a former AHL All-Star and has 19 points in 34 games this season with the AHL Springfield Falcons.

From the Penguins press release,

A 6-foot-1, 195-pound forward, Machacek has skated in 25 NHL games with the Winnipeg Jets and Atlanta Thrashers, collecting nine points (2G-7A). Machacek most recently skated in 13 games with the Jets in 2011-12, when he collected all nine of his NHL points.

The Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada native was originally drafted by the Thrashers in the third round (67th overall) of the 2007 NHL Draft. Machacek has played six AHL seasons with the Chicago Wolves, St. John's IceCaps and Springfield, tallying 258 points (107G-151A) in 393 regular-season contests and 19 points (7G-12A) in 30 playoff games.

Machacek was an AHL All-Star in 2010-11 when he established AHL career highs in goals (21), assists (32) and points (53) in 67 games with the Chicago Wolves.

On the surface, this reads like a non-story. Machacek's best bet of joining the NHL club is another round of injuries, and the Penguins have become relatively healthy in recent weeks.

If the deal is boring on its own, it could be instructive in trying to predict how the Penguins will act at the upcoming NHL Trade Deadline.

Pittsburgh, speaking in salary cap terms, is broke. The team has had to lean on long-term injured reserve cap space all season just to field a full roster.

Currently, Pascal Dupuis ($3.75 million) and Tomas Vokoun ($2 million) are under LTIR designation. Of that combined $5.75 million in AAV space, the Penguins are already using some $5.2 million to account for the contracts of players like Jayson Megna, Brian Gibbons and Jeff Zatkoff.

Without LTIR savings, those players would put the Penguins several million over the salary cap.

That being the case, Pittsburgh has next to no cap space with which to pay for trade deadline acquisitions. While the team can obviously move players from the current roster, they aren't likely to. Pittsburgh has nearly a 20-point lead in the Metropolitan Division, and the current management group is not given to trading away veterans so close to the postseason.

Moves like the deal for Machacek stay on the AHL payroll so long as he does. If Pittsburgh can't add players to the NHL roster, they can at least add depth.

The way this season has gone, having depth may be more important than landing the big fish of the trade deadline.

I'm on twitter. @Slew_James