While the Pittsburgh Penguins may have a dream of getting back to their "three center" model by adding Ryan Kesler to the mix, that may not be a realistic option. The cost to acquire might be too high, and it's debatable if that will even help anything this season, given the depth issues the Pens have had.
Enter Nikolai Kulemin. From the Digital Journal:
Toronto has a surplus of forwards in the organization and want to add some help on the back line. While Kulemin has played longer for the team than any other player on the roster, this is the last year of his contract and his offensive production has dropped.
The biggest problem for the front office is finding another team to take a gamble on the veteran, hoping he resigns and not give up too much for what could be a rental player.
One advantage the Penguins could have is #71, Evgeni Malkin. Malkin and Kulemin are buddies and have played in the KHL together before with Magnitogorsk. Kulemin will likely be looking for money and term, but that's also something that the Penguins could offer, if they wanted. With the cap going up (and Jussi Jokinen being an impending free agent) the Pens potentially have the space for Kulemin for longer than a rental, if all works out well.
Kulemin has been one of Toronto's top penalty killers the past two seasons, adding him could spell the loss of Pascal Dupuis for the rest of the season. Pairing him with Malkin and James Neal could allow the versatile Jokinen to jump up to first line right wing for Chris Kunitz and Sidney Crosby.
Or, if the Pens wanted to be bold, they could leave the top two lines alone, and put Kulemin on the 3rd line with Brandon Sutter, which would give Pittsburgh 2/3 of a great two-way line. But, given the importance of this trade, it's probably more critical to allow Kulemin the chance to fill the top-six position (and penalty killing duties) vacated by Dupuis.
If Toronto was interested in defensemen- Pittsburgh has that to offer in spades. A player with NHL experience and potential like Simon Despres might fit the exact profile of the Maple Leafs. Which level of a draft pick would have to be debated, as well as whether or not both sides could pull the trigger.
GM Ray Shero and the Pittsburgh Penguins may prefer a player with term left on his contract, rather than a rental situation, but as we've seen before with Bill Guerin and Gary Roberts- rentals can turn into core players with a longer future in a very short time. The Pens will have a need for a player like Kulemin after this spring, and probably the cap space to keep him.