On the heels of the reports that the Pittsburgh Penguins made one last attempt last week to acquire Matt Duchene, the obvious situation at hand seems to indicate that general manager Jim Rutherford is actively looking to make a splash in the trade market.
And, for good reason. The team just looks listless right now. They’re not scoring a lot on 5v5 play. They’re giving up a ton of goals against. Something definitely seems off right now and the results show.
To be fair, they’ve had to endure a tough schedule with more away games than home, and already have played six of their league-high 19 back-to-back games this season. They’ve probably had some bad puck luck too, the percentages will tell you, especially Sidney Crosby who’s got no goals and three assists in the last 10 games, despite being strong in scoring chances.
So, naturally, some of this is going to even out. Especially the Crosby stuff, while frustrating now it’s a very small difference between a rut and a groove and he’s a player that will be going on a 10 game point-scoring streak any time now. Anyone who’s watched any part of his career knows that while it’s worrisome when the star is struggling, he’s simply too good to be quiet for extended times.
Who could the Pens get? Well here’s some candidates-
Edmonton Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
Salary situation: $6.0 million through 2021
He might be a little too offensive for a 3rd line role that Pittsburgh typically asks that center to fill, but the Oilers have made a bunch of trades to acquire lesser players than they send out the door. If nothing else, it’s worth inquiring on to see what Edmonton would want from Pittsburgh for Nugent-Hopkins and go from there. There’s not much reason to expect negotiations will go far, but as the old saying goes you never know until you ask..Shooters shoot.
Florida Nick Bjugstad
Salary situation: $4.1 million through 2021
Florida is also a team that’s made a series of questionable moves and finds themselves back near the bottom of the conference standings at this point in the season. Would they declare themselves sellers later on? Worth finding out!
Bjugstad adds size at 6’6 220 and was a player identified here as a potential buy during the last off-season, since he was coming off two poor statistical seasons. So far this year, he’s rebounded slightly with 8 points (3g+5a) in 16 games, which is modest enough but considering he only scored 7g+7a (in 54 games) all of last season, it’s a fairly decent bounce-back.
Carolina Jordan Staal
Salary situation: $6.0 million through 2023
To me, this would be the Pens white whale. It’s been rumored since at least 2015 that Pittsburgh has had interest in re-acquiring Staal. But, it also hasn’t happened. Rutherford was asked about Staal earlier in the summer on a interview with 93.7 The Fan:
“I can’t talk about players on other teams, but to my knowledge he’s not available,” said Rutherford.
If Staal’s not available, there’s not much the Pens can do. However, it’s been since 2009 since Carolina’s made the playoffs and Staal has the highest salary on the team. That’s probably not ideal, especially for a budget team that is going to need to re-sign and give raises to Noah Hanafin and Elias Lindhom this summer. Could it become more economically viable for Carolina to move Staal (who’s still owed $30+ million over the life of his deal)? Seems like a question for them to at least consider.
One thing Carolina lacks is elite skilled forwards. Daniel Sprong with his shot and offensive ability seems to be that. But, other than that, the Penguins don’t have a lot more to give up to fit that vein. A first round pick seems like a sure-fire addition too. Surely Carolina GM Ron Francis will ask for Jake Guentzel, but that’s probably not going to work for Pittsburgh.
About the only way that Pittsburgh would get Staal would be if Carolina falters big time this season and is out of the playoff race by the deadline, and getting skittish about the total amount of money they still owe Staal. If that’s the case (and they’re willing to take Carl Hagelin’s salary back too) then perhaps something could work. Otherwise, the trade fit doesn’t look to be that ideal and we’ll just have to keep on dreaming about the white whale.
Montreal Alex Galchenyuk
Salary situation: $4.9 through 2020 (then UFA)
Galchenyuk makes the list since the Habs have had some erratic roster building decisions as well, and he has been rumored to be on the trading block as well. At just 23 years old and already with a 30 goal NHL season under his belt, he’s obviously the real deal as far as talent goes.
The question would be - what’s his role in Pittsburgh? He’s played better on the wing than at center in Montreal and as an offensive-minded center, he again isn’t going to be a fit for what the Pens ask a 3rd line center to do in terms of matchups and defensive-heavy responsibilities.
Also, despite reputation, surely Canadiens GM Marc Beregin is going to know he has a valued and prime young asset and isn’t just going to give him up for a song and a dance, right? I could see Montreal wanting Olli Maatta back in this trade, which likely is a no-go for Pittsburgh and probably ends the negotiation without a deal.
Buffalo Evander Kane
Salary situation: $5.25 million through 2018 (UFA)
While most are assuming the Pens will trade for a center, left wing has been a problem area too this season, and really has been in general since Chris Kunitz aged-out and stopped producing points at a high rate. Enter, the sometimes problematic Evander Kane? Kane is a UFA in 2018 and Buffalo already looks like they’re going no where this season, so it makes sense that the Sabres will be trading him at some point before the trade deadline.
This would most likely be a pure rental for Pittsburgh, and probably for the best since Kane is known as a malcontent and potential headache off the ice. However, on the ice when focused (which, playing for a contract, he should be focused) Kane would be a great fit on a scoring line in Pittsburgh. Add him to a top-6 of Crosby, Malkin, Kessel, Guentzel and Sheary/Hornqvist? That sounds very appealing. It also makes the 3rd line a lot deeper as well.
A lot of those names probably won’t be traded immediately, but they’re guys who have had their names floated out somewhat in the rumor mill. The fits aren’t all ideal, if they would have been, likely Pittsburgh would have pulled the trigger on it already and everyone would be happy.
In this day and age, there aren’t too many blockbuster trades going down in the NHL, but Rutherford certainly is pushing for some addition. The Pens have a unique opportunity and are right in a championship window. They’ve sacrificed a lot of future assets and don’t have a deep prospect pipeline right now as it is. That’s the price of being bold and acquiring so much championship level depth. Rutherford has one more year to be bold and add another piece and some fresh blood to the team that will hopefully have them positioned to make another run at it.
Now the fun part becomes waiting for what magic he can work, and when it may go down. Rutherford loves to make trades early, but his counter-parts around the league may need more time to determine if their teams look playoff worthy or not.