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Report: Penguins “exploring” trading Ian Cole

Is the Penguins defenseman about to be on the move?

NHL: Vancouver Canucks at Pittsburgh Penguins Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Defenseman and two-time Stanley Cup winner Ian Cole has perhaps played his final game in a Penguins uniform. Jason Mackey from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported on Monday that the team is looking to trade Cole:

Ian Cole has been a healthy scratch for the past three games because the Penguins are actively trying to trade him, multiple sources told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Monday.

Cole has a salary-cap hit of $2.1 million this season. Expectations are that number will more than double on his next contract, meaning Cole will become too expensive for the Penguins.

Moving him now would ensure they get something in return.

This would be quite the departure from the norm, as the Penguins over recent years have been fine with letting several key players end up their contracts that they knew they wouldn’t be able to keep at a market rate contract due to salary cap restraints. Just this past summer Nick Bonino, Trevor Daley, Ron Hainsey and Chris Kunitz all found new NHL teams that were willing to pay more than Pittsburgh. Going back over the years guys like Max Talbot, Matt Niskanen, Brooks Orpik and Jussi Jokinen have all departed Pittsburgh for big raises. Shoot, even Blake Comeau scored a generous contract after a great year in Pittsburgh.

Cole figured to be the next in this list, some of his peers as defensive defensemen did sign salaries that doubles Cole’s current cap hit, as Mackey’s report mentioned. The Rangers are paying Brendan Smith $4.35 million per year for four years, the Jets are paying Dmitri Kulikov $4.33 million for three years and the Oilers are paying Kris Russell $4.0 million for four seasons. It could be argued Cole is comparable, if not superior, to all three of those players, either way by July 1 on free agency day he will be a rich(er) man and it will be the result of a team not-named-the-Penguins giving out the contract.

So why trade Cole? Well, for starters the team basically signed a similar type of player in Matt Hunwick this summer at a similar salary ($2.25 million) that lasts through 2020. It’s easier to move on from Cole with Hunwick in the fold. Beyond that, Cole has never seemed to be a favorite of coach Mike Sullivan and has been a healthy scratch previously under Sullivan at times. Sullivan also praised Hunwick earlier this week for his skating abilities, if you’re reading between the lines.

Still, for depth purposes, breaking the norm of trading a UFA-to-be figures to hamper the Pens this season, unless of course they are going to receive a NHL caliber defenseman as the return for Cole. And Cole has been one of the team’s better defensemen in terms of advanced metrics, so how likely is it to replace a player like him who has done well in the playoffs recently too?

Seems odd but we shall see what the future holds. Cole’s already been with-held from the lineup now for going on a week and that would be rare to hold out a player indefinitely. One figures that now, especially with multiple sources confirming a rumor, movement on a Cole trade could pick up soon.

UPDATE: Mackey lists the Golden Knights, Maple Leafs and Avalanche as top suitors:

It won’t be a Metropolitan Division team. The primary suitors at this point appear to be Las Vegas, Colorado and Toronto.

It’s unclear the player the Penguins may be targeting in those talks, and whether or not he plays center.

But the Penguins and Cole’s agent, Kevin Magnusson, are working together on this deal, so you can expect a resolution in fairly short order.