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Will the Penguins upgrade the defense before the 2019 NHL trade deadline?

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Targets from LA and Chicago might loom

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Another week, another national report about the Pittsburgh Penguins poking around looking for defensive help. Most currently from Elliotte Friedman today:

Los Angeles is also fielding queries from opponents looking for defence. I’d heard a link between Jake Muzzin and Tampa Bay, but that was debunked. Could also see Pittsburgh (among others) checking out both Muzzin and Alec Martinez, currently out of the lineup.

In theory, add Jake Muzzin or Alec Martinez to the blue line with Brian Dumoulin, Kris Letang and a healthy Justin Schultz and suddenly that’s a really good top-four personnel-wise.

Then the team would have some combination of Jamie Oleksiak, Marcus Pettersson and, yes, Jack Johnson to round out the third pair.

The missing name there that you might have noticed? Olli Maatta, of course. If the Penguins are looking to bring in a veteran defenseman, someone will have to go. Muzzin has one more year after this at $4 million on the salary cap, Martinez is signed for two more years at the same $4 rate. Maatta’s cap hit is just over that at $4.083 million for this season and three more.

Both the Kings and Pens are two salary cap limit teams, and any trade will likely be “dollar for dollar” — just as the trade was last month that sent Tanner Pearson to Pittsburgh for Carl Hagelin. Pittsburgh ended up retaining salary the difference in the players’ salary ($250,000) to make it a neutral trade for L.A.

Basing a trade around Maatta for Muzzin or Martinez plus some future asset would again be virtually salary-neutral. Granted, that implies both teams would be agreeable to acting on such an idea which is always the question that management and scouting has to come to acceptable answers on and where the timing isn’t always right for both sides.

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One other idea, which is way more of a pipe-dream but a dream worth living, would be an opponent the Penguins will face tonight, Duncan Keith.

From Pierre LeBrun in The Athletic:

As far as I can tell, Duncan Keith loves it in Chicago and has no desire to go anywhere. And it’s really up to him since he has a full no-move clause. He decides his future. But you can understand why he’s the first name people come up with when figuring out the future of the Blackhawks and how the team continues to transition through a difficult time. To me, as long as Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews want to hang around and play through the transition, they’re Hawks for life. They’re young enough still to make it through a retooling. But because Keith is the older player of that core group at 35, and because he’s got a cap hit and a contract that’s not too bad at all, he’s the name that always comes up first when I chat with other NHL front office types when discussing potential targets in Chicago. Still, I think that remains an offseason discussion for the Blackhawks as far as potentially approaching Keith and feeling him out on the future. And that’s if they ever do at all.

Keith at age 35 probably isn’t the player he once was, but he’s still a pretty good defenseman that’s surrounded by not much to work with. As LeBrun mentions, Keith’s cap hit of $5.5 million makes him an attractive player and one certainly still worth his salary. Though he’s still signed through 2022-23, the contract’s actual salary is back-dated as the years go on and he almost surely will “retire” prior to it’s conclusion.

In a different generation of hockey, the Blackhawks once dealt their No. 1 franchise-defining defenseman in Chris Chelios to the rival Detroit Red Wings, no less. There are totally different principals involved these days, but the historical precedent is there. Duncan Keith joining the Pens is unlikely for a number of reasons, but the even the chance to have the opportunity to potentially add him would be fun.

Alas, it probably won’t come to be, especially in the immediate future. But the fun thing about NHL rumors and reports is there is always a fresh batch on the way in the near future of various levels of realism.