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Could it be Juuso Riikola as the next Penguin player traded?

Elliotte Friedman dishes on that in his latest column

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Pittsburgh Penguins v Buffalo Sabres

It’s always fun to scan the league-wide chatter, and some of the best is in Elliotte Friedman’s 31 Thoughts column. A fresh one dropped today with a couple of Penguins related nuggets:

7. Soft-tissue injuries are tricky, which is why Pittsburgh didn’t originally give an exact timeline on Evgeni Malkin. Depending on the damage, recovery can take a month or longer, especially if it’s a meniscus. Hopefully, it’s not bad — we all want to see Malkin playing. His health has a huge effect on the Metropolitan Division in general, and what the Penguins will do in particular. They looked energized by Sidney Crosby’s decision to fight Pierre-Luc Dubois last Saturday, scoring on the next shift then adding three more in a 7–2 win. Somehow, though, I’m not expecting him to do that every night.

It will be interesting to see just how much tidbits on Malkin’s status comes out in the weeks to come over the intentionally vague timeline given by the Pens. A lot of the consensus seems to be pointing towards the injury being in the leg or knee area, and occurring when Malkin toe-picked after clipping into Kris Letang.

Friedman’s timeline of “a month of longer” fits in with what TSN’s Darren Dreger alluded to yesterday. In the “FWIW file”, The Athletic’s Rob Rossi wrote today of a bit of a longer prognosis, “The Penguins were optimistic Malkin would return within 6-10 weeks” so I guess we’ll have to see how the recovery and rehab process goes.

8. A lot of the trade talk on the Penguins blue line surrounds Jack Johnson, but another possibility is Juuso Riikola. He hasn’t got into a game yet.

The Penguins are carrying nine healthy defensemen and only have 12 forwards. They go on the road this weekend for a manageable two game trip, but it’s two games out west nonetheless. Sooner or later, one would have to think that a defenseman will be subtracted from the 23-man roster and a forward added.

Pittsburgh could do this by sending up John Marino, but they really seem to like him — even if he’s going to be a healthy scratch for a third straight game tonight. It’s kind of weird to keep him on the NHL roster with eight other defensemen and seemingly no path to playing that doesn’t involve like two or three injuries happening, doesn’t it?

Also, Marino has practiced at times as a left side defenseman. We’ve seen most notably in Matt Niskanen that sometimes right hand shots can fair well on their off-hand. Could Marino be growing into a swing LD/RD type of option?

If so, that would certainly make Riikola more expendable from a numbers perspective.

There’s also Jack Johnson to consider, as there always is. But, look, Thomas Hickey cleared waivers last week. Hickey is younger than Johnson (by two years), cheaper (by $750k) and has one less year on his cap. If no one in the league wants Hickey for simply the cost of his contract, no one is going to want Jack Johnson, even if it’s going to be Johnson + something extra. It’s hard to imagine what “something extra” entices a team to take a 32-year old defenseman with four seasons remaining on his contract, it’s unprecedented.

Toronto gave up a first round pick to get out from Patrick Marleau, but that only cost Carolina $3.8 million of real money (a $3.0 million bonus to pay and $433k buyout payments for two years) and $6.25 million of salary cap space for one year. Johnson is still owed $12 million over the life of a four year deal with a $3.25m cap hit for all four seasons. If Marleau set the bar, Johnson’s comparably would require a lot more, since he’s owed three times the money for four times the term. That’s unpalatable and untenable for the Pens to do, which is probably part of the reason Jack Johnson hasn’t been traded.

About the only way to trade Johnson is going to be to accept a player back with a $2-4 million salary that isn’t playing well and that has multiple years left. This is the exact situation where the Penguins almost sent Johnson to Minnesota, they would have had to take back struggling forward Victor Rask (who has three years remaining at a $4.0 million salary cap hit).

That type of proposition doesn’t really solve any of Pittsburgh’s salary cap problems by replacing a bad player with a bad contract with another bad contract. Unless they can strike gold and find that special “Rob Scuderi for Trevor Daley trade” where they can somehow revive a veteran’s career, it’s just re-arranging the proverbial chairs to ship Johnson out for something just as bad. And probably deep down Penguins coaches and management are hoping anyways that Johnson can add some veteran PK play and help them from the third pair, even if all available data points to him not really being capable of adding it. That hasn’t stopped them from hoping!

Regardless though, a 12F/9D roster setup has been weird from the beginning and hopefully isn’t long for this world. Whether it’s sending Marino down to the AHL to play, waiving Chad Ruhwedel if he’s ninth on the depth chart or exploring a trade for Riikola for something modest coming back, the Pens really need to figure out a way to clear a defensive body out of their NHL roster, sooner than later.