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Brandon Saad and Chris Kreider top a wish-list for the Pens to replace Jake Guentzel

With the Pens’ star winger out hurt, a look at some players they could trade for to replace him this year

NHL: NOV 09 Blackhawks at Penguins Photo by Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

When Jake Guentzel crashed into the boards on Monday night the talented winger not only severely damaged his shoulder but the reverberation will have a big impact on the future of the Penguins. For a team that’s been so injured — they’ve only have Sidney Crosby AND Evgeni Malkin both playing for a grand total of four periods — the year will in a way be defined by injuries. The Pens will never have their full group with Guentzel on the shelf 4-6 months following surgery that has likely, if not certainly, ended his season.

But the NHL season won’t be stopping and the bigger ramifications moving forward for the Pens will have to be how they attack their last best remaining chance to compete for a Stanley Cup in the Crosby/Malkin era.

Internally, they could offer Alex Galchenyuk and Dominik Simon bigger roles. Both have been playing better in recent days, but both also have four total goals on the season. Likely, Pittsburgh will have to go outside and find someone to come in and give the team a boost.

The Pens are well-positioned now compared to years past to make such a move. Their 2019 draft haul was a pretty good one with Samuel Poulin and Nathan Legare. From 2018, Calen Addison is staring for Team Canada at the World Juniors. Future picks aren’t quite as necessary right now, so we’ll see if that can be utilized to the Pens’ advantage. Certainly a 2020 first round pick would be the centerpiece of any deal moving forward to try and replace Guentzel and is likely the cost that will have to be paid for an external addition.

And while I think many are still distraught by the fact that the steady and productive Guentzel won’t be around again for a long, long time, it’s still almost like Christmas coming late in that the Pens will probably be looking to add in someone to the group.

Here’s some possibilities for the Pens. Financially, it shouldn’t be a big deal. We can get into the minutiae later on for the salary cap, but Pittsburgh has some space right now. They can also utilize long-term injury reserve for Guentzel to replace his salary for the rest of this season. The important thing to keep in mind is that basically the Pens won’t have salary cap restraints for whatever they should want to do in this instance, which is also an unusual situation for them.

Chris Kreider

Pittsburgh Penguins v New York Rangers Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images

This would be an interesting one, but according to Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet, the Rangers are used to these situations and will use the time they have before the deadline to see how the situation unfolds and what they could get for Kreider:

Lots and lots of interest in Chris Kreider, no decision yet from the Rangers. “Lots of time,” one source said. Again, look at their history. Marc Staal’s last contract was signed on Jan. 18, 2015. In 2014, they signed Dan Girardi on Feb. 28. They took Kevin Hayes and Mats Zuccarello down to the wire last year. There’s a lot of interest — believed to include contenders who might be happy to wait for cap reasons (Boston, St. Louis) and others who aren’t worried about that (Colorado).

There’s also the intra-division dynamic — would New York deal Kreider to a rival? He is a rental, but sometimes rentals can be re-signed.

On the ice, Kreider might be the ideal fit for the Pens. He’s a left winger, convenient to slot in for the spot Guentzel leaves open. Kreider has excellent size at 6’3, 220 pounds. He’s a pain in the ass to play against, going to high traffic areas and the net. His production is there, last year he scored 28 goals and had 52 points. This season he has 25 points (12G+13A) in 39 games.

We’ll have to see how the situation unfolds, but for need/fit/quality, this one looks like a slam dunk from the Pens’ perspective. It remains to be seen if another contender would offer more or if the Rangers would go this direction, but Kreider ought to be the first target to check in on.

Brandon Saad

Chicago Blackhawks v Pittsburgh Penguins Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh native has been linked to the team wishfully by fans since this 2011 draft. That didn’t work out, but the Pens almost DID trade for Saad in 2015, but the Blackhawks ended up sending him to Columbus. Saad ended up back in Chicago, but they’re going no where and he has a $6.0 million salary cap hit.

The great thing about Saad, unlike the rest of the players on this list, is that he has term on his contract at a fairly reasonable rate. The Pens have Justin Schultz coming off the books and could also seek to trade Nick Bjugstad for a cheaper replacement in the off-season to make the money work out moving forward.

Saad would be another good fit for the Pens, he’s a proven goal scorer and point producer that plays a well-rounded game. Less certain would be Chicago’s motivation to move him, but this could represent a chance for them to cut future costs and add young assets in exchange for a salary.

It’s not certain this will come together — and again it’s been almost a decade of the Pens (and their fans) chasing down the dream of bringing Saad back, so we’ll see if that will continue or die.

Tyler Toffoli

NHL: DEC 14 Kings at Penguins Photo by Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Stuck on the Kings for the past few years, Toffoli is an impending free agent that figures to be traded to one of the contending teams frequently in the mix for a lot of guys on the list (Boston, Colorado, St. Louis, Pittsburgh will all probably be among those linked to trade discussions). Toffoli as a right shot right wing isn’t a perfect fit for the Penguins, but considering the market the Pens might have to take talent where they can find it and mix-and-match accordingly. Maybe have Dominik Kahun and Jared McCann as the top two left wings, Bryan Rust and Toffoli as the right wings and then Patric Hornqvist is free to play third line.

One plus about Toffoli is he has a lot of Stanley Cup experience, winning it in 2014 with LA and playing well in the postseason. As you can see below, his shots are pretty much off the chart, as are his expected goals. When you’re looking for someone to bring in, likely to play with one of Crosby/Malkin, it’s always great when it can be a player that’s talented at shooting the puck and has had success scoring goals at the NHL level.

Vladislav Namestnikov

Ottawa Senators v Pittsburgh Penguins Photo by Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images

Namestnikov would be a sneaky, and potentially good, under-the-radar type of pickup. He doesn’t have the production or size of a Kreider/Saad type of addition, but the price would likely be lesser too. If the Pens don’t want to burn their first round pick or an elite prospect, this could be a nice aisle to shop in.

In a supporting role for a good Tampa team in 2017-18, Namestnikov put up 44 points (20G+24A) in just 62 games. At a recently-turned-27 he’s also the youngest player on the list (though only a month younger than Saad).

There’s not a positive about the Pens’ best winger badly injuring himself. The Pens can’t really afford to lose Jake Guentzel, but lost him they have. If you’re looking for the faintest of silver linings, Guentzel going down on December 30th is better than March 30th, since the team can find a way to try and help replace him in a trade. Also having the unfortunate certain knowledge that Guentzel is out through the end of the regular season means the financial freedom to know the Pens can use the cap freely to operate as well.

Pittsburgh has some time, there’s no rush with a February 24th trade deadline, but there’s no doubt the hole left by Guentzel will prove to be an important one to attempt to backfill.