Perhaps no NHL team has made a living off of making unconventional and unlikely trades in recent years as the Pittsburgh Penguins have.
Take the Phil Kessel acquisition in 2015 — Kessel was carrying a $8.0 million salary cap hit, the Pens are perpetually cap-strapped right up against the upper limit. The thought of being able to trade for such a high-priced winger seemed pure fantasy. But Pittsburgh got creative (and utilized the good fortune of Toronto wanting to dump Kessel badly) by having the Maple Leafs retain $1.2 million in salary for six years plus take filler veteran Nick Spaling and his $2.2 million salary to make a trade possible.
Fast forward a bit, and even though it didn’t work out, there’s no shortage of a creativity boost for how the Pens’ finessed Derick Brassard and his $6.0 million cap hit out of Ottawa in 2018. Pittsburgh had to use an intermediary in Vegas to retain the maximum allowed half a contract (since Ottawa wasn’t going to) and was even too creative for the league being as they vetoed the first version of the trade that saw Vegas surrender no actual assets, only cap space, and get a draft pick in exchange for eating 1.5 seasons of Brassard’s cap hit Pittsburgh couldn’t afford.
Which is a long setup to say that the Pens have a very creative front office. Where there is a will, there can always be a way. And now with the devastating season-ending injury to Jake Guentzel, Pittsburgh has a need for a game-breaking, offensive winger. The biggest name on the market was Taylor Hall. But he’s been traded already this year. So, game over, right?
Well, maybe, to quote an American poet- not so fast my friend. Justin Bourne at The Athletic brought up an interesting possibility yesterday; what if the Arizona Coyotes would consider moving on from Hall? Sounds crazy, but let’s hear it out.
They’re in the thick of it, Taylor Hall has eight points in 11 games and their fans are more excited than they’ve been in years. But …
They’re also just 6-5 with Hall, who has just three goals and has laid a goose egg in four out of those 11 games. Not exactly wowee numbers. They’re without their starter, Darcy Kuemper, for at least two more weeks – a player who’s in the conversation to win the Vezina this season.
I think if you’re running the organization, you have to be honest with yourself
And if you’re Arizona, isn’t the best, best, best thing you can do for your franchise is to acquire high draft picks or prospects that will be tied to your organization for the duration of their entry-level contracts (and they’ve had success keeping those players)? Wouldn’t trading Hall provide you cheaper talent that’s going to stick around?
Yes, I know they just traded picks and prospects. But you can recoup those and improve on them, otherwise, you don’t do a deal.
You have to do the math on “Is this the year we’re winning the Cup,” or at least “Is this the year we could realistically be one of the handful of teams who could win the Cup,” and you have to consider what that’s worth
Bourne would also go on to sum it up as:
I do think that they’d be better served heading into next season with high-end picks/prospects for Hall, and I believe they could exceed what they gave up to get him in a return as teams get desperate down the stretch
Now, does Arizona think this way? Possibly and probably not. They’re tied for first place in the Pacific and poised to make the playoffs for the first time since 2012. Keeping Hall and a strong team enables them to probably do that, and get that all important post-season revenue that can really help a small market team.
But, Bourne does land on a good point, even if it’s a harsh reality for Arizona. What’s the chances that Hall will stay with the Coyotes for next season and beyond? Surely very low. Deep down the honest, unemotional reality is that Arizona in the long-term probably WOULD be better off selling Hall and getting their assets back for the future rather than to keep him for a very brief time and be out in the cold.
The big sea change is the Guentzel injury, which ought to make Pittsburgh a much more interested party for getting Taylor Hall then they were last month when he actually got traded.
Arizona gave up a 2020 first round pick, a top prospect in defenseman Kevin Bahl and a pair of lower ranked forwards to get Hall. If the assumption is COULD (not would) the Pens be able to make that a positive transaction for AZ? Well, yeah.
Throw a 2020-first round pick, prospect defenseman Calen Addison, a B-level prospect like Sam Miletic or Anthony Angello and that’s basically even in value. If the Pens toss in Alex Galchenyuk (an uneven, if not talented player) that would also be a bonus for AZ to get an NHL caliber asset for this year that would help the Coyotes’ cause this year as well. Maybe toss in future picks as needed to make sure AZ comes out ahead from what they paid. Why not? The Pens window is now, and more urgency was created when Guentzel went down. That should and will require more aggressiveness on the acquisition end of things.
Is it likely to happen? Probably not. Conventional wisdom says the Coyotes don’t make the outward move to “fold” on Hall after they’ve already pushed their chips in to get him.
But at the same time, conventional wisdom says the Pens should have never acquired Phil Kessel in 2015 or Derick Brassard in 2018. If Pittsburgh can make it worth the while for Arizona, maybe a conversation can be had. Maybe they’re not interested or feel like Hall for the short-term is the course that they’ve already set sail on, which isn’t unreasonable.
The good thing about the Pens under Jim Rutherford is, for better or worse, nothing is really off the table. The only limits is that of the imagination, especially now when they have a lot of financial flexibility this year with Guentzel LTIR eligible, his salary just waiting to be replaced.
If there’s even a possibility the Pens could use Galchenyuk plus a lot of valuable futures to nab Hall, that’s a big, big plus for them. It would be dependent on a factor outside of their control, which is never conducive to make it happen. But Taylor Hall remains the big fish as an impending free agent. If Pittsburgh can present an offer worth Arizona’s time, it makes sense they would at least have to consider.
GMJR made it clear he wants to land a big fish and not just any old player, so we’ll see just how creative and outside of the box that he might be willing to look to improve the team. And to get the best result, he might have to be at his boldest move yet.