With it looking more and more likely it’s a matter of “when” and not “if” the Pittsburgh Penguins hit the trade market to add a top-six scoring winger ahead of next month’s trade deadline, the focus shifts to just who it might be.
The rental market might be cheaper to add a Tyler Toffoli to the mix, with the likelihood that the Pens and Rangers probably won’t be able to work with each other to talk about Chris Kreider.
But there are several other options on the table too, since Rutherford hasn’t closed his mind to just a rental. The Pens have the ability to shift some salary around and add a player who has a contract next year. The math on how that happens isn’t a pressing matter at this point and expiring contracts to veterans unlikely to return in Alex Galchenyuk and Justin Schultz open up all the operating room required at this point before worrying about summer decisions like the raises to several young players over the summer, which more room can be found by any number of future moves.
Some names mentioned as possibilities include Minnesota’s Jason Zucker, any one of the Ducks’ NHL caliber forwards if they’re inclined to do a rebuild and perhaps several more possibilities. Ottawa’s Jean-Gabriel Pageau? Or Detroit’s Andreas Athanasiou? The list of inquiries to touch base on could be long, to find available players at a reasonable trade acquisition cost.
One name that could be available, but might not fit the “reasonable trade acquisition cost” might be a buy high candidate in Montreal’s Tomas Tatar. As our SBN Montreal blog wrote last week:
The current contract he’s on is great, particularly within the context of what he’s brought to the team. He set a career high last year with 58 points, and he’s on pace to break the 70-point mark in 2020. All of this at an AAV of $5.3 million, and only $4.8 million against Montreal’s cap.
Contending teams would certainly be interested in adding a potential 70-point player to their roster now, as a rental that still has an extra year left. They might be willing to give up some legitimately good futures for a resurgent player that they’d be able to lean on in not one, but two playoff runs. He’s not a conventional rental player, so the price could be a little higher thanks to that extra year.
Detroit received a first, second, and third-round pick when they traded Tatar to Vegas in 2018, at which time he had 28 points in 62 games. What is he worth now with 43 points in 50 games? I’d argue it is imperative to find out, and then decide if he’s worth more to the team’s future than the king’s ransom you may be getting for him.
What they reference at the end was the first, second and third round pick that Vegas surrendered to Detroit for Tatar at the 2018 deadline. That move proved disastrous, Tatar didn’t fit in with the Golden Knights scoring only five goals and eight points in 28 combined regular season and playoff games in Vegas, falling out of favor there and eventually getting flipped to Montreal as they upgraded for Max Pacioretty.
But then, the most unusual development happened for the Habs — Tatar found a great role and has been super-productive. He scored 58 points (25G+33A) in 80 games last season and followed it up this year being Montreal’s leading scorer (44 points) and goal scorer (17).
That’s a player to sell high on, as Eyes on the Prize is eyeing. At a very reasonable $4.8m cap hit for this season and next, while scoring close to a point per game, Tatar is a valuable trade chip. Montreal doesn’t have a lot of reason to move him unless they do get a terrific return. That probably starts with a 2020 first round pick, maybe an additional later round pick and another prospect; the typical “A level pick, good prospect plus another pick for NHL player” type of trade that goes a lot.
The issue for Pittsburgh should beware of is buying too high on Tatar. Tatar has performed well being the best player on a line, but he floundered as a supporting player in Vegas on a stacked team. That has to give a bit of pause on bringing him mid-season for a playoff push given that his last taste of that was unsatisfactory.
With visions of the Derick Brassard fiasco still fresh in the Pens’ mind, the fit for Tatar might not be there. While he has skill, is he a fit for the team’s style? He doesn’t seem to be the net-front, speedy, direct type of winger that ideally the team would be looking for. Tatar has a skill set and ability to produce points as he’s proven in the last season and a half in Montreal, but would that travel?
That’s a question and probably a big enough one not to want to meet what won’t be a cheap price to convince an always competitive-minded Montreal club to move a top player for them.
Similarly, this logic might carry over to a player like Pageau who is riding a 18.5% shooting percentage now that’s almost double his career average. Similar thoughts could apply to Pageau’s teammate Anthony Duclair who is having a wonderful season but also has a career mired with inconsistency at times at different stops along the way in his career so far.
The Pens want to add a player, but it will have to be the right style of player at the right price, ideally with a history to make them feel confident they’ve added the right piece while paying an appropriate price. For that reason, there should be some buyer beware flags to candidates like Tatar, Pageau and Duclair.
We’ll see just how much that might factor into deliberations, or if it will at all. Rutherford and the Pens still have a couple weeks on their side for more teams to cement their places as sellers, which could make for more motivated options. As usual when it comes to NHL trade chatter there’s a lot of work that will go into finding the right avenue to making the right move.