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The Pens look good for striking early in the trade market

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Getting Jason Zucker pre-deadline looks to have been a smart move by the Penguins

Detroit Red Wings v Pittsburgh Penguins Photo by Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images

Jim Rutherford, as it’s often said, prefers to make his deals ahead of the NHL trade deadline instead of right at it. As he told the P-G recently:

“You prefer [to get a trade completed sooner than later],” Rutherford said. “But only if you’re comfortable with it. At this point, there hasn’t been any comfort level. And there hasn’t been any urgency. If we don’t add anybody other than the injured players — and Jake, of course — it would be a pretty solid lineup.”

But it takes two to tango, and the NHL trade market had been dead for a long time until last week. Taylor Hall went to Arizona in a blockbuster move in December, there was a three-team trade for Buffalo/Montreal/Calgary in January and Toronto grabbed a backup goalie earlier this month but other than that...Nothing.

“I think the market will open up at some point in the next week or two,” the GM said Wednesday afternoon [Feb 5]. “Once teams decide which direction they want to go, more players will get into the market. But now it’s a pretty small market.”

Rutherford’s words would prove prescient as the following week he would finally convince Minnesota’s Bill Guerin to complete a move that has been talked about before Guerin even got to the Wild job to get Jason Zucker to Pittsburgh. The Pens gave up a 2020 first round pick, and important, though not sure-thing prospect Calen Addison to get Zucker. A meaningful price to pay, but necessary one for a player with three full seasons after this year still remaining on his contract. The Pens also got out of Alex Galchenyuk’s dead weight and the not-insignificant amount of money still owed to him for the rest of the season, another perk of the deal for Pittsburgh.

And, like Rutherford knew would happen, the market opened up more a few days later with New Jersey starting their rebuild over by trading defenseman Andy Greene and forward Blake Coleman.

The prices paid by contenders to New Jersey show that business is heating up and with limited quality available, it’s a seller’s market to return back a lot of value.

As Scott Burnside wrote in The Athletic:

I spoke to an NHL executive recently whose team is among the many looking for defensive help and he indicated the prices being asked are exorbitant. But that is a ton to give up regardless of how good a guy Greene is, so you have to wonder what that does to the market for guys like Sami Vatanen, Brenden Dillon or Dylan DeMelo (all pending UFAs), to say nothing of defensemen with term left like Alec Martinez, Jeff Petry, Jonas Brodin or Matt Dumba. In short, open up the picks and prospects vault if you want to get better on the back end.

If you still had any of those players on a wishlist, scratch them now. Pittsburgh doesn’t have a first or second round pick this year, and probably aren’t going to be interested in giving away any more of the dwindling number or truly important prospects that they have left in the system.

The Pens probably would like another defenseman, just as any NHL contending team would. But as we pointed out last week, it’s going to have to come from the bargain bin of the proverbial NHL shopping spree, it’s not going to be a top-4ish capable player that will have a big price to pay. Pittsburgh just can’t pay it any more.

But, that is OK too. Brian Dumoulin and John Marino (when they return) are two really good, cost-free additions back to the lineup. Dominik Kahun and Nick Bjugstad too up front. More than anything those are the additions still to come to be excited about.

Given the NHL trade market, getting Zucker now — a first line player in Pittsburgh — asset-wise for about the same price as Tampa paid for Coleman (giving up Vancouver’s 2020 first round pick and a young prospect who was previously a late first round pick) is another feather in the Pens cap. They were able to add a good player for, relative to around the league, not a bad price. A rental like Chris Kreider could fetch a first round pick plus more and only re-emphasize that point.

The Pens struck early and got their biggest need taken care of well before the deadline. Going first seems to be a wise move this time around to get the player they wanted while paying a reasonable but very fair and manageable price. And now that the heavy lifting of the only real team need is resolved, the Pens can watch the other contenders fight and out-bid each other on what is left.