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Dreger: “Hornqvist, Aston-Reese, Johnson among those that could be moved”

More news, reports and speculation around the Pittsburgh Penguins.

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NHL: JAN 31 Flyers at Penguins Photo by Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

TSN held an “Insider Trading” segment with Darren Dreger and Pierre LeBrun dishing some news, rumors and information. Here’s some interesting items:

—LeBrun told of NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly joining his podcast, saying the very tentative December 1st season start date might be “less likely” for the first time openly. The NHL might have to shift to a January 1st start, and while no one wants to admit or announce it yet, probably look at a 60-65 game regular season next year. Daly did say that they hope to have an 82 game season, but hope in one hand... Anyways, more coming on that, so stay tuned.

—Darren Dreger on the Penguins:

“No shortage of trade bait with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Matt Murray expected to go sooner rather than later. You’ve got Hornqvist, Aston-Reese, Johnson among those that could be moved. But there’s been some speculation around veteran defenseman Kris Letang. And I’m not sure that’s legit. It’s ok to talk about specific players, outside of Sidney Crosby and maybe [Evgeni] Malkin. But I know that Kris Letang wants something clarified: his agent Kent Hughes saying that Kris does NOT expect to be traded. He might very well be traded, but that’s not his expectation.”

The latter note on Letang via his agent directly refutes the controversial recent Rob Rossi article in The Athletic where Rossi wrote, “Letang told several teammates he expected to be traded this offseason.” So it’s either Rossi out of bounds or an agent playing a cover up game, you be the judge.

Or maybe digging real deep, perhaps Letang told some friends at one point earlier he thought he could be traded but now wants to present an official stance that he doesn’t believe that right now. Who knows. In many ways, who cares. But it is pretty telling Letang’s agent is directly refuting that recent article that stirred up a lot of interest online, for whatever version of the story you want to believe.

The more interesting note is probably the specifics on what Dreger says are on the block from Pittsburgh.

At this point, pretty much everyone knows Matt Murray is going to be traded in short order. Not much new there.

Patric Hornqvist, 33, is the oldest forward on the team not named Crosby or Malkin. Might make sense for a team that wants to get younger and faster to trade their oldest and one of their slower players. Doesn’t hurt that Hornqvist carries a $5.3 million cap hit for the next three seasons. As always, it should be pointed out that Hornqvist has a full no trade clause through next off-season. Would he be willing to waive it to go somewhere else? Maybe, maybe not. The team made a big deal of saying right wing Kasperi Kapanen will play top-six minutes. Add him to Bryan Rust and the right side is full when it comes to Hornqvist getting to play with Crosby or Malkin at even strength.. Seems like more on this is to come, whether or not anything comes of it.

One name flying a bit under the radar is Zach Aston-Reese. One one hand, ZAR has recently had major shoulder surgery and is out six months from his August date. So, who would want him? Aston-Reese was one of the best defensive forwards in the game and has a $1.0 million contract for next season. On the other hand, coach Mike Sullivan has made ZAR a healthy scratch before. His place in the lineup isn’t secure, especially coming out of a big surgery. Knowing the Pens want change, that means some pieces have to move. In a normal year, I’d think that would mean Aston-Reese gets moved. But with his wing damaged through most of the next season that starts to make a bit less sense.

Finally, it’s nice to hear a national voice saying Jack Johnson “could” be traded, when all of the local mainstream media reporters are quick to fall over themselves to excuse Johnson’s pitiful play and point out how good of a guy he is and how much the team likes him. As if they would never think of actually improving the team by removing its weakest link. And besides, he hasn’t been that bad anyways, if you squint and blame all the bad things that happen on everyone else. While I’m sure on a personal level that everyone in the organization does like Jack, his results on the ice have been horrendous. The Pens need to find a way to dump him, either through trade or buyout in order to move on and get better.

A recent move, and perhaps a curious one, was to re-sign Juuso Riikola for two years and $1.15 million per season. That’s a notch above the $750,000 the Pens extended depth defender Chad Ruhwedel for recently. Do they have more plans in mind for Riikola? A two-year deal suggests that.

Even better, Pittsburgh has their top prospect in Pierre-Olivier Joseph knocking on the door of NHL action at some point. Could the third pair left defense position be Riikola in the beginning of the season and eventually shift to Joseph for some looks? That feels like a good way to go.

To get there, the team needs to delete Jack Johnson. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to have Brian Dumoulin - Marcus Pettersson - Johnson - Riikola - Joseph all down the left side for the next two years. Or next one year. Just fix the mistake already and fire JJ into the sun.

And the insiders didn’t even touch on Jared McCann and Nick Bjugstad, two more forwards who very well could get moved.

The Pens have promised a lot of change. As always, there’s never really a dull moment or day in Pittsburgh with this team and this active manager. The national media has put a spotlight on the Pens and it would be a pretty good bet that sooner than later we will see some movement as the team tries to reshape and reload for next season.