The NHL trade deadline is a week from today, and I don’t know about you guys, but this one feels like it’s going to be a dud for the whole league, and for Pittsburgh as well. In the last two months there has only been six total somewhat significant trades made in the whole NHL.
There are a few major reasons for this. There is the flat salary cap that didn’t grow from last year, leaving many teams having little to no space to wheel and deal (and this large list of teams includes the Penguins). It is a 56 game season, shorter than normal. Currently, only six NHL teams are five or more points out of a playoff spot in their respective divisions. Several of these teams don’t have much chance of making a run, but everyone wants to think they can get hot and make a run. Therefore the supply of teams looking to “sell off” good NHL assets mainly in exchange for pieces that will be good in the future (draft picks, prospects) is low.
And, for the Pens, maybe holding tight is the right call. If they get healthy they don’t really have that many holes. A lot of Pittsburgh’s questions have been answered: Kasperi Kapanen has been a productive top six winger. Jared McCann has been a force at center or wing. Cody Ceci has added a surprisingly solid defensive option. Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith have been excellent the past two months.
There’s really not much to add to, especially considering that the Pens have limited cap space, and even more limited reserves of young players that other teams would value and very few future draft picks in 2021.
But, let’s scan the field anyways. Our guy Adam Gretz wrote on NBC about the 15 forwards that could be traded in the next week. Since the Pens are almost certain to want a forward if they can add anything, it’s a good place to look at what actually could be available and see if they’re financial/value/trade fits.
Taylor Hall, Sabres (29 years old/ UFA this summer/ $8 million salary cap hit): Nope. Almost nothing works here. From a salary the Pens couldn’t afford even if they wanted to, and they don’t need a top six left winger. Let alone that Hall hasn’t had a great year in the wasteland known as Buffalo. Easy pass. Overall trade fit: 0/10
Kyle Palmieri, New Jersey Devils (30 years old/ UFA this summer/ $4.65 million salary cap hit): This would be an intriguing add. Palmieri would give a lot of depth and be about an ideal non-center option to add a winger who could play on any of the top three lines, right shot, a lot of production and willingness to go the net. The problems though are the Pens and Devils almost never make trades with each other, and Pittsburgh doesn’t have a lot that Jersey would want to get back (as well as salary concerns). Fit: 2/10
Nick Foligno, Blue Jackets (33 years old/ UFA this summer/ $5.5 million salary cap hit): I saw Mike Rupp, among others hyping this up for the Pens as a good fit on the ice. Foligno can play a bit of center and style-wise is going to be a player Pittsburgh’s front office is interested in. The Pens would need salary retention to happen as well as make a few other moves (include Juuso Riikola?, waive Mark Jankowski?) to make the math work, but teams can make the math work when they are interested in doing so. This does make more sense the more you think about it. Fit: 7/10
Rickard Rakell, Ducks (27 years old/ Signed through 2022/ $3.789 million salary cap hit): Given Rakell’s age and contract status (signed next year for a good team amount), he won’t come cheap. If the Pens didn’t have Kapanen and Jason Zucker, they would have more interest and a bigger need for Rakell. But they’re filled this hole already. Fit: 0/10
Dustin Brown, Kings (36 years old/ Signed through 2022/ $5.875 million salary cap hit): A tough player and known “good hockey leader” with Team USA experience is going to get attached to the Pens now, to some degree. Brown has surprised with 15 goals this season. But the math, especially with next year’s contract on the books, makes this a tough one to reconcile for the Pens situation. Also, would LA really give up what’s been such a key piece on a lark or for a modest return? Feels like they might as well keep him for another year at that rate. Fit: 3/10
Ryan Getzlaf, Ducks (35 years old/ UFA this summer/ $8.25 million salary cap hit): It goes without saying that Brian Burke loves him, but that cap hit is bad even if the Ducks retained a full 50%. Getzlaf also has full trade protection and doesn’t have to go chase a Cup (which he already has) and switch organizations for the first time in his career if he doesn’t want. But the Burke and Sidney Crosby factor may ease those concerns in this situation. Fit: 3/10
Bobby Ryan, Red Wings (34 years old/ UFA this summer/ $1 million salary cap hit): Bobby Ryan can’t play center, and what is he doing that Evan Rodrigues isn’t? Don’t see the need for the Pens to spend what little space and trade ammo that they have on a redundant option like Ryan at this point. Fit: 1/10
Ryan Dzingel, Senators (29 years old/ UFA this summer/ $3.375 million salary cap hit): Same logic as Ryan, only worse since Dzingel carries a much less attractive cap hit. Fit: 0/10
Sam Bennett, Flames (24 years old/ RFA this summer/ $2.55 million salary cap hit): In a world where McCann didn’t play well to start the season, a McCann for Bennett trade makes some sense on the surface. But that’s way off the table now. The Pens need to add a proven piece to help them win this playoff, not take a gamble on a young player who is going on two bad seasons in a row. Fit: 2/10
Alex Iafallo, Kings (27 years old/ UFA this summer/ $2.425 million salary cap hit): If the Pens go all in, a player like Palmieri or even Brown probably suits what they’re looking for better. Iafallo isn’t a bad player, but the need for a middle-six winger is low. Fit: 1/10
Scott Laughton, Flyers (26 years old/ UFA this summer/ $2.3 million salary cap hit): Ron Hextall drafted him, can play a little center, young, speed, decent all around. This would be a great trade candidate... except he’s a Flyer and surely Philly will not see to making a trade to help the Pens and their old GM. Fit: 0/10
Jake DeBrusk, Bruins (24 years old/ Signed through 2022/ $3.675 million salary cap hit): Two division rivals making a big trade with each other when they could see each other in the first or second round of the playoffs? Yeah, that’s not happening in 2021. Fit: 0/10
Carl Soderberg, Blackhawks (35 years old/ UFA this summer/ $1 million salary cap hit): Plays center, not a bad cap hit, not a splashy add but would sure help depth. Soderberg checks a lot of boxes if Chicago decides they want a mid-round pick for him. Fit: 8/10
Mattias Janmark, Blackhawks (28 years old/ UFA this summer/ $2.25 million salary cap hit): Not a center, so he’s not the rental the Pens ought to be interested from Chicago (see above). Fit: 0/10
Luke Glendening, Red Wings (31 years old/ UFA this summer/ $1.8 million salary cap hit): The Pens could use an upgrade at fourth line center. Glendening is awesome at faceoffs and passable enough everywhere else. Even though he’s basically Mike Zigomanis on steroids, the interest from Pittsburgh would be natural. Fit: 7/10
Based on this, I’d say Carl Soderberg, Nick Foligno and Luke Glendening are the rental candidates possibly getting moved that make the most sense for the Pens across all the different aspects in play like expected trade cost and salary cap hit. It wouldn’t be a total shock if Pittsburgh went for a veteran like Dustin Brown or Ryan Getzlaf, but at this point I’d probably think it more likely that they do nothing at all and stand pat hoping that basically Teddy Blueger and Evgeni Malkin and Kasperi Kapanen are their cost-free “trade deadline additions”.