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Mailbag: What position would be best for the Penguins to add?

Forward? Defense? Goalie? What would you grab if you had to make it just one?

Dallas Stars v Chicago Blackhawks Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Soliciting questions from myself on various topics to talk about for the Penguins.

Question #1: setting aside issues like the salary cap and trade cost, what position between forward, defense, goalie would you most want to see the Penguins add for in the trade market to gear up for a playoff run?

This is a fun topic, because there’s good reasoning for any group. Pittsburgh could use some better production from their middle lines as of late. Every team always seeks extra defensive depth if possible. And the backup goaltending situation was formerly, if not still currently, a question.

But the forwards will get Jason Zucker and Teddy Blueger back from injury. The fortunes of Kasperi Kapanen and Evan Rodrigues have fallen as of late, but they could yet still rise again. It’s a deep group. In goal, Tristan Jarry has been awesome this year - and let’s be real - if he is unable to get the job done, a veteran patch probably isn’t going to lead the Pens to the promised land.

Therefore, I would lean on the old coaching cliche that you want to build then you can never have enough centers and defensemen. Pittsburgh has the center ice spot more than covered with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jeff Carter, Blueger, Brian Boyle and Rodrigues. With that shored up, give me defense.

The Pens’ defense has been a team-strength and the same six players have been in the lineup since November, which is great. All the pieces are in place, but the team is also leaning very heavily on their top three players in Kris Letang, Brian Dumoulin and John Marino all playing 21+ minutes and the lower three players being a lot more shielded and sheltered with low-end competition to play against.

Pittsburgh would be wise to add the 2017 version of Ron Hainsey to the team, if they can. Toronto just made a similar move to pickup Ilya Lyubushkin, who profiles in that type of role.

Question #2: Should Ron Hextall change his stated policy about valuing high draft picks over trades for immediate help?

Hextall and Brian Burke have repeatedly stated they intend to build up Pittsburgh’s young talent base, which is undoubtedly one of the weakest prospect pools in the whole league right now. There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s great for a longer-term look for the future.

However, hopefully the front office will realize that the future is now. Sidney Crosby is the NHL’s second highest scorer since Thanksgiving. Evgeni Malkin hasn’t hit his high-gear yet, but still is a point-per-game scorer. Malkin, Letang and Bryan Rust are impending free agents with varying degrees of uncertain futures in Pittsburgh.

The future is nice, but for where this team is, the future is now.

A future first round pick holds no guarantees, see 2019-first rounder Sam Poulin who remains a solid prospect but is still off the NHL radar now in 2022. Similarly, this summer’s first rounder might not be at the NHL level in 2024 or 2025. It doesn’t really make a lot of sense value-wise for a longer-term developmental asset like a 20th-32nd overall pick for the Pens.

But while that pick has no value now, and perhaps never will make it to the NHL, what does have immense value is using it to bring in guaranteed NHL help now.

Chicago stands out as a team to watch, and a potential trade fit with Pittsburgh. From Frank Seravalli at Daliy Faceoff:

Sources say under interim GM Kyle Davidson, the Hawks were listening to offers on Alex DeBrincat and Brandon Hagel, two players having excellent seasons. There is especially strong interest in Hagel (who is in first-round pick plus top prospect territory) with teams salivating over the term and dollars remaining on his deal.

With a $6.4 million cap hit, Debrincat is likely outside of the Pens’ reach in terms of cap hit and trade cost. Hagel, however, is going to be a player in demand and would be an excellent fit in Pittsburgh.

At just 23 years old, Hagel is enjoying a breakout season with 14 goals and 27 points this season in 43 games. Even better, he’s signed for the next two seasons as a very team-friendly $1.5 million cap hit. Hagel has been compared to Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow, two middle-line wingers who fit in well with Tampa recently as big pieces of a Stanley Cup puzzle.

If Pittsburgh were to offer up Zach Aston-Reese to even up salaries, plus their 2022 first rounder and then a prospect like Poulin or Nathan Legare, they could probably be in the conversation with the Blackhawks for Hagel. An even better haul would be if the Pens could get defender Calvin de Haan included (though his expiring $4.45m cap hit would require retention plus more to make the math work, which might not be in the cards).

This idea screams more “Jim Rutherford” then it does “Ron Hextall”, but with a player like Kapanen spiraling with no points in the last game, does that performance trend change enough to change plans?

It’s worth considering for Hextall if this type of trade, which would directly go directly against what he has been planning on by trading two young pieces in order to boost the team’s chances in the immediate future.

The best plans have to be fluid and change, and perhaps the fact Hagel is a younger player himself could be used to ease the notion of burning future assets.