The NHL season is nearing its halfway point and the trade deadline is inching closer and closer. For Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Ron Hextall, he has some work ahead of him to not only secure a playoff spot for his team, but also give them some pieces to potentially make a run if/when they get there.
The needs are pretty obvious given the current weaknesses on the roster.
They need to do something about third-line center to help boost the bottom-six.
The bottom-six in general needs a lift.
They also might need to do something about the defense to give them another potential top-four option with the dramatic decline of Brian Dumoulin.
With limited salary cap space and a thin prospect pool to work with, the Penguins do not have a lot of wiggle room here. But there is always a way to make things work. As many teams have shown over the years, including the Penguins, the salary cap tends to just be more of a suggestion than anything else.
There is always a path for the player you want. It might take some work, but you can get there.
This week Frank Seravalli at Daily Faceoff had his latest trade board and it included an interesting Penguins nugget that featured a relatively surprising name: Teddy Blueger.
The new TRADE TARGETS BOARD from @frank_seravalli:— Daily Faceoff (@DailyFaceoff) January 4, 2023
Big #Preds blueliner Mattias Ekholm is available. He joins a star-studded list ranging from Patrick Kane to Erik Karlsson and more:https://t.co/4Ljs91aZiu
The logic being that if the Penguins wanted to dump Kasperi Kapanen’s contract, they might have to attach somebody like Blueger to it as an incentive. I am not sure how I feel about that because not only do the Penguins already have problems in the bottom-six without dealing Blueger, but I am not sure Blueger — in a contract year, no less — would be enough incentive for somebody to take on the remainder of Kapanen’s deal.
Blueger has been somewhat disappointing for me this season, at least as it relates to 5-on-5 play. His return to the lineup did coincide with the improvement of the penalty kill, but I was hoping for more out of him at even-strength. Especially given the struggles of Jeff Carter in the third line role. And if you trade Blueger, it not only cements Carter in even more at the third-line spot, but it creates yet another hole at center.
Looking at the rest of Seravalli’s trade list for potential Penguins targets and there are a couple that stand out for me.
On the defensive side, the Penguins are probably not going to be in the market for guys like Erik Karlsson (salary cap space and trade assets are just not there), Mattias Ekholm, or John Klingberg. I also am not sure how I feel about Jacob Chychrun at this point, both as a player and a potential trade target for the Penguins. I feel like he is a decent player that gets a little overrated because he has a team-friendly contract with term and that one big season a couple of years ago. But I am intrigued by the idea of somebody like Vladislav Gavrikov from Columbus. He is a solid defender, he has some offensive ability, and his contract ($2.8 million salary cap hit) is pretty affordable as a rental.
I also like another player on Columbus as perhaps an under-the-radar addition to improve the third-line center spot: Jack Roslovic.
Columbus’ season is a total mess and you have to assume they are going to be in a seller mode, and while Roslovic is not really somebody that looks like a must-trade for them, he is somebody that could be on the move. Especially if Columbus gets an offer it can not refuse. He is signed beyond this season ($4 million salary cap hit) so it would have be a “hockey trade” to make it worthwhile for Columbus. But I like the idea of somebody like that in your third-line spot behind Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin because he might be able to actually bring some offense to that line.
I do not know if the Penguins, at this point, need to deal Kapanen. I think they need to let Kapanen play a little more and to give him a center that can help drive a line.
Max Domi is also on the list, and Chicago is almost certainly going to move him, but I do not know how I feel about that option, either. Domi is a creative offensive player and can definitely provide some scoring, but he is a complete zero defensively almost to the point of being a liability. They need more offense from that spot, but I am not sure they need somebody that is all offense. He also takes too many penalties, and while the Penguins’ PK is one of the best in the league, the truly best way to have a great penalty kill is to not have to use it.