At this point we all know the Pittsburgh Penguins need help in a lot of different areas, and much of the trade speculation seems to focus on rental options. In terms of prospects and young NHLers, the Penguins do not have a ton of assets to deal from, and general manager Ron Hextall seems at least somewhat hesitant to deal his first-round draft picks (which is misguided in my view).
If the Penguins are going to deal from their limited cupboard of assets, they might be better served looking at players that still have term remaining on their deal beyond this season.
For starters, the Penguins have a lot of money coming off the books next season.
Jason Zucker, Brian Dumoulin, Teddy Blueger, Danton Heinen, Josh Archibald, and Tristan Jarry are all pending unrestricted free agents, and other than Zucker or Jarry there are not many names there worth re-signing. And even then there might be arguments against it due to age (Zucker) and injury/price concerns (Jarry).
The Penguins have roughly $19 million in salary cap space this offseason with 15 players already under contract for next year. Even if they do not dump any other contracts, that could give the Penguins a lot of flexibility this offseason. Especially after getting Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang signed to lesser salary cap hits on their newest contracts.
When it comes to utilizing that future salary cap space the free agent market tends to be a fool’s paradise, so why not target some players at the deadline that are signed beyond this season at rates that might be better than free agent alternatives?
Let’s take a look at a few potential names that might be worth calling about,
Jake McCabe, Chicago Blackhawks
Defense has become an increasing concern as the season as progressed, and with Dumoulin set to be a UFA there will be a need for an extra body on the blue line after this season.
As far as the Blackhawks’ trade options are concerned McCabe is probably the only player I would have serious interest in. Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews seem cooked to me, and I am not sure Max Domi moves the needle enough for me to want him.
But McCabe could be a sneaky good addition at a very good price.
He is still signed for two more full seasons after this at a salary cap hit of $4 million per year, but the Blackhawks are reportedly willing to eat as much as 50 percent of that in a trade.
He has been one of the few bright spots on an otherwise horrific Chicago team, and he is a steady enough defenseman that if you could get him at a reduced salary cap hit he might provide some strong value against the cap. Inferior players like Erik Gudbranson and Ben Chiarot routinely go for $4-5 million a year (for more years) on the open market. So if you can get somebody like McCabe for a couple million that might be worth looking into if the trade cost is right.
The Penguins have kind of backed themselves into a corner on their defense with some big long-term contracts there, but they could make room for McCabe. And they could probably use him.
Adam Henrique, Anaheim Ducks
I saw Josh Yohe mention Henrique’s name in his recent Q&A mailbag over at The Athletic and it is one that intrigues me a little.
He is another player on the wrong side of 31, and he would count more than $5 million against the cap next season, but he is also still a pretty good player that would fill an absolutely MASSIVE hole as a potential third-line center. He is still a 25-goal, 50-point player over 82 games, while his underlying numbers are among the best on a dreadful team. Like Rickard Rakell a year ago he might be somebody that could benefit from a change of scenery and more talent around him.
He would be a massive offensive upgrade to the bottom-six while also being a capable defensive presence.
I think he has more left in the tank than Toews or Ryan O’Reilly, and is potentially more impactful than a cheaper rental like Max Domi or Sean Monahan.
Timo Meier, San Jose Sharks
This is probably an unfair name to include here because Meier’s contract is technically up after this season, but as a restricted free agent he would still be under team control.
I already wrote about this option a couple of weeks ago, but the Penguins absolutely have the ability to give him his $10 million qualifying offer or the flexibility to sign him long-term.
In the short-term he would add another impact presence to the lineup and allow them to bump a Jason Zucker or Bryan Rust down to the third-line (which should improve that line), while also giving them a ready-made replacement in the top-six for this offseason if/when Zucker leaves as a free agent.
Because of the contract situation with him there is a chance the price to acquire him in a trade is less than what it should be for a player of this caliber (look at what the return for Alex DeBrincat was), and if that is the case you are simply not doing your job as a general manager if you are not at least making the call.
Thatcher Demko, Vancouver Canucks
Let’s get WILD.
The Penguins’ goaltending situation has been their biggest undoing the previous two postseasons, and there is a chance it could play a big role in that again this season due to Jarry’s injury and Caasey DeSmith’s inconsistency. It is a position of huge importance that the Penguins have neglected the past couple of years.
Demko is currently in the second year of a five-year contract that carries a $5 million per year salary cap hit.
That is not cheap. So it would probably require one of two things: Letting Jarry go as a free agent and rolling the dice on Demko as your new No. 1, or finding a way to get Vancouver to retain salary on Demko, re-signing Jarry, and rolling with them as a 1A and 1B platoon.
Which could actually be really productive.
Demko has struggled this season, but it is also an incredibly small sample size of games (only 15 games) behind an absolutely dog feces team defensively.
In the two years prior to this season, as well as the 2019-20 playoffs, he was outstanding and even finished in the top-10 of the Vezina Trophy voting a year ago.
There was a report that he requested a trade out of Vancouver (he denies it), but even if he has not asked out the Canucks are in a position where anything is probably on the table.
The pending goalie market in free agency is awful, and if the Penguins are unable to re-sign Jarry (or choose not to for whatever reason) a trade would almost certainly have to be their backup plan anyway.