At this point we have no idea who is going to be the general manager of the Pittsburgh Penguins for the 2023-24 season, but I do at least have some friendly advice for them when they take over.
Give the Winnipeg Jets a phone call regarding starting goalie Connor Hellebuyck.
At least find out what the asking price would be.
What is the worst that happens? They say no?
Or ask for something unreasonable and you can not match it?
Maybe one of those things happens.
Or maybe you get lucky and find there is a deal to be made for one of the best goalies in the NHL to potentially fill one of the biggest weaknesses on the roster for this season.
If you missed it this past week, the Jets were eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs in five games to the Vegas Golden Knights, and nobody associated with the team seemed happy about it. Head coach Rick Bowness gave one of the most intense post-series interviews I can ever recall from a coach where he basically called his team a bunch of soft, lazy bums for not pushing back, while the players themselves seemed more bothered by that than the result.
The Jets have kept running that same core back every year and getting the same mediocre results, largely because their general manager — Kevin Cheveldayoff — never seems to be willing to make any sort of a significant change to his roster. He is one of the least active general managers in the league and seems to believe that if he just keeps doing the same thing over and over again he will get better results. He never does.
Maybe this postseason exit will change that. Maybe the reaction to it will change that. Maybe he and the Jets front office will actually make significant changes.
If that happens, Hellebuyck already made it clear in the wake of the series that he does not want to be part of a rebuild.
He is set to enter the final year of his contract, and if the Jets are not able to re-sign him (or if he does not want to re-sign there) it stands to reason that he could be available.
So why not take a chance and make the call?
The Penguins need a goalie. Tristan Jarry is an unrestricted free agent and can not really be trusted to be available or consistently productive. Casey DeSmith is a backup and nothing more. The potential free agent market for goalies? It is awful with Jarry arguably being the best option out there.
Hellebuyck is one of the best goalies in the league, and when he is at his best he can be a complete game-changer that can mask a lot of flaws.
He has no trade restrictions on his contract and his salary cap hit for the 2023-24 season is a very manageable $6.1 million.
The Penguins already have $20 million in salary cap space to work with this offseason and could clear up an additional $3-4 million if they buy out Mikael Granlund (which they should absolutely do at the very first possible moment).
They are one of the few teams in the league with a clear need for a starting goalie, should still be able to compete for a playoff spot, and actually have the salary cap space to make that contract work without having to do serious salary cap maneuvering.
It makes some degree of sense.
The next obstacle would be trade assets, and whether or not the Penguins would have enough.
Even though Hellebuyck is a top-tier goalie there are two things to keep in mind.
1) Trade returns are never as much as you think they are going to be, especially for players in the final year of a contract.
2) This is especially true for goalies.
Just going back through the salary cap era and looking at the trade cost for some notable goalies and the returns are not really that significant. Yes, this is anecdotal and not a complete list. But some notable trades.....
- Vancouver traded Cory Schneider in 2013 for one first-round pick (the No. 9 overall pick in the draft).
- Nashville traded Tomas Vokoun to Florida in 2007 for one first-round pick and two second-round picks.
- Anaheim traded Frederik Andersen to Toronto in 2016 for first-round pick and a second-round pick.
- Ottawa traded Robin Lehner to Buffalo in 2015 for a single first-round pick.
- Arizona traded Darcy Kuemper to Colorado in 2021 for first-and third-round picks and Conor Timmins.
At the very least a first-round pick would be the starting point, and as long as that pick is in the middle of the first-round, I am fine with that.
It is a long shot. It is literally me just throwing crap against the wall and talking about an idea. There is also no guarantee the Jets would even want to trade Hellebuyck this season even if they wanted to shake up their roster. But it is very obvious that things are not good there and changes should be ahead. So why not make the call? You need a goalie that you can win with, and there is not a better option on the free agent market and there might not be a better trade option.
Maybe you make the call and find the asking price is too high and unreasonable. In which case, fine. You move on. But even the possibility of Hellebuyck being available should be enough to make you want to pick up the phone and ask. There is no downside to trying.