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Doubling back on targets the Penguins could leverage with their cap space

The Penguins are in position to get better based on other team’s cap problems...But who could it be?

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NHL: Boston Bruins at Pittsburgh Penguins Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

One key point of the off-season plan that Kyle Dubas shared Friday was “weaponizing” the Penguins’ favorable salary cap situation to acquire players from teams who will be struggling with yet another year of virtually no movement in the NHL’s salary cap.

That’s smart business and something we profiled as possible here in May before Dubas was even hired to come to Pittsburgh. With the flurry of activity about to begin next week when the league gets together in Nashville for the draft and face-to-face talks often lead to trades being made, let’s re-investigate some trade targets based on the latest information and current situations that make sense.

Boston Bruins

The Bruins are in big cap trouble and are going to have to send out some players with salaries to re-shape their team’s salary structure a little bit. We profiled Taylor Hall in this space last month, and that still makes a good bit of sense — especially considering Hall has two years remaining on his contract — far less term than the Pens would have to offer to a high-end free agent.

The Athletic mentioned in a compilation of trade talk and updates that some people “around the league believe the Bruins could trade a goalie as well. If so, Jeremy Swayman is five years younger than Linus Ullmark but a restricted free agent”.

Two years ago, in an unprecedented move, Vegas traded the reigning Vezina winning goalie Marc-Andre Fleury to Chicago for virtually nothing (an AHL/ECHL player on an expiring contract was the return, which Vegas did not keep). Could lightning strike twice with Ullmark being moved, if the Bruins decided to go younger with Swayman? It’s worth considering for the Pens.

Calgary Flames

The exodus of talent out of Calgary is expected to continue this summer. All of Noah Hanifin, Tyler Toffoli, Elias Lindholm and Mikael Backlund are reportedly reluctant to extend their contracts (which all expire after the 2023-24 season), if not already informed the Flames they won’t sign with them.

We talked Hanifin in this article last week, but Dubas has said he will be reluctant to trade the first round pick and futures, which might end that discussion there. Then again, Dubas also said a young, NHL impact player could have the Pens reconsider that, and Hanifin definitely fits that mold if he can be acquire via a sign-and-trade.

Toffoli as an offensive-minded right shot right wing doesn’t make a good fit for the Pens with Rickard Rakell and Bryan Rust around, but Backlund is a player that should raise attention.

Backlund’s age at 34 isn’t ideal, but mitigated by only having the one year remaining. Age concerns can be countered by the fact that Backlund has been an extremely durable player — he’s missed two games total over the last four seasons and played in all 82 games in the last two years.

That’s also supplemented by Backlund having a career-year with 56 points for Calgary in 2022-23. He’s arguably even better in the neutral zone and his defensive impact is impressive as well. Backlund would be a perfect fit on the ice in the role of a quality third line center in Pittsburgh.

Florida Panthers

The Panthers have a cap crunch, and might have injury holes and LTIR to work with if Aaron Eklbad and Brandon Montour are forced to miss the beginning of next season due to injuries suffered in their playoff run. That talk has put them in the thick of possibly trying to land Hanifin themselves. But they will need to shed some salary to do so, and winger Anthony Duclair could be the odd man out. From that earlier article in The Athletic:

Duclair has a workable $3.0 million cap hit and scored 31 goals in 2021-22 before missing more of last season coming back from an injury. He’s all offense and naturally a right winger, though possibly has flexibility to play on the left side. It should be considered to fill the spot if Jason Zucker departs as an option.

Minnesota Wild

From The Athletic article mentioned above:

Brandon Duhaime is the likeliest to go and lands at No. 16 on the trade board. The pending RFA is a fast, physical player, and interested teams are poking around and making offers

It’s no secret that the Pens will be looking to dramatically revamp the lower part of their lineup. Anybody up for a hard-working, energy winger named Brandon who played at Providence College before turning pro?

Duhaime has those sorts of similarities that draw a parallel to Brandon Tanev, only Duhaime is bigger (6’2”, 200 pounds) and still on the upswing having only turned 26 earlier this spring and going through two NHL seasons.

Duhaime only averaged 10:45 per game last season, and playing with linemates like Ryan Reaves he only managed to generate one (1) measly assist in 51 games. But he’s shown some defensive ability and his truculence is off the charts with 146 hits (an eye-popping 16 per hour). And if you’re seeking an element to stand up for players via fisticuffs, Duhaime can do that too with 15 total fights over the last two regular seasons.

The Pens would have to project him to be more than a fourth line grinder if they go get him, much like they did for that other Brandon who made the most of his opportunity in Pittsburgh to help launch himself. Young, feisty, physical, big, decent defensively and able to score a little himself — not a bad set of attributes to re-shape the bottom-six if Pittsburgh wants to look in that direction.

New Jersey Devils

From The Athletic once more:

Devils GM Tom Fitzgerald is starting to take calls on young forward Yegor Sharangovich, who is coming off a 13-goal, 30-point season. He’s a pending restricted free agent with arbitration rights, and the Devils may not be able to afford him, especially as they continue to try to sign Timo Meier to an eight-year contract.

Trades within the division are very rare for the Penguins these days, but Sharangovich does fit the bill for a player that Dubas might otherwise be interested in. He just turned 25 earlier this month and has a 24-goal, 46-point season under his belt in 2021-22 before a role reduction struck last season.

It likely would be difficult to poach a talented, young scoring forward from a divisional foe, but by any other situation this is a Devils team that might not have the option to be picky about how they go about clearing salary space, especially if they’re more focused on fitting Meier and possibly also making the move for a high-dollar goalie like Connor Hellebuyck.

More and more in the NHL these days, cap space and flexibility is king. Teams that have it can improve their squad by teams scrambling to get out of jams. Dubas and the Pens are in a great spot with some of the most cap room around to shop around and pick and choose. If any of the potential options are too costly or not ideal enough fits, they can move onto the next target.

By the very nature of these moves, the unexpected should be expected. There’s no telling exactly where the Pens might utilize their situation to bring in someone that can help, the question just becomes who and when. The answers will be revealed before too much longer.