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What could the Penguins realistically sell if they went in that direction?

There are not a lot of candidates for the Pittsburgh Penguins to realistically move for meaningful returns if they decided to sell at the NHL Trade Deadline this season.

Minnesota Wild v Pittsburgh Penguins Photo by Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images

Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Kyle Dubas might be remaining patient when it comes to plotting his direction for the team, but with each loss and each passing ugly performance the calls for the team to sell ahead of the NHL Trade Deadline are only going to get louder.

So with that in mind what could the Penguins realistically sell if they decided to go in that direction this season?

It is probably not as much as you might think given the contracts on the roster.

Aside from the size of some of the contracts, there are 13 players on the team that have some sort of no-trade protection, including six players that have full no-movement clauses. While that does not make a trade impossible, it does complicate matters a little and add an extra layer into the process.

Even if the Penguins did make the decision to sell I do not think we are looking at anything major or the start of a full-scale rebuild. Maybe Jake Guentzel so you do not lose him for nothing in free agency. Maybe some of the more veteran pieces with short-term or cheaper contracts. But that might be it. As flawed as this roster is and as frustrating as this season has turned out to be ,I am not sure if we are going to see the start of a rebuild this season. Or even this offseason.

So let’s go through it a little and see who could actually and realistically be traded if the Penguins decided to sell.

The full no-movement clauses

Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, Erik Karlsson, Bryan Rust, Jeff Carter

These are the six players that have full no-movement clauses, meaning they have full control over where they go. They are also some of the Penguins’ most core players that are probably not even realistically on the trade market unless they specifically asked to be traded. That would refer to Crosby, Malkin and Letang. Malkin and Letang had their opportunity to go elsewhere a year ago and did not take it. Crosby would be an all-time seismic NHL transaction. Not saying it can not happen with any of these three in the future, but right now? It seems highly, highly, highly, HIGHLY unlikely.

Karlsson doesn’t have the loyalty or legacy with the organization and is still desperately seeking a Stanley Cup, so he would probably be open to the idea of waving his no-movement clause. But as we saw during the offseason there are probably very limited options on where he would be willing to accept a trade. His remaining contract ($10 million per year over the next three-and-a-half years) is also a huge stumbling block for an in-season trade. This might be something that needs to be explored in an offseason (either this offseason or a future offseason).

Rust would probably have a pretty significant trade value given his production, but not many teams are going to be able — or willing — to take on his $5.125 million salary cap number through the 2027-28 season at his age. He also has a full no-movement clause and can dictate where he goes.

Carter actually seems more moveable now than at any point over the past two years simply because he only has a few months remaining on his deal and, if you retained some salary, there might be a team willing to take him on for a bottom-six role for a few months. But again, he can dictate everything.

Very difficult to move due to contract

Reilly Smith, Rickard Rakell, Ryan Graves

These three have limited no-trade protections and also have questions of value given their contracts.

All of them have term remaining on their contracts after this season and all of them have varying questions regarding their short-term and long-term value.

Rakell has shown some signs of breaking out of his first-half slump, and I do think he could still be a very productive player. I’ve liked him ever since he arrived in Pittsburgh and think there is a chance he could be a 25-goal scorer again. But he is 30 years old and counts $5 million against the cap for four more full seasons after this season.

Smith has one-year remaining after this season but given what he has shown this season that $5 million price tag could be seen as problematic, even for one year.

Graves might be the toughest contract on the roster to even consider moving at this point. Not only does he have trade protections, but he counts $4.5 million against the salary cap through the end of the 2028-29 season and has simply played terrible hockey this season. It is looking like the biggest miss of the early portion of the Dubas era and one that is going to be very difficult to correct.

Moving any of these three would almost certainly require retaining salary or taking another bad contract back in return while also getting a very small or limited return. Simply moving salary would be the primary objective here for any of them.

The limited to no value players

Noel Acciari, Jansen Harkins, Valtteri Puustinen, Colin White, Chad Ruhwedel, Ryan Shea, Matt Nieto, John Ludvig, Pierre-Olivier Joseph

You could probably realistically trade any player on this list, but you are simply not going to get anything meaningful back in return. A mid-to late-round draft pick? Future considerations? In the case of Joseph another team’s disappointing young player that you are hoping a change of scenery can help fix?

I could see a team valuing Acciari for his defensive abilities, but he was simply a throw-in to a larger trade a year ago when he was a pending unrestricted free agent. He has two more full seasons at $2 million per year remaining. That has “fifth-round pick in 2025” written all over it in terms of trade value. He also has no-trade protections.

These are the deck chairs.

The real, meaningful trade options

Jake Guentzel, Marcus Pettersson, Lars Eller, Drew O’Connor, Tristan Jarry, Alex Nedeljkovic

Even among this group you have trade protections and big contracts to contend with, but these are still the players with the most value and the players that could bring the biggest returns.

Guentzel is the obvious one. If the Penguins put him on the market he would probably be the most high profile rental available and would bring back one of the most significant returns. I do think Penguins fans need to prepare themselves for what that would actually look like. This is a team that has not sold at the deadline in almost 20 years and trade values are almost never what you expect or what are rumored going in. A high-profile rental might get you a first-round pick and a decent prospect. I think the ceiling here would be hitting lightning in a bottle like what the Philadelphia Flyers did when they traded Claude Giroux a couple of years ago — a first-round pick, a mid-round pick and a young player like Owen Tippett. And even then I think that is probably the best-case scenario because most teams that deal even the highest profile rentals are not lucky enough to land a player as good as Tippett.

A first-round pick and a decent prospect is what you should prepare yourself for.

Pettersson would have the potential to bring back a nice return because he is A) a steady, reliable player at a premium position, and B) signed to a very affordable contract.

He does not have Jakob Chychrun’s offensive upside (or overall offensive production) but think about what he brought back a year ago in a trade with affordable term remaining on his deal — a first-round pick and two second-round picks. I don’t know that the Penguins could match that return given Pettersson’s lack of offense (and the fact he is a couple of years older), but I think a first-round pick or similarly valued prospect is the logical starting point.

I would not expect huge returns for Eller or O’Connor, but their contracts are very affordable, they should be reliable bottom-six forwards and I could see a second-round pick being a return for either. The Capitals received a second-round pick for Eller as recently as a year ago.

The wild cards here would be the goalies. Goalie trades can be difficult because even the best players at the position tend to have complicated trade values. They almost always go for way less than you think (even in comparison to other prominent NHL trades), mostly because the position is so difficult to predict and project in terms of future performance. But because a lot of contenders need goalie depth and they are both having excellent seasons they could have some strong value.

Nedeljkovic is the most logical trade candidate of the two because he is the backup, he is dirt cheap against the salary cap, he is a free agent after this season, and he has zero trade protections on his contract. A team that simply needs goaltending depth (Los Angeles?) might be willing to flip a second-or third-round pick for him.

Trading Jarry would probably be the type of thing you do if you are looking to just hit the reset button on the whole thing and jumpstart a rebuild. He is your starting goalie and has a significant contract and as we saw this past offseason, there would not be many strong or obvious options to replace him. He has had his flaws in his career, he has had his big-game disappointments, and he has had his injury concerns. Even with all of that he is still a .914 save percentage goalie for his career with two All-Star game appearances on his resume. There are a lot of Stanley Cup contenders in the NHL right now (Edmonton, New Jersey I am looking at you specifically) that would probably love to have a goalie with that resume on their roster.