February in the NHL feels like the obligatory interim between the sunny days of August on the coast and a hurricane’s landfall. The storm surge between the All-Star break and playoff hockey in April is as exciting as it is nerve-racking.
At this juncture, we have a solid idea of the contenders. Still, the final landscape is hardly written in stone, and general managers of bubble teams have already begun the mad dash toward the finish looking to improve their rosters going into the postseason. The Metropolitan Division has been the first to strike, with the New York Rangers and Islanders making big splashes before the March 3 trade deadline.
Enter: The Pittsburgh Penguins. The 2022 offseason was something out of a fever dream for Penguins fans. Management pulled off extending an aging but still an elite core group of Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang and tendered extensions to key supporting pieces Bryan Rust and Rickard Rakell. In addition, the defensive corps was overhauled and reshaped via trades with the New Jersey Devils and Montreal Canadiens. Mixed in the shuffle was a curious qualifying offer to Kasperi Kapanen at a hefty price point.
Pittsburgh Penguins Trade Targets
Just over the halfway point of the season, the Penguins sit more or less where expected. In wild card playoff position, they neither appear like a true contender nor an aged bust. The problem is that the happy middle is not happy. Going all in by bringing back an aging cast only works if you don’t simultaneously try to keep some of your chips, and current management has been too hesitant to fully embrace “win now” mode instead of a rebuild, as evidenced by Ron Hextall’s adamance in not moving this year’s first-round draft pick.
It’s time for a trade, and while the salary cap poses some difficulty, it’s a GM’s job to get creative, particularly with this roster. Sidney Crosby won’t be elite forever. Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang won’t stay the cream of the crop for much longer. The Penguins need to make a trade.
The tough part of this equation is twofold: identifying trade props while targeting affordable yet ambitious pieces. Easy right? Let’s see what we can come up with.
While Jeff Carter most likely retains some value, it’s apparent that value is not at the third-line centre position. He needs to be moved to the right wing if deployable, and Teddy Blueger is frankly not a viable third-line centre option. The Penguins, above all else, need someone to fill the void behind Crosby and Malkin. Let’s start there.
Bill Guerin played on Sidney Crosby’s right wing on the way to a Stanley Cup championship in 2009. A few years back, he dealt with the Penguins in the trade that brought Jason Zucker to Pittsburgh. He’s worth a call this season as well.
Things never seem to go Ryan Hartman’s way, but it’s not for lack of persistence. After being frozen out of Chicago, he appeared to find a home in Minnesota last season, centring a talented top line for the Wild. After an injury this season and the emergence of Sam Steel between Kirill Kaprizov and Mats Zuccarello, Hartman once again finds himself in dire straits on a roster with no seeming place for him.
A depth centre who can also play the wing, looking to find his scoring touch again in a role with a would-be contender? Seems like something well worth kicking the tires on.
The best part? A $1.7 million cap hit. Cheap centres with a 30+ goal season on the resume and top-line minute experience don’t grow on trees. Hextall’s phone should have Guerin on speed dial here.
Adam Henrique is an intriguing name newly appearing as a potential in-market asset, and the Penguins should be calling on him.
While Henrique’s $5.8 million cap hit is hefty, Anaheim is one of the few teams with sizeable projected cap space, particularly if they can trade John Klingberg before or at the deadline. This would mean the need for some salary retention, but the Penguins have assets and potentially even currently even rostered players that could interest a rebuilding Ducks.
In any case, Henrique is a serious offensive talent dating back to his days in New Jersey that would add much-needed juice to a struggling third line. He’s more than worth a look.
Yet another string of some combination of bad luck and poor development has struck the once 12th-overall pick Max Domi over the course of his career. In Chicago, however, playing alongside Patrick Kane, Domi seems to have begun to find his gear this season, putting up some impressive point totals in an abysmally bad organization.
While the Hawks are in full rebuild mode and would most likely be further depleting the Penguins’ prospect and draft pick pool, this is a deal worth at least an inquiry. Some creativity would be needed to fit Domi’s $3 million cap hit. Still, for a clearly offensively talented player, and a Chicago organization with a reputation for being fleeced in the trade market, Domi is too intriguing an option to dismiss.
Pittsburgh needs something. At present, a team that has always contended since 2007 stands on the brink of irrelevancy. It’s time for a trade, or early summer in the Steel City is a near guarantee.
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