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Brace Yourself: Expansion Opens Penguins’ Trade Market

The Pittsburgh Penguins are an anomaly. An exception to the rule, if you will. Stanley Cup Champions aren’t supposed to repeat in the salary cap era and if they somehow find a way to contend for two consecutive seasons, they’re expected to dismantle their roster and start from scratch due to cap restraints.

The Penguins, though, aren’t following protocol.

The impending expansion draft, scheduled for Wednesday night, instilled fear in the masses due to uncertainty. Who would the Penguins lose? How would they decide who should be exposed, and who to protect? It turns out, general manager Jim Rutherford had it all figured out already, as Marc-Andre Fleury had agreed to work with the Penguins throughout this process all the way back in training camp. There were recent questions as to whether or not things were playing out according to plan but according to TSN Insider Pierre Lebrun, it’s all systems go on that front. And it means the Penguins are set up for success, and staring at a real opportunity to improve this summer.

Maybe even three-peat…

Favorable Cap Situation

If Fleury is indeed selected by the Las Vegas Golden Knights as is assumed, the Penguins will shed his $5.75 million salary. Currently, CapFriendly.Com estimates the Penguins to have roughly $14.9 million in projected cap space, which jumps to approximately $20.7 million to work with after Wednesday night’s draft.

That’s a lot of dough for a team that already boasts the likes of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, and Phil Kessel.

Conor Sheary, Justin Schultz, and Brian Dumoulin are restricted free agents and all three will get a raise. However, they won’t break the bank, and Pittsburgh will have plenty of money left to spend on areas of need. Addressing their blue line will be a top priority, and addressing their third and fourth line center vacancies — if Nick Bonino isn’t re-signed and Matt Cullen retires — will be at the top of the list as well. Do they trust Oskar Sundqvist to fill one of those voids? If so, he’ll join an extensive list of young, inexpensive talent that includes Bryan Rust, Jake Guentzel, Scott Wilson, and Tom Kuhnhackl among others. Impactful youth with low price tags is the biggest reason Pittsburgh is in such great shape. Individuals that can contribute while playing on their entry-level contract are invaluable. And that flexibility is why the Penguins will seemingly be very active in the next few weeks.

Real Big Fish

No, not the kind you carry in your shorts and then launch on the ice. We’re approaching silly season in the NHL, and the big names rumored to be available on the trade market have surfaced. Rutherford and the Penguins are unsurprisingly connected to at least one of them, but should we expect them to be a big player in this market?

Yes.

Rutherford has shown his willingness to go big with trades during the offseason. Phil Kessel is the latest example of this, and while it wasn’t necessary for him to get involved in the market last summer, that doesn’t mean he’s lost his flair for the dramatic. Once the expansion draft concludes and the NHL’s roster freeze is lifted, things are going to get very interesting.

Pittsburgh is reportedly considering Alex Galchenyuk, as TSN Insider Darren Dreger reported over the weekend. It’s fitting, considering Galchenyuk could fill the third line center void left by Bonino, and he’d have a chance to prove himself on a bridge deal in Pittsburgh. If he doesn’t work out at center, the Penguins happen to have two very talented pivots he could flank in Crosby and Malkin. He’s exhibited the flexibility to play both positions during his time in Montreal, which is something Pittsburgh could take advantage of.

Tyson Barrie is another name to watch as things heat up this summer. The Penguins would love to add another skilled, puck-moving defenseman. Kris Letang will miss time, and Trevor Daley is likely moving on so Barrie — a 25-year old that can skate out of danger and contribute to the Penguins’ attack — should be someone Rutherford finds very interesting. He won’t come cheap, and the Colorado Avalanche are reportedly looking to deal him in a hockey trade so the Penguins will need to ante up. It’s unclear what Joe Sakic’s asking price is, currently.

Lastly, while I don’t see Matt Duchene as a possibility for the Penguins, it wouldn’t surprise me if they inquired about Buffalo Sabres polarizing winger Evander Kane. Kane has had his off-ice issues, but many around the league feel as if he’s turning a corner in that regard. He’s big, skilled, capable of excelling within the Penguin’s system and with Rutherford’s recent comments on wanting to add some toughness — due to the NHL’s inability to protect its players — it’s hard to find someone who fits that mold more perfectly. Kane isn’t looking to leave Buffalo, but he may not be part of newly hired general manager Jason Botterill’s future plans.

Whatever direction the Penguins go, in free agency or via trade, there’s a real chance they’ll be a better team when the 2017-18 season opens. That’s almost unfathomable when you consider the success they’ve recognized over the last two years. Hockey fans may want to brace themselves, as the expansion draft is just over 24-hours away and following that, the rest of June and the month of July will be full of transactions. It’s an exciting — and nerve-racking — time to be a hockey fan.

Brett Rossi - Blush Exotic
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