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Look Ahead: Most Likely Penguins Trade Block for 2020-21 Season

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Pittsburgh Penguins trade bait Jared McCann and Patric Hornqvist

The Pittsburgh Penguins are full up. There is no more salary-cap space to sign players, and the NHL trade market has ground to a halt in terms of moving players. Taylor Hall signed a one-year deal, and the hot rumor is Mike Hoffman will do similar or the same. The Penguins, for better and worse, are who they are.

And that means if things go sideways, GM Jim Rutherford will be on the phones working for another Penguins trade. Early season trades are typically rare, though Rutherford has engineered multiple early-season Penguins trades in five of the last six seasons.

In December 2014 (it was a bigger move than it sounds now), he acquired Rob Klinkhammer. In December 2015, Rutherford moved Rob Scuderi for Trevor Daley. He snared Riley Sheahan in October 2017, then Jamie Oleksiak in December. Rutherford traded Carl Hagelin for Tanner Pearson in November 2018 and acquired Marcus Pettersson a few weeks later. In October 2019, Rutherford traded Erik Gudbranson,

There isn’t another GM in the NHL who can boast that much activity in the first 25 games of a season.

We’re not going to put Bryan Rust on the list. Despite it being an obvious call, Rust has become a leader inside the Penguins room and figures to become part of the Penguins’ heart, if he’s not already. Also, Evgeni Malkin is off the table. Based on internal conversations this offseason, things would have to blow up spectacularly before we revisit Malkin trade considerations.

Nor will we include Marcus Pettersson and his $4 million salary. While PHN might have included him on the list, the Penguins’ enthusiasm for Pettersson seems firm and genuine.

If the Pittsburgh Penguins start slowly or things do not appear to jell, who could be on the Penguins trade block?

Possible Pittsburgh Penguins 2020-21 Trade Block

1. Jared McCann

His $2.94 million salary is digestible, which makes him both valuable to the Penguins and tradeable. McCann’s versatility has also been a blessing and a curse. Is he a scoring winger with the potential to take his career to the next level, or a speedy defensive center suited for third or fourth line work?

The Penguins addition of Mark Jankowski to be the third line center should give McCann a chance to settle in at LW, but the line will need to form chemistry, and Jake Guentzel and Jason Zucker probably block McCann from scoring line duty.

Jared McCann set a career-high in 2018-19 when he split time with the Florida Panthers and the Pittsburgh Penguins. He scored 19 goals and 35 points, with most of his goals (11) coming with the Penguins in just 32 games.

However, McCann was also a healthy scratch for one game in the NHL postseason against Montreal.

If Jankowski works at center, but McCann doesn’t light-up the wing, McCann could be trade bait. Or, if the Penguins have other pressing needs, teams could force Rutherford’s hand for the 24-year-old forward.

2. Jason Zucker

Rutherford mortgaged the Penguins’ future for Zucker by giving a No. 1 pick and top defenseman prospect Calen Addison, who continues to grow into a potential NHL defenseman.

Zucker posted more than respectable stats with the Penguins. He scored six goals and six assists in 15 regular-season games, but the eye test and the stat sheet weren’t always in agreement.

It would seem blasphemy to put Zucker on the list, but his impact was inconsistent, and he didn’t develop chemistry with Evgeni Malkin. In 60 minutes played together, the pair scored — wait for it — one goal. Worse, they clearly were not on the same page, let alone reading from the same book.

Zucker, 28, will earn $5.5 million for the next three years, so he would be tough to deal in this current stalemate, which figures to last for a couple of years while the flat cap and lack of revenue squeeze GMs. But Zucker may also become a necessary Penguins trade if 2019 first-round pick Sam Poulin kicks down the door to the NHL or McCann proves to be a worthy top-six winger.

Rutherford will most likely take a loss on Zucker if a trade becomes necessary or prudent.

3. Kris Letang

Consider this improbable to near impossible, but it’s there. It’s out there that Letang told more than a few people that he expected to be traded this offseason, as radio hosts friendly with Letang and The Athletic reported.

The Penguins roster is not set up to absorb such a deal, as the Penguins would again lack a third right-side defenseman. Worse, the Penguins wouldn’t truly have a No. 1 defenseman. With respect to John Marino, that would be a worlds-forward leap for the sophomore defenseman and another huge gamble which could create holes on all three pairings.

The Penguins would be unlikely to get equal value back, too. The organization appears accepting of allowing Letang, Malkin, and, of course, Sidney Crosby to ride off into the sunset together.

But, the Letang trade scenario is out there. Rutherford didn’t outright reject the possibility this summer.

4. Zach Aston-Reese

The stocky forward will make only $1 million this season as he heals from left shoulder surgery. Assuming a January start for the 2020-21 NHL season, Aston-Reese will likely begin the year on LTIR. February is a more realistic return date for the Penguins shutdown fourth liner.

ZAR has more offensive prowess to give but prefers to focus on his task at hand. According to CapFriendly.com, the potential power forward will be a restricted free agent after the coming season, but he could also have value to another team.

And Sam Lafferty could elbow his way into the Penguins lineup, making one of them expendable.

An Aston-Reese trade would also maintain the streak of losing players with whom PHN genuinely enjoys chatting in the locker room (assuming we ever get back there).

5. Surprise

Pettersson, Rust … or bigger. The Pittsburgh Penguins and GM Jim Rutherford gambled on several players, including defenseman Mike Matheson, who was considered by at least one person PHN trusts as “untradeable.”

If the Penguins come together, they could be an explosive team with a dynamite top-six forwards crew and some real push from the back end. If it doesn’t come together, Rutherford has shown himself to be both fearless and swift.

There could well be a surprise Penguins trade waiting around the corner because of the changed NHL economic picture. It’s almost ridiculous to consider trading Jake Guentzel or Brian Dumoulin. Those players have become pillars of the lineup, but the Penguins are nearly out of moveable assets.

Something will have to give if the Penguins gambles don’t pay off. It could be a wild year in Pittsburgh as if it hasn’t been already.

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Pittsburgh Hockey Now Editor-in-Chief, formerly 93.7 The Fan, Sportsnet Hockey Tonight, NHL Home Ice. Catch Dan tweeting @theDanKingerski and the official @pghhockeynow account.

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Jim Johnson
Jim Johnson
9 months ago

is this possible–What about a big “team shakeup” move like a Dumoulin??? or firing Sullivan?
if we start say 5-8-2 is that bad enough for a trade?
(if matheson and Pettersson + one of riikola/POJ are sufficient for the left side, of course–which isn’t a given.)

Jim Johnson
Jim Johnson
9 months ago
Reply to  Jim Johnson

Rutherford tends to try to shake the team up…I don’t think McCann/Zucker/ZAR would accomplish that–although I do agree 19 and “was 46, now #12ZAR” are both trade possibilities.

Nathan
Nathan
9 months ago

Pettersson has to go sooner than later while he still has some value. He has all the ability to be a solid defenseman, but his brain can’t keep up with the game. He overthinks simple plays and turns the puck over far too often. I see his $4+ million contract becoming worse than Jack Johnson’s contract.

Dean
Dean
9 months ago

In the short term, can we move some of the 4th line talent to make room for some of the prospects. Giving the prospect a chance to contribute is the last change that GMJR promised. Tanev, Blueger, Lafferty should be our 4th line. Then you have to ask what you do with Sceviour and ZAR? On top, Rodriguise should only be on the 3rd line if Poulin or Legare can’t fit as the third line RW. The Pens have Angelo, Miletic, O’Conner, Bjorkqvist, Gruden, Bellerive waiting to fill a 4th line or possibly a 3rd line roll. GMJR needs to… Read more »

Eric Bouchard
Eric Bouchard
9 months ago

since the beginning. Im not totally sold on Pettersson.I se him as a slow, lack of mobility (taller version of Maatta)
And now with a 4M contract. He would be on the list. As well as McCaan 3M AND Zucker 5.5M

Mike
Mike
9 months ago

This team has zero shot at winning in the playoffs. That have enough skill to get there but zero toughness and grit.

Rich Filardi
Rich Filardi
9 months ago
Reply to  Mike

Agree Mike, skill in the top 6 but very little depth scoring.

Rich Filardi
Rich Filardi
9 months ago

I love the Penguins, but the bottom 6 does not set fear to the opposition let alone hard to play against. Nor do they have good center depth. Regardless of the start, this team is a fringe playoff team and this GM would lose a sit still competition to a 2 year old. I See Zucker as the player moved in the end. Wrong fit on this team.

Katz
Katz
9 months ago

All these moves , potential moves, and rationalization for the moves …. all because the one right move was prevented / refused to be made.

Bill L
Bill L
9 months ago

Even considering Guentzel is insane. The guy is the future of the Penguins.

Katz
Katz
9 months ago
Reply to  Bill L

?. Is Guentzel a playoff failure , sulking defensive gaffe machine with a NMC making 9.5 million per?

D1VE
D1VE
9 months ago

People saying Zucker should be moved and doesn’t fit this team is absolutely insane to me. With Hornqvist now gone Zucker takes up the mantle of going 110% in the top 6. If you’re concerned about his chemistry with Sid, remember that Jake was lights out with Geno and it was a relatively small sample size to say Zucker didn’t have chemistry on the 2nd line. He’s fast, he’s not afraid to bang bodies, and can shoot. More over, he’s passionate about his game and how it fits with the team. Jason Zucker is exactly the kind of player the… Read more »

Katz
Katz
9 months ago
Reply to  D1VE

согласен

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[…] Dan Kingerski of Pittsburgh Hockey Now: The Pittsburgh Penguins don’t have any salary cap space and the trade market has seems to have come to a halt. […]

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