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Entering the Penguins Silly Season, 5 Real Things to Consider

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Pittsburgh Penguins trade bait Jared McCann and Patric Hornqvist

Never before has the period after Labor Day been the peak NHL offseason, but welcome to the COVID-19 world. In a bit of normalcy, the Pittsburgh Penguins began their offseason looking for a winger for captain Sidney Crosby after Conor Sheary Part II didn’t pan out and GM Jim Rutherford paid full price to complete the Penguins trade for RW Kasperi Kapanen.

Now, we are into the season when anonymous Twitter accounts can post anonymous trade rumors, and the internet launches into a tizzy. Welcome to the silly season.

Rutherford made the first big splash of the offseason and did so as 16 teams battled in the NHL playoffs or were just beginning to lick their wounds from an early exit. Rival GMs felt left out as they didn’t get a chance to bid on the Penguins 15th overall pick, according to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman.

The Penguins got their man and paid the price that other teams refused.

The Penguins top-six is likely settled, and the top-nine would be set, except for the third-line center. With another Penguins trade, or two, and free agency period pending, the Penguins and Rutherford have more work…a lot more work to do.

The Penguins need to find a third-pairing defenseman, third-line center and improve other parts of their lineup, which has suffered a pair of opening-round playoff losses.

The Matt Murray trade seems to be a forgone conclusion, but there are more things to consider:

The Penguins Silly Season

1. The Jack Johnson Factor

Johnson is the defensive presence on the third pair and a primary penalty killer.

However, the Penguins have a pair of mobile, offensively talented left-defensemen who will soon be NHL-ready and would not excel as stay-home, PK defenders. The first of those defensemen behind Johnson is Juuso Riikola, who inked a two-year, $2.3 million deal on Saturday. Obviously, the Penguins would like to keep the inexperienced Finnish defender around.

The Penguins also have top defenseman prospect P-O Joseph, who is rapidly approaching NHL readiness.

Rutherford vigorously defended Johnson following the Penguins Qualifying Round loss. New assistant coach Todd Reirden also offered unprompted praise for Johnson.

But, what if the Penguins can get a reliable, defensive-minded right-sider? The Penguins should consider Johnson as a six or seventh defenseman if a superior, dependable right defenseman can be acquired to play with Riikola or Joseph.

If the Penguins find ice-time for Riikola, they may learn just how good he can be (before Joseph claims the spot).

Subset: In 2018, Rutherford also signed former prospect Daniel Sprong to a two-year contract. The Penguins feared losing Sprong on waivers, but the longer deal added an impediment to claiming Sprong; a waiver claim wouldn’t be just a one-year experiment. The security allowed the Pittsburgh Penguins to send the prospect to the WBS Penguins to grow his game. Riikola needs to develop his game, too. A short stint in the AHL might be an excellent launchpad to get him ready for the NHL.

Zach Trotman can function as depth LD if the Penguins choose to carry a second spare defenseman beyond Chad Ruhwedel while Riikola readies himself.

2. Buyout Bjugstad

This season, Bjugstad played just 13 games and suffered at least two setbacks in his rehab before he had spinal surgery at the Mayo Clinic in May. The Penguins reported Bjugstad’s recovery time was eight weeks, which means he should be healthy for next season.

But in a season plus, Bjugstad has not yet distinguished himself or his $4.1 million salary.

The Penguins could free up $3.5 million next season in exchange for a $1.75 million cap hit in 2021-22. After Rutherford zipped his first-round pick to Toronto for Kapanen, the Penguins don’t have many vehicles left by which they can shed salary. And the immediate savings would give Rutherford more time to maneuver around the cap and the prospects more time to be ready.

The buyout period begins 48 hours after the Stanley Cup presentation. This fall, the free agency period will begin seven days after Phil Pritchard delivers the Cup, so there will be a short period to accomplish goals.

The Penguins have about $8 million in salary-cap space, which won’t be enough to re-sign Tristan Jarry, Jared McCann, and the stockpile of additional RFAs, including Dominik Simon and Sam Lafferty.

The $8 million certainly won’t be enough to sign the RFAs and a UFA to fill the third-line center or third-pair defenseman roles.

3. Jared McCann Trade

Why would the Penguins trade a young, fast, versatile forward? McCann could receive about $3 million in arbitration. It’s not inconceivable the Penguins trade a 35-point player who has yet to own a role in the Penguins lineup.

Two weeks ago, Sportsnet also reported that Rutherford was testing the market for McCann, who could become Penguins trade bait. In fact, McCann hit No. 16 on the TSN Trade Bait Board. The Penguins have their top prospect, LW Sam Poulin, close to ready for his jump to the NHL. Grinder Sam Lafferty is also capable of filling the left-wing spot.

4. Patric Hornqvist, Stay or Go?

The Pittsburgh Penguins need energy, guts, and desire. Those are things that Patric Hornqvist brings to the locker room and the ice. Worries about his contract length are in the wrong pew, as the Penguins are all-in now, and Hornqvist’s contract length has no bearing on the immediate.

Hornqvist, 33, is everything the Penguins need, except inexpensive.

For the record, the indomitable Swede with perpetual bruises and a fighting spirit has three years remaining on his five-year, $26.5 million contract. In the shortened 2019-20 season, Hornqvist had 17 goals in 52 games. His production returned to adequate levels after a second-half swoon in 2018-19, but injuries have become more common, too.

One wonders if a Stanley Cup contender like Colorado, Toronto, or Edmonton, could view Hornqvist’s game and energy as an asset worth prying from the Penguins, and would the Penguins trade him to repurpose that capital.

5. How Can the Penguins Change if Changes Aren’t Made?

The additions of Todd Reirden and Mike Vellucci to the coaching staff, and Kasperi Kapanen to the lineup aren’t game-changers. How are the Pittsburgh Penguins going to change without significant change?

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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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David Heyl
David Heyl
1 year ago

As the playoffs continue it becomes more apparent how far the Pens are from contending. Size matters, net front grit & size matters and HEART matters. Unfortunately all these elements are missing and trades will not remedy this situation.

Katz
Katz
1 year ago

Really hope that the Rutherford isn’t marketing ” New and Improved” while simply spraying Fabreze. I don’t want Fleury, Daley , or any other recycled Penguin. The notion that the last 3 playoffs were an anomaly Is delusional. Finally if anyone doesn’t understand why moving out Reaves might have cost Pittsburgh their second round loss against Washington should ask Vegas how his one game suspension effected them. I digress but recall Wilson in that series taking our Penguins with injuries? I really think they win that series with Reaves. Rutherford needs to act boldly and make seminal change shortly. I’ll… Read more »

Kurt Hartz
Kurt Hartz
1 year ago
Reply to  Katz

I don’t understand why a lot of fan’s are worried about Letang being traded ? If the return is right then I would be all for it because I think Marino is ready to take that next step and actually make Letang expendable. But again can’t just trade him for a bag of pucks, also if they could clear a little cap space by doing so hey why not? Maybe add Letang with Matt Murray then maybe you could get a 1st rd.pick included in the return?

Hatrick Pornqvist
Hatrick Pornqvist
1 year ago

Rutherford should be just getting warmed up with the Kapanen trade. Murray has to be the next domino to fall because he is our biggest trade chip. Generally goalies don’t bring huge returns but it has to be a right side D or a center no matter what. Figure out the rest of the moves after that but Murray has to fetch one of those things. The rest of the moves need to be purely about identity. Some size and some grit. This team has none and it’s not 2016 anymore. The notion that we can just outskate our eastern… Read more »

Steven Kalabokes
Steven Kalabokes
1 year ago

Tanev showed grit and speed. But he’s buried on the fourth line.

Frank
Frank
1 year ago

I don’ envy Rutherford. If he keeps the team largely intact with only fringe changes and it fails again . . . I am guessing it will cost him his job. In a sense I find this clamor to trade Letang and Murray and Malkin funny. The trade of either Malkin and/or Letang is certainly not going to bring a return that will equal their departures. What is the rule of thumb . .. the team that gets the best player “wins the deal.” Putting emotions aside does anyone really think the Penguins can “win” a trade that sends those… Read more »

Steven Kalabokes
Steven Kalabokes
1 year ago
Reply to  Frank

I disagree with the return of Fluery. He is one of the most athletic goalies ever. And he is still talented. He would be a good one to have here and split time with Jarry while also nurturing him to take over. Not to mention that he is great to have around in the locker room.

Vuk
Vuk
1 year ago
Reply to  Frank

Don’t forget that Letang didn’t participate in 2016/17 Playoffs and we still won. He has been a proper liability in the last few years. My oh my, how many bad turnovers did he have in the playoffs. And most of the time it’s not about the turnover, but the timing. Are his minutes an excuse? Well no, he should play less minutes per game, who cares if he demands more than he can handle. He doesn’t seem worried or willing to change, that’s for sure. Bringing Reirden feels like a move that is specifically targeting Letang, because of their relationship,… Read more »

Kurt Hartz
Kurt Hartz
1 year ago
Reply to  Frank

Murray has been figured out by the players all over the league just shoot glove side high and my sister could score on him. They need to get what they can for him before it’s too late. Also it wouldn’t break my heart to see Letang traded as long as they get a fair return because the way I see it Marino is ready to take the next step and make Letang expendable anyway!!!

Ricardo58
Ricardo58
1 year ago

How well are the NYI doing with the loss of Tavares who was lost as a FA I believe with no compensation from a trade.

I don’t buy in to the idea of not receiving equal worth in a trade for either 71 or 58. As a fan, I’d prefer 58 moved and not 71.

A team rebuilt around 87 going forward will be a competitive team or at least as competitive as the current team and its identity. At their current ages, 71 or 58, each year further they lose value in a trade.

Go Pens.

Hatrick Pornqvist
Hatrick Pornqvist
1 year ago
Reply to  Ricardo58

I would never want to see this team trade Geno, ever. But I think trading Letang right now is the smart move, IF you get a good RHD back in return and some cap space, and a high draft pick or blue chip prospect. Then do it. I think too many people group him in as an essential piece of the core with 87 and 71. He once was that. He’s not anymore. But he’s still good enough to fetch a mighty return.

Ed Andrews
Ed Andrews
1 year ago

Trading Letang has no return at the moment, plus with no Schultz and maybe a trade of JJ with murray you are not going to find anyone with Letang experience and play unless for a large amount of payday, there are some guys that can be let go or traded, Like Tanev, Simon, Sheary McCaan Bjudy. I not sure why they like Kap just another Zucker on a different side – they need a center and Bigger more Physical guys, Gub was a fit so was Reeves even tho the say no, tired of the sully we got be super… Read more »

Hatrick Pornqvist
Hatrick Pornqvist
1 year ago
Reply to  Ed Andrews

I haven’t seen anything about a JJ trade tied to Murray other than the twitter/pensburgh mob with their usual chicken little JJ stuff. I agree this team needs to be bigger. No chance they get by the Isles with this lineup or the Lightning with their combo of skill and “bam bam”. I don’t think Letang is someone we can’t replace. I’d be fine with a more defensively responsible cheaper guy with a big shot on the PP. Maybe Marino can take his place on the powerplay. You’re right that the departure of Schultz combined with trading Letang would leave… Read more »

Steven Kalabokes
Steven Kalabokes
1 year ago
Reply to  Ed Andrews

Trade Tanev, Simon and McCann. No way. Tanev was probably the best player on the ice during the qualifiers. Simon may not score but is an excellent possession player and play maker. McCann is you and speedy and excellent playmaker with a lot of upside. Trade Aston Reese. He might fetch a good return.

Steven Kalabokes
Steven Kalabokes
1 year ago

The only defenseman I want to see go is Johnson. I dint know who would replace Letang.

Steven Kalabokes
Steven Kalabokes
1 year ago

I personally think the need to trade Aston Reese. He hasn’t really lived up the hype that he once had. He loses puck battles and can’t score. I really think they should give Adam Johnson a chance. He has lightning speed and is an excellent playmaker. I would move him to the fourth line, move Blueger to the third line and McCann to center the fourth line. I even think Tanev is wasted on the fourth line. Why isn’t he in the top line. He’s fast, tenacious in his checking and can score. Give some of the young guys from… Read more »

Cal
Cal
1 year ago

A healthy Bjugstad is exactly the 3rd Center the team is looking for other than his 4mil salary. In the 2 yrs he has been here he hasn’t been healthy enough to show what he can do for a sustained amount of time. He is a big body, faster than he looks, and was very dominant in a smaller sample size with Horny a few years ago. Other than freeing up cash, I don’t get the get rid of Bjugstad hype.

Anthony
Anthony
1 year ago

What gmjr needs to do is go out and get the 2 best defensemen we can afford. Not go into another season with “the defense is good enough”. We have some of the best forwards in the game. Fill the rest in with in house or young and cheap. Let our forwards concentrate on scoring not making up for lack of defense.

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[…] It is the Penguins silly season, but here are five real trade questions and changes to consider (Pittsburgh Hockey Now) […]

66688771
66688771
1 year ago

With a $7 million cap hit, Fleury’s not coming back. Love he guy and would be very glad to see him back In PGH, but it is not going to happen. Would be possible if VGK retained half of MAF’s cap hit, but that is not going to happen, certainly not in this covid flat cap world.

Kurt Hartz
Kurt Hartz
1 year ago

I would hate to see Horny traded but again depending on the return it doesn’t hurt to see what he could possibly fetch? Rutherford will do what he has to do and I I actually still have faith in him as the GM. Right now the way it sits I don’t blame him for making a trade that might upset some fan’s the fact of the matter is something has to change because 2 straight years with early exits and a team that showed absolutely no fight in them whatsoever I would have to think the untouchables list has to… Read more »

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