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Grading the Big Four Penguins Trade Chips and Odds of a Deal

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Pittsburgh Penguins game analysis

Who goes first? Which well-salaried Pittsburgh Penguins player will find themselves on the NHL trade block this summer, or perhaps more importantly, for whom will there be a market?

The first domino of Penguins change fell Friday when president of hockey operations/GM Kyle Dubas packed bags for associate coach Todd Reirden after a season-long power play slump and a defensive corps that wallowed in struggle instead of success.

Unrestricted free agency begins July 1, and the team will have something close to $10 million to spend unless additional changes happen before then.

One distinct probability is as a Penguins trade before then.

Grading Penguins Trade Possibilities

A submission in the weekly PHN Q&A put it succinctly, “Who is most likely to get moved in the off-season if anyone? Rickard Rakell, Tristan Jarry, Ryan Graves, or Reilly Smith?”

There are additional Penguins players who may find themselves included in a trade, such as Marcus Pettersson or Noel Accairi, but the speculation has centered around those big four.

Rakell: A terrible season combined with a long-term contract doesn’t scream high value. Rakell battled injuries this season but pumped only 37 points into the Penguins’ cause. He’s got four more years on his contract. In his press conference following the NHL trade deadline, Dubas poo-pooed the trade market for veterans with the term.

In short, Rakell is a risky trade acquisition. It’s unlikely a team will call for him specifically, and if he’s traded, the Penguins need to replace him, which would cost more than they would get in return and a higher cost.

Conversely, Rakell’s 2022-23 season does speak well; he scored 28 goals and notched 60 points.

Rakell’s trade value will come as a talented inclusion in a larger trade—perhaps for a bigger name with a higher salary—heck, maybe one from Toronto.

Possibility: 3/10

Jarry: Stop. Jarry is only on the NHL trade block, according to message boards and fan sentiment. The Penguins have one goalie with NHL experience under contract for next season, and that’s Jarry. Top prospect Joel Blomqvist was not very good in two playoff games, which Dubas cited as a litmus test prior to the games.

Read More: Full Scouting Report of Joel Blomqvist, Postseason Performance

Jarry bottom out later this season. The Penguins imploded from late February through mid-March, and his save percentage nosedived to .903. He’s become a bit of a scapegoat as his resurgent season soured, and coach Mike Sullivan turned to Alex Nedeljkovic in the final 15 games of the season.

However, the lack of quality goaltending across the league is not the reason Jarry will be traded but the reason he’s kept.

There’s also no reason to rush Jarry out the door until Blomqvist takes the net from him. It’s a time-honored tradition and one which has played out twice before under coach Mike Sullivan. Matt Murray took the net from Marc-Andre Fleury, Jarry took it from Murray, and Blomqvist could well keep the cycle moving.

However, Blomqvist must first take it. Otherwise–to quote Sullivan–that would be using hope as a strategy.

Blomqvist has faced exactly zero NHL shots. Perhaps it is wise to see how Blomqvist fares before sending Jarry off in hypothetical trades to Edmonton, LA, or Ottawa.

Jarry also has four years remaining on a contract with an average annual value of $5.375 million.

It’s not an onerous deal for a starting goalie, which means if the Penguins come to the conclusion that Jarry isn’t their starter, he won’t be impossible to move.

And yes, many have opined re-signing Nedeljkovic, trading Jarry, and letting Blomqvist be the backup. There’s merit in that idea, though it surely seemed Dubas had already made up his mind by the end-of-season press conference, and that wasn’t on the menu.

Possibility: 1/10, but check back in December.

Smith: It would be both accurate and generous to say Smith didn’t have a good year with the Penguins, who acquired the LW from the Vegas Golden Knights shortly after their Stanley Cup celebration. The Golden Knights wanted to clear salary cap space.

So, for the second time in two summers, the VGK dumped a Misfit (Vegas traded Marc-Andre Fleury the prior summer). Smith had a hot start but never again filled the score sheet with the regularity expected. He was even forced to brush away rumors of his unhappiness in Pittsburgh.

After netting a disappointing 13 goals and registering 40 points in 76 games, Smith has just one year remaining on his contract, which has an average annual value of $5.5 million.

Dubas seemed disappointed by the midseason trade market for veterans with more than a year remaining on their contract, but now that Smith fits the bill as a tradeable veteran, he’s likely the odd man out.

Smith was dropped to the third line as he struggled with Evgeni Malkin on the second, and Drew O’Connor admirably filled his role as a top-six forward. Even as O’Connor was a little bit short on offense to retain that spot, he’s got potential, and the team was better for it.

Smith is an expensive third-liner with the Penguins.

Possibility: 8/10

Graves: It is all things true that Graves had an abysmal season; Dubas offered pointed criticism of the defenseman with specifics; Graves isn’t needed but yet will almost assuredly be with the Penguins next season.

Read More: Path for Penguins to Trade Ryan Graves Won’t Be Easy

However, the Penguins team for which Graves wears a sweater could be in doubt. If he does not improve his physical condition, Graves could be headed east on I-80 to the WBS Penguins, saving $1.15 million against the salary cap.

The 6-foot-5 defenseman has five years remaining on a contract with a $4.5 million AAV. Even if a general manager thought his club could rescue Graves, that GM won’t take on the risk without significant compensation and also knows the Penguins have little to no other options.

Because of the length of the deal, moving Graves would cost the Penguins additional assets, such as a first-round pick or more. The more likely scenario would be accepting a bad contract in return.

Possibility: 3/10