It is logical and makes complete sense. National outlets have begun putting Pittsburgh Penguins winger Jake Guentzel near the top of their NHL trade bait lists.
Guentzel, 29, is in the final year of a contract with an average annual value of $6 million. He’s producing at an All-Star level beside Sidney Crosby and has posted remarkably consistent numbers throughout his career. Over the past three seasons, he’s scored 36, 40, and 23 goals (in the shortened 56-game season).
Teams should line up for a winger like that.
The Penguins were realistically unable to engage in contract talks with Guentzel last summer. Not only did the organization initiate a regime change from former GM Ron Hextall to current president of hockey operations/GM Kyle Dubas, but Guentzel underwent ankle surgery that was supposed to keep him out of the lineup until November.
Instead, he was ready for the opener.
A recent report posits the Penguins have not had serious discussions with Guentzel’s camp about a new contract, which has spurred the aggressive NHL trade rumors. Everyone has the top-four landing spots or the price tag for the scoring winger.
Pump the brakes.
It’s a tough spot. Pittsburgh Hockey Now has written multiple times that Guentzel does not fit into the Penguins’ long-term plans. His age is incongruent with the trajectory of the aging Penguins core, and Guentzel is not the type of player to rebuild around; he’s a premier complementary piece. Dubas could better allocate the money to fortify the center position for the long term and shorten the pain of a rebuild or retool.
Several top-six centers in their 20s are headed for free agency next July, including Elias Lindholm and Sam Reinhart. Toronto forward (who can play center?) William Nylander is unsigned, too.
Despite all of the noise, it would still be surprising if the Penguins traded Guentzel.
Unless the Penguins are prepared to wave the white flag this season, Guentzel is the Penguins’ big-time trade deadline acquisition. By not trading him, they’re essentially trading him to themselves and forgoing the projected haul of a first-rounder and a prospect.
If the Penguins could actually get that for Guentzel is another matter. Instead of spending a first and an asset to acquire a player, the belief here is that Dubas will forgo the receipt of such to keep Guentzel and make a run at the playoffs — as long as it remains feasible.
Make no mistake, the Penguins could have entombed themselves outside the playoff race Thursday with a regulation loss to the Carolina Hurricanes. They could quickly inflict a dagger into their playoff chances with a few more pathetic losses like recent flops against Toronto and Tampa Bay that made everyone question if they have the proper stuffing for this endeavor.
If the Penguins are more than six points out of a playoff spot by the end of January, the odds are long they could overcome that mess, and Guentzel would indeed be chum in the NHL trade bait waters.
Guentzel and several other Penguins, in fact.
It’s also true the Penguins’ lineup needs some help. The middle six have provided surprisingly little offense, and the defense corps is still a work in progress at the Christmas break.
The only bedrock in the Penguins lineup has been stellar play from the goalies and production from Sidney Crosby and Guentzel (and Bryan Rust before his upper body injury).
Guentzel remains a point-per-game winger. This season, he’s scored 14 goals and has 35 points in 31 games. Perhaps no winger in Crosby’s career has more seamlessly meshed with the Penguins Hall of Fame pivot, but the Penguins aren’t in a position to reward past and current production.
Coldly, Crosby has played with other wingers, and salary cap economics combined with projected future production make Guentzel an unlikely signing.
I don’t think we’ll know for sure until next summer. Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang didn’t get contracts until all parties stared into a future without each other, and serious compromises were made on all sides.
Guentzel is quite valuable to the Penguins, now and in the near future. As long as the Penguins are connected to the lead pack for the Eastern Conference wild-card spots, Guentzel will remain a Penguin because Dubas couldn’t possibly acquire anyone as good.
It’s only if they lose a realistic chance–which is a genuine possibility–that Jake Guentzel will be on the trade block, and that hasn’t happened yet.