For the first time in over a year, the Pittsburgh Penguins trade last week freed them from their salary cap jail. When Penguins GM Jim Rutherford sacrificed defenseman Erik Gudbranson last Friday in an offering to the salary cap gods, the Penguins purged $4 million. Such coin is enough money to comfortably explore the Penguins trade market for the rest of the season, or after Jan. 1, the team could re-sign a woefully underpaid defenseman who currently plays on the Penguins second pairing.
The Penguins trade also cleared up the Penguins logjam on the blue line, which meant head coach Mike Sullivan no longer had to worry about a platoon of veteran defensemen with John Marino, which included playing Gudbranson on the wrong side.
The Penguins were able to keep Bryan Rust, despite substantial discussions in September and the rest of their forward depth, which permits head coach Mike Sullivan to create a lineup to his liking rather than his necessity.
The Penguins depth has created a few new trade chips for Rutherford to improve his team. He has a few dollars to spend, and he could spend even more as salary goes out the other way. The Penguins have a couple of pieces which fit that bill. And there could be a couple of teams watching.
After sending scouts, including their Director of Scouting for a pair of games last week, St. Louis was not there Saturday. The defending Stanley Cup champion has rolled speedy grinder Sammy Blais on their top line and currently light-scoring youngster Robert Thomas on their third line.
For the second consecutive game, the San Jose Sharks sent a pro scout. In fact, they sent two scouts Tuesday, including former LA Dodgers GM Ned Colletti, who returned Saturday.
San Jose is in a bad way right now. They delayed bringing Patrick Marleau back because they wanted younger players to fill the void, but those players did not. San Jose is currently last in the Western Conference and just two points ahead of the woeful Ottawa Senators.
Not much is clicking in San Jose, despite bringing Joe Thornton and Marleau back for one more run. San Jose GM Doug Wilson is not one to sit quietly or allow his team to sink. While Colletti isn’t part of the San Jose front office, one has to wonder if his assessments carry a little more weight as a professional GM who understands team construction?
San Jose is thin at center, perhaps in net, too. Starting goalie Martin Jones is 2-7-1 with an anemic .887 save percentage.
The Winnipeg Jets are also scuffling. Their Director of Pro Scouting was in attendance on Saturday. Winnipeg was a frequent onlooker of the Penguins last winter, too. Winnipeg has the Dustin Byfuglien situation to deal with, and they may need some new blood to rattle the room, also.
Winnipeg’s blue line is a shell of what it has been as they dealt Jacob Trouba to New York and Byfuglien last his passion for the game, but dealing a defenseman would not play into the Penguins depth.
Penguins Trade Chips
1. Nick Bjugstad
The big Penguins center does the little things very well. His line consistently generates puck possession and offensive zone time. Bjugstad has stealth speed and is a strong player on the wall. However, the points haven’t followed. Bjugstad is a career 8% shooter, which means he isn’t putting the puck into the net.
Last season, Bjugstad and Patric Hornqvist were a dynamic duo that wreaked havoc on opponents, but their offensive totals were down. Bjugstad’s early-season injury kept him from finding his flow this season.
Head coach Mike Sullivan admitted Saturday, “We feel Nick is capable of playing better than he is at this point. To his defense, he hasn’t played a lot. He’s another guy whose been out, and when you jump back into the lineup, sometimes it takes a little bit of an adjustment process, but we do think he’s capable of more.”
Bjugstad makes $4.1 million through next season. He has played only five games this season, but the Penguins have a third-line center in waiting: Jared McCann. Trading a forward would also allow the team to recall Sam Lafferty, who acquitted himself well during his emergency recall, which lasted most of October
San Jose, which has been using Tomas Hertl as a center, seems like a fit here.
2. Alex Galchenyuk
The Penguins return for winger Phil Kessel looked sharp in training camp. However, as the games counted, Galchenyuk was absent. He has a pair of assists in five games, but more is expected of him.
Galchenyuk, 25, is in the final year of his contract, which carries a $4.9 million hit. His performance gets the same injury asterisk as Bjugstad, but Galchenyuk wasn’t good before his injury, either. The Penguins honest, in-your-face style of play this season can’t afford passengers. Galchenyuk is to be the “skill” to the Penguins brawn.
Perhaps another team will take the gamble that Galchenyuk will click and put up the lofty offensive totals he is capable. Galchenyuk does have a 30-goal season and a couple of 20-goal outbursts on his resume.
St. Louis seems like an interesting fit.
3. Tristan Jarry
The young Penguins goalie has been spectacular in his three starts this season. He understands the salary cap played a role in his NHL chance this season but has made the most of it. Jarry was the Penguins second-round choice in 2013 and carries the remnants of his starting goalie pedigree.
Jarry, 24, has a whopping .939 save percentage but the Penguins also have goalie Casey DeSmith in the AHL awaiting his NHL return. The Penguins did not intend for DeSmith to be in the AHL this long, but a trade fell through on the eve of the regular season, and until recently, the Penguins could not afford DeSmith on the roster.
And Jarry has been lights-out, standing on his head, 10-bell save spectacular, too.
A lot of teams which have been scouting the Penguins fit for Jarry. San Jose, Ottawa, and even Winnipeg, whose backup goalie Laurent Brossoit has a paltry .858 save percentage.