The Pittsburgh Penguins have a big opening as most of their players will be off the ice for nearly a week, which means GM Ron Hextall and a few high-powered agents will be free to discuss future contracts without fear of interfering with game preparation.
Kris Letang and Evgeni Malkin do not have contracts for next season, and the break is the ideal time to start serious discussions. It is also a good time to begin serious conversations on the NHL trade market.
Hextall and the Penguins finally got a look at their team with all of the primary players present and accounted, less Jason Zucker. The last three weeks have soured what was previously a special feeling surrounding the team, which included a dominant 10-game winning streak.
We’re still about seven weeks away from the March 21 NHL trade deadline, but the Penguins picture is finally coming into focus.
With the uncertainty surrounding Letang’s and Malkin’s futures, this would be the time for a splash at the deadline, and there could be a perfect fit for both this season and the short-term future.
Jeff Petry, Montreal Canadiens
On Tuesday night, the Washington Capitals walked the Penguins defensemen a few times. Daniel Sprong got the edge and blew past Chad Ruhwedel. Letang was a victim, as was Brian Dumoulin in a lesser moment.
The Penguins’ blue line is adequate, if not good, but it can be improved. Instead of focusing on a low-cost option to add spice to the third pairing, perhaps Hextall makes a big move to acquire talent.
Petry, 34, is in the first year of a four-year deal with an annual cap hit of $6.25 million. He’ll be only 37 when the contract expires. According to our colleague Jimmy Murphy, who has been closely covering the Montreal Canadiens situation, Petry is not only available but affordable.
He wants out. Montreal has no use for a 34-year-old defenseman. Murphy reports the price for Petry is a second-round pick and a top prospect.
The situation soured quickly in Montreal. After Shea Weber essentially retired, Carey Price left the team, and GM Marc Bergevin became a lame duck. That was the high point for the putrid Canadiens season. Petry has been significantly affected, and observers note his play has fallen off a cliff.
The usually reliable scoring defenseman has just six points (1-5-6) in 37 games after posting 42 points (12-30-42) last season. Petry isn’t necessarily a top-pairing right-side defenseman who will carry a blue line, but he is capable of big minutes, playing against opponent’s top lines, and offensive production. On a deep blue line, he could carry the No. 1 designation.
Pittsburgh Penguins Trade Situation
The Penguins both need to upgrade the right side of their defense, but a player with term like Petry would also provide insurance should the team and Letang not come to terms. And, quite frankly, that seems to be a legitimate possibility at this moment.
Sources confirmed to PHN as of last week, serious talks with Letang had not yet begun. With some irony, Letang’s agent Kent Hughes is the new GM of the Montreal Canadiens.
(And no, by all inside accounts, Letang and the Canadiens are not on each other’s wish list).
Hughes’s departure did delay negotiations for Kris Letang. Last week, his new agent, Phil Lecavalier, told PHN that he hoped to begin serious discussions soon.
The Letang situation affects the Penguins’ future and the Penguins’ trade needs because–suitable replacements for Letang are few and far between. Only one pending UFA could fill the role: John Klingberg of the Dallas Stars.
You can see the complete list of potential UFAs at PuckPedia.com. After Letang and Klingberg, the second tier is Rasmus Ristolainen and Colin Miller.
That’s it. The steep drop after Klingberg only gets steeper after Miller. That’s the entire list of potential top-pairing right-side defensemen. One.
The Dallas Stars are reportedly already poking around Petry in anticipation of losing Klingberg, who will command a massive contract in July. And that’s what makes Petry interesting. He would immediately upgrade the Penguins’ blue line and provide insurance for next season if Letang and the Penguins part, for only $6.25 million.
The Real Costs
The Montreal Canadiens asking price is a top prospect and second-round pick, which might be a bit below standing NHL trade valuation.
The Penguins have the pick, but do they have the top prospect? Right now, they have only one who might fit the bill: P.O. Joseph.
Joseph, 22, is nearly NHL ready. PHN spoke with WBS Penguins coach J.D. Forest last week about several topics, Joseph included. Forest noted improving Joseph’s consistency to maintain his highest level of play. (We’ll have several stories from our day with the WBS Penguins, including a couple on Joseph).
Joseph is a left-handed defenseman, and the Penguins currently have LHDs Mike Matheson and Marcus Pettersson under contract for a few more years. Brian Dumoulin has one more year. The path for Joseph is currently blocked, even if he were ready.
National Hockey Now has spoken with scouts from other organizations, and Joseph drew some praise.
The salary cap would be another impediment but not an insurmountable obstacle.
The Penguins currently have $6.3 million in their LTIR pool, which means Petry would be affordable as long as Jason Zucker remains on LTIR. Does anyone else wonder if the Penguins could “Kucherov” Zucker and drag out his return until the playoffs? Center Teddy Blueger will also be out until close to April with a fractured jaw.
Or, Hextall finds a way to move a little salary.
Also, with each passing day, Petry’s cap hit this season lessens.
It’s not easy, but the prospect of beginning next season with a veteran-laden roster led by Sidney Crosby, Jeff Carter, and possibly Evgeni Malkin, but a weaker defense lacking a No. 1 can’t sit well with Hextall. If the Penguins acquire Petry but eventually sign Letang, Petry becomes a solid No. 2, and John Marino becomes a solid No. 3.
Or, both would have substantial value on the NHL trade market, too.
No, it’s not easy, but it does fit. Perhaps those private conversations between GM and agent, then agent and player, over the next few weeks–if they occur–will provide the necessary clarity on the situation.
Perhaps a player like Petry becomes unnecessary. Or…becomes absolutely necessary and worth sacrificing a legitimate prospect.