Another loss rattled the Pittsburgh Penguins Monday night. They again had chances to win, but they again were mistake-prone, and they again lost. The 10-game mark is usually the mark when NHL GMs begin work to fix holes foreseen and newly discovered, and the NHL trade chatter increases.
The Penguins lost five of six and six of their first nine games. They have needs, but can president of hockey operations/GM Kyle Dubas fill them in time?
The number of cap-strapped teams has again heavily slowed the NHL trade market. That list of teams both includes the Penguins and the opportunities to improve the deeper parts of the Penguins’ lineup.
After a summer of wheeling and dealing, Dubas has only a second, a fourth, a sixth, and two seventh-rounders in 2024. The Penguins traded their 2025 second-rounder in the Erik Karlsson deal but otherwise have a full slate of picks then.
Penguins Trade Potentials
Unfortunately for Dubas, the two teams with the goodies the Penguins need and openly working the phones are in the Metro Division.
The Philadelphia Flyers have cap space for sale.
“Teams are very well aware of the position that we’re in,” Flyers GM Daniel Briere said in a Canadian radio interview two weeks ago.
The salary cap sites such as PuckPedia.com show the Flyers with almost zero cap space. However, they have more than $12 million eligible for long-term injured reserve, and over $7 million they could permanently move to LTIR. The Flyers are open for business, and cap space is their capital.
Based on summer trades, including the Penguins trade for Erik Karlsson, the going rate on the NHL market seems to be a second-round pick (or commensurate asset) for moderate salary pickup. Teams reportedly continue to ask for a first-rounder for heavy retention. The Penguins do have an undesirable salary held by a player who began his career in Philadelphia: Jeff Carter. If there is a resolution to the Carter situation that involves a Penguins trade, Philadelphia is one of only a few potential dance partners who could afford the cap hit and not worry if the player doesn’t report.
Of course, Carter has a full no-movement clause, which is a separate discussion from finding relief from his $3.125 million salary and ineffective play.
Adding to the potential symbiosis, Philadephia is stockpiling young players. The Penguins have a glut of left-handed defensemen in their 20s with NHL experience, while the Flyers blue line has precious little experience.
The Penguins trade chips likely come from that pool of three defensemen, P.O Joseph, Ty Smith, and Will Butcher (currently injured).
Columbus Blue Jackets
In our most recent Off the Record column, Jimmy Murphy of the Hockey Now network confirmed the NHL trade chatter surrounding the Blue Jackets. They are trying to move one of three defensemen: Erik Gudbranson, Andrew Peeke, and Adam Boqvist.
All three are right-handed defensemen, and the Penguins organization has only three NHL-capable righties, and one of them, 33-year-old Chad Ruhwedel, has struggled this season.
On paper, Columbus and the Penguins are a perfect match.
Murphy reports to PHN that the asking price for Boqvist, 23, is believed to be a second-rounder and a prospect.
The Penguins could re-acquire Gudbranson much more easily because of his high salary. The bruising defenseman had something akin to a career revival with the Penguins at the end of 2019 and the beginning of 2020. However, Gudbranson is in the second year of a four-year, $16 million contract.
Gudbranson, 31, has value, but Columbus significantly overpaid for him on the NHL free-agent market. For a Penguins lineup that is already discussing problems with protecting the front of their net, Gudbranson would be a great fit. He quickly adapted to coach Mike Sullivan’s systems and discussed with PHN how much he preferred the Penguins breakout system to previous NHL stops. The Penguins and Sullivan are already discussing the need to win more net-front battles at both ends, and Gubdranson would help tremendously.
However, even if Dubas got a bargain and some salary retention on Gudbranson, paying this season and two more for a 31-year-old tough defenseman is a significant future risk.
Peeke, 25, is a big shutdown defender, but he hasn’t cracked the Blue Jackets lineup, and he, too, has an onerous salary. He’s in the first year of a three-year deal with a $2.75 million cap hit. Yet, he’s played just one game this season, spending the rest as a healthy scratch.
Peeke is a hitter and a shot blocker. At 6-foot-3, 214 pounds, he has the reach to be disruptive and fill passing lanes. He’s also registered just shy of 200 hits in each of the last two seasons. He has a good first pass, but his offensive contributions end there.
Peeke might be the perfect blend of salary and trade value for the Penguins’ situation. On paper, he would be a good balance on the Penguins’ third pair for P.O Joseph — if Joseph regains his spot in the lineup. Peeke might be too defensive-oriented to blend well with Ryan Shea, or they might form a shutdown pairing. The former seems more likely, but don’t count out the latter.
Also, Joseph, 24, might be Penguins trade bait in such a scenario, too.
Opponents have exposed Ruhwedel this season, beating him in one-on-one battles, and he’s made a couple of costly turnovers in this young season. With Columbus, the Penguins would find an immediate upgrade that provides some missing net-front-clearing skills, but that pesky salary cap is a problem.
Many GMs charge a premium to deal within the division, too.
After another crushing defeat on Monday, the Penguins desperately need a shakeup. Something. Anything. But it seems only fitting in a frustrating season that the best dance partners on the NHL trade block are Metro rivals.