TEMPE, Ariz — The NHL trade market is clogged. Possibilities to improve the Pittsburgh Penguins are not the hopeful or rose-colored projections the organization would like, nor will Penguins fans. Amid their second desert-like dry spell this season, the Penguins are fighting to make the playoffs. The on-ice problems seem to be multiplying, and suddenly some of those problems seem to result from team makeup.
As PHN strongly opined about the Penguins on Friday, it is time for GM Ron Hextall to begin fixing what ails the Penguins, who have only 19 wins in 38 games.
However, as 20 or so other teams are discovering, the NHL trade market is at a standstill. Many players are available, but there are no teams with cap space to make those moves.
Compounding matters, there are only a few bad teams in the NHL that might sell off players at a discount. Other teams currently out of the playoffs seem to have a plan and are on the upswing, including the Detroit Red Wings and the Yzer-plan. Those teams don’t need to take on veterans or high salaries. They don’t need to do anything that doesn’t benefit them in the long run.
In short, the bad and rebuilding teams need to be “convinced” to take on salary dumps with the inclusion of prospects or high draft picks.
It’s a good time to lose with a low-paid young roster.
Our last guardrail for discussion, the salary cap is likely inching up by $1 million, not the $3-4 million figure Commissioner Gary Bettman floated during the Board of Governors’ meetings. So, those rebuilding teams have even less incentive to accept a veteran player signed through next year or beyond.
Yeah, it’s going to be tough.
And Hextall is facing hard, if not impossible, choices. The roster is built to win now, and only now, but to improve it, he has to sacrifice more of the future.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this, but here they are.
Everyone else is fair game, in varying degrees of desirability and availability. We’re also going to set aside no-movement clauses. It seems the be the exception, not the rule, that players enforce those.
Pittsburgh Penguins Values on NHL Trade Market
Jeff Carter: Must be packaged with a first-round pick.
Perhaps Carter had some trade value to a young team that needed the intangibles that Carter brings, but his play this season has not been what the Penguins need nor what teams on the upswing could use. He has struggled as the Penguins third line center and his contract, which seemed to be a bargain at signing, runs through next season. Now his contract with a $3.8 million hit is a hindrance.
Better players than Carter are still available because they have the same requirement — attach a first-round pick.
Kasperi Kapanen: Rising stock
Two weeks ago, Kapanen had little to no value on the block. His game was in shambles, he was fresh from several healthy scratches, and his $3.2 million cap hit runs through next season.
However, Kapanen has begun to revitalize his game. Despite limited ice time, he was one of the better Penguins skaters in the Winter Classic on Monday. He was again one of the better Penguins in the core-shaking loss to the Vegas Golden Knights on Thursday. Kapanen’s ice time was his third-highest of the season (14:39).
If Kapanen can regain coach Mike Sullivan’s trust and more consistently chip-in offense, he both has value on the trade market and for the Penguins. His trade value at the moment might require a lesser asset to be included, but he could “get above water” and fetch a small return (thus removing his salary) or a similarly priced asset.
Brian Dumoulin: No trade value
Perhaps earlier in the season, he had value as a veteran defenseman to shepherd a young blue-line corps. That’s probably not realistic unless Stan Bowman gets a GM job (see Rob Scuderi for Trevor Daley, 2016). Dumoulin’s expiring contract and declining play mean the Penguins are ride or die with their former top-pairing defenseman. If roster circumstances change, we could see Dumoulin in the press box or stashed with the WBS Penguins, saving the team about $1.1 million.
Bryan Rust: Player for Player/Pick
It seems a little crazy to include a player who just signed a five-year contract over the summer, loves the organization, and has a pair of Stanley Cup rings. However, Rust has fought the game this season. He has 23 points (9-14-23) but is a whopping minus-13.
He’s only 30, has ample offensive skills, speed, and tenacity. He kills penalties and is usually on the Penguins’ top power play.
Should Hextall see an opportunity to acquire an asset to improve the team, Rust has value in a player-for-player deal. He also has enough value to trade for a pick to move his salary, allowing another acquisition.
However, Rust does have a no-movement clause, and it seems a decent possibility he would exercise it. Also, there aren’t many scenarios where the Penguins could get better without Rust.
Jason Zucker: Player for Player/Pick
Simply cut and paste much of the Rust analysis for Zucker, except Zucker is a UFA this July. Perhaps a team desperately needs a top-six LW and has a spare defenseman?
However, unlike RW, the Penguins do not have any replacements at LW.
Brock McGinn: Mid-Round Pick/Depth Defenseman
McGinn’s $2.75 million cap hit isn’t bad. However, he is expendable. Ryan Poehling could slide forward to the third-line LW. Perhaps some of the WBS Penguins crew, including Valtteri Puustinen, could fill the role by committee.
Teddy Blueger: Team value outweighs Trade Value
Blueger has recently popped up in some NHL trade rumors, including from Daily Faceoff. He is a UFA, and in a vacuum, he would be a legit trade candidate for a team desperately needing bottom-six help.
Outside the vacuum, the Penguins desperately need bottom-six help, Blueger could soon be their third-line center, and the PK’s improvement with Blueger was stark. A trade doesn’t seem to make sense. Consider Blueger the Penguins’ rental acquisition.
P.O Joseph: Multiple Picks, Middle-Six Winger
From this vantage point, it would seem silly to trade away a rapidly maturing defenseman with elite skating and untapped offensive potential but to get, one must give.
Joseph’s ice time has been down since Ty Smith arrived last week, so it’s not entirely inconceivable he could be dealt by the NHL trade deadline. Smart GMs would line up for Joseph, and he could be the one piece that facilitates a genuine trade.
He may not bring back a first-rounder, but with his 825k salary, perhaps he could? Otherwise, he could bring multiple picks and even a middle-six winger. Of course, a player-for-player move would require Joseph to be attached to a veteran salary, thus greatly reducing any return.