Five days. Pittsburgh Penguins GM Ron Hextall probably does not yet hear the tick-tock or chimes of the clock. Five days is an eternity with the looming March 21 NHL trade deadline. There will be bedfellows, breakups, and pleas to get back together when other options fall through.
Following up on Montreal Hockey Now and Pittsburgh Hockey Now reports, the Penguins are interested in Montreal Canadiens defenseman Ben Chiarot. Sources say the Penguins are pushing hard for a deal.
Last Friday, Hextall said he would like to add a forward. Still, the dalliances with defensemen, both acquiring and trading–Vancouver is known to be interested in John Marino and Marus Pettersson–suggest Hextall may be plugging a hole before he creates it.
The Hextall chessboard looks to be set up to acquire a veteran defenseman, then trade a young one for the forward help the Penguins (perhaps) desperately need. It’s the type of sure-footing strategy Hextall for which Hextall is known.
Names like J.T. Miller, Brock Boeser, and even (why?) Phil Kessel has been tossed about. Some names are speculation, some are educated guesses, and some names have been connected through sourced reporting.
However, without a Vancouver forward coming this way, the likelihood is that we don’t yet know the name of the forward whom the Penguins could snare by March 21, but we’ll try.
Pittsburgh Penguins NHL Trade Deadline Odds:
Ben Chiarot: 25%
He can play both sides of the blue line. He’s a big body (6-foot-3, 225 pounds) and a trusted d-man. There are lots of suitors with serious interest. He seems to be one of the apples of the Penguins’ eye, and the 30-year-old will be a healthy scratch in Montreal until a trade is completed. He’s probably worth the premium.
Josh Manson went for a good prospect and a second-rounder. That’s the Penguins equivalent of P.O. Joseph and a second-rounder. That’s a big ask.
Robert Hagg: 20%
The Penguins and Buffalo Sabres did their scouting dance, and Buffalo AGM Jason Karmanos recently spent a couple of games in the Penguins press box. Hagg is a locker room leader, a steady defenseman, and affordable ($1.6 million). He won’t command the premium of Chiarot but would upgrade the Penguins’ blue line, perhaps freeing Hextall to move one of his young d-men for the needed forward.
J.T. Miller, Vancouver Canucks: 1%
The cost for Miller far outkicks the Penguins deadline coverage. He’s a Bryan Rust-type player who fills the net and is signed for a team-friendly $5.25 million for another year. He recently put the Canucks locker room on notice for poor play in a win over the Washington Capitals. As coach Bruce Boudreau marched towards the room to give the boys a wake-up call, Miller stopped him.
“I’ll take care of this,” he said.
You don’t give up that player. You pay that player. Vancouver Hockey Now was the first and strongest to report J.T. Miller was essentially untouchable on the NHL trade market.
Brock Boeser: 10%
Elliotte Friedman and Pierre LeBrun have tied Boeser to the Penguins in mild ways. Interested, but… Boeser is due a $7.5 million qualifying offer this summer, which well exceeds his value. If the Penguins are going to shell out big money, this keyboard thinks Bryan Rust is more deserving, and the Penguins know it.
On Monday, Friedman said the idea is all but dead as the Penguins pulled back from talks over a young defenseman. But don’t forget the trade deadline caveat. It takes just one phone call to change everything.
Artturi Lehkonen: 20%
Call this a hunch. The gritty winger checks the boxes the Penguins have to fill. The Penguins have put multiple scouts in the Montreal press box to watch the Canadiens rebirth under head coach Marty St. Louis. While we know the Penguins like Chiarot, Lehkonen is right there.
Lehkonen has 28 points (13-15-28) in 55 games but eight points (6-2-8) in his last seven games. He’s more third line than second, but who knows who will find chemistry with Evgeni Malkin. Also, the Washington Capitals are interested.
Phil Kessel: Seriously?
Stop it. Unless Arizona is willing to attach additional assets to accept Phil Kessel, and Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan has plenty of TUMS, this just ain’t happening. Kessel has six goals this season. At 34-years-old, the player doesn’t take care of himself and his declining play combined with playing his own system and burning bridges in the Penguins org just screams no.
Calle Jarnkrok: 25%
Our colleague Josh Yohe of The Athletic first tied Jarnkrok to the Penguins. The 30-year-old Swede is a versatile bottom-six forward with 26 points (12-14-26) in 49 games and an affordable $2 million salary. He checks the boxes and will be a UFA after this season. Seattle has no reason to hang onto him unless they re-sign him.
Jarnkrok seems to always be around the play and has a complete game.
Tomas Hertl: 5%
Forgive PHN, we laid out the case to chase the 28-year-old Tomas Hertl last summer, and it struck a chord. Hertl has been tied to the Penguins ever since, including Sportsnet’s “5 Destinations for Hertl” published on Tuesday.
It makes great sense. Hertl is a top-six center or winger. He’s on an expiring contract, so his price will never be lower. He plays the game with skill and speed. What’s not to like?
San Jose Hockey Now scribe Sheng Peng played GM and asked several writers (me included) to represent our teams. The best I could come up with was P.O. Joseph, a No. 1 pick and another prospect.
However, Hextall could add a young NHL defenseman to the table to sweeten the deal. I still think Hextall is wisely avoidant of high-priced rentals, but it’s a different situation if San Jose can shed some light on the contract number. If the Penguins like the potential number, and Hertl will sign it, go for it.
At worst, it’s Evgeni Malkin insurance. At best, it’s a very good player who can help for another six or seven years.
Names we Haven’t Heard, But…
Max Domi, Columbus
It makes sense. The UFA-to-be is likely to be dealt. He can be a top-six winger and is creative in the offensive zone. Those skills make us wonder if he could be a top-notch setup man for Evgeni Malkin. He can play in the middle or LW, too. He has 31 points (9-22-31) in 50 games, and his $5.3 million AAV expires after this season.
Jordan Eberle, Marcus Johansson Seattle
The Penguins need offense. Eberle isn’t a hard-nosed, gritty winger. No, he just finds a way to put the puck in the net. He has 34 points (13-21-34) in 49 playoff games over the last three seasons, including a pair of New York Islanders series wins over the Pittsburgh Penguins.
We like the connection and know the Penguins have scouted Seattle ahead of the NHL trade deadline, but it’s unlikely. Eberle has two more years on his contract, which carries a $5.5 million cap hit. In fairness, the New York Islanders missed Eberle’s production this season.
MoJo is another player we like. He needs a good centerman beside him and hasn’t had that opportunity in Seattle, so his numbers are in the tank (6-17-23) in 49 games. He’s not a hard player, but he knows how to score. In his last 53 playoff games going back to 2016 with the Washington Capitals, Johansson has eight goals and 26 points. He makes $1.5 million.
Andrew Copp, WPG
A pending UFA with middle-six capability, position flexibility, size, and an affordable contract. The 6-foot-1, 206-pound Copp has 32 points (13-19-32) in 54 games. He makes $3.2 million on an expiring deal, and Winnipeg’s playoff hopes are muddled as part of a six-team gaggle within three points of the sinking Vegas Golden Knights.