It’s more than a barren field. The Pittsburgh Penguins and GM Ron Hextall are behind the eight-ball, or rather it seems like they are under it. The Penguins are trapped by a core that’s at least 34-years-old, had only two draft picks before the final round in the 2021 NHL Draft, no first-rounders in the 2020 draft, and the only expendable Penguins trade pieces have undesirable contracts.
Not exactly an easy situation, eh?
We’ll play GM now, and we’ll probably play the little game again if the offseason presents additional moves or changes. For now, it seems we’ve quickly hit Canadian lake season when everyone takes a vacay.
Everyone except PHN, anyway.
It’s time to play Pittsburgh Penguins GM and hope our sources who may read this are forgiving sorts as we do their jobs for them. Many of your suggestions over the past few weeks probably seeped into the column, if not in a positive way, then in ideas this faux GM must consider.
Complicating matters, no UFA still on the market scored more than 21 points last season. Get a good look at the remaining UFAs on Puckpedia.com. There are no more king-size candy bars to save your allowance for. There are only Neco Wafers and Good and Plenty’s left (I like root beer and grape Neco Wafers. Sugar Daddy’s are awful).
The Pittsburgh Penguins have about $1.6 million in cap space when they send one forward and one defenseman to the WBS Penguins. Despite signing Danton Heinen as a UFA. Sam Lafferty and Chad Ruhwedel are the most likely to be “buried” contracts.
Or, we have $900,000 if our mythical team keeps Ruhwedel and roll with eight defensemen.
Penguins Trade Negatives
In this fake leather chair with the high back, trades are almost a no-fly zone. We won’t get into wild hypotheticals. We don’t see Hextall dishing Jake Guentzel for a power forward or worrying too much about Bryan Rust’s next contract and trading him, either. Nor would we.
For the moment, the Penguins trade options are quite limited.
Marcus Pettersson reportedly gained some interest, but not at the full boat. The Penguins’ choice is to eat salary or attach an asset to move him.
GM: Let’s start camp with P.O. Joseph and Mark Friedman behind Pettersson, but ready to compete for the job. Pettersson can be moved for long-term relief if the pair earns enough confidence from head coach Mike Sullivan. However, the most we’ll part with is a second-round pick, or Filip Hallander, or one of the goalie prospects (Calle Clang, Joel Blomgqvist) with Pettersson, and no salary hold back.
We think that’s enough. If it is not, we can wait.
Obviously, moving Pettersson would not beget a “wow factor” free agent, so there’s no rush, but freeing the capital would allow the Penguins to add a bigger fish before the NHL trade deadline.
In fact, there may be teams that begin training camp over the salary cap or directly against it, and a good deal could be had. However, we (or Hextall) cannot complete another Penguins trade involving a forward without acquiring another asset to replace the lost player unless a prospect is ready.
It’s unlikely the Penguins prospects Sam Poulin, Filip Hallander, or Nathan Legare are immediately ready for top-nine duty. Poulin has a chance, but it’s an outside chance of being in the lineup on opening night.
Poulin could make a winger expendable before the NHL trade deadline, but the odds are very low that he elbows past Jason Zucker into the Penguins’ top six. At worst, a prospect will replace Evan Rodrigues in the current lineup. At best, a prospect will bump Brock McGinn down to the fourth line.
GM: We’re not banking on the forward prospects kicking down the door until next season, but we’ll treat them as depth to play as needed.
The interesting debate would be trading one to improve at the NHL trade deadline. We’ve been around and around on the possibility. However, the Penguins don’t figure to be good enough to trade their future for a shot at the Cup, and the salary cap space negates the possibility of dealing only draft picks and prospects for a good player.
Our “budget” allows for only one prospect or draft pick to go, and we’d spend it to move Pettersson–IF the others are ready.
GM: First, we’d fill the RHD spot. With $1.6 million, our options are limited. A source with first-hand knowledge said the team hasn’t had contact with defenseman Erik Gudbranson. Given the Tom Wilson factor in Washington, and the New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, and even Columbus Blue Jackets adding (or keeping) guys who can use their fists, we would put a $1 million offer to Gudrbanson.
He was making $4.5 million. Reaves just signed a new deal with the Rangers for $1.75 million. So, that may not be enough.
Choice No. 2 is Sami Vatanen. Again, he was making $2 million, so we don’t think a $1.2 million deal gets it done, but we’ll reach out.
Failing those two, Michael Stone is our third choice. He made just $700,000 with Calgary last season, so we’ll take that deal if we can get it.
We would also try to pry Julius Honka out of his Swedish deal, if possible. Some players have an NHL out, so we’d dangle a $1 million, two-way offer with a guarantee to start the season in the NHL and an understanding it takes time to adjust. Honka is the ultimate restoration project, but he never escaped Dallas to get a chance.
For center depth, Reilly Sheahan would get a call. We would extend a $750,000 offer while Evgeni Malkin is out of the lineup and not lose sleep sending Sheahan to the WBS Penguins or recalling when needed.
Our backup would be a two-way deal for Carter Rowney.
As for experienced goalies to start in WBS, Louis Domingue would be our first choice. Jon Gillies would also be on our radar. Gillies only played 12 NHL games, but the pickings are slim, and we don’t think Devan Dubnyk takes a one-year deal.
Also, we’ll leave the Kris Letang and Evgeni Malkin contract talks for another day.
Now–this is just me playing GM. It’s not based on sourced information, except where noted. Use the comments section to have at it, my armchair GM colleagues.