Monday, Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford acknowledged that there could well be at least one more trade this offseason.
“Tight,” Rutherford said of the team’s salary cap situation. “There’s a good chance we will have to make another move.”
Clearing cap space means moving at least one player, as opposed to, say, signing anymore free agents or trading draft picks for a player. So who might be on the trading block?
Let’s back up and start with who isn’t going to be traded.
Center Evgeni Malkin ($9.5 million a year) and defenseman Kris Letang ($7.25 million), whose names cropped up in the sour wake of the Penguins’ loss in a sweep to the New York Islanders in the first round of the playoffs, are part of the team core and aren’t going anywhere this summer.
Matt Murray is the Penguins’ franchise goaltender and won’t be traded despite going into the final year of his contract and due a raise over the $3.75 million he will make this season.
Center and team captain Sidney Crosby ($8.7 million)? Don’t make us laugh until Gatorade comes out of our nose.
Theoretically, everyone else could be available given the right offer, but there are several players who seem highly unlikely to go.
They include the guys just obtained or signed this offseason – forwards Alex Galchenyuk ($4.9 million), Dominik Kahun ($925,000) and Brandon Tanev ($3.5 million) – and a couple young players who seem so well liked by management that it would be highly surprising that there would be an offer that could pry them loose: defenseman Marcus Pettersson (qualified restricted free agent) and forward Jared McCann ($1.25 millon).
Defenseman Brian Dumoulin ($4.1 million), while not often described as a core player, has become awfully good, steady and a good partner for Letang. Moving him would certainly qualify as a big shake-up move, and it would be quite a surprise.
The same would go for Jake Guentzel ($6 million), who has become a regular on Crosby’s line and is coming off a 40-goal season. How could the team possibly be improved by moving him?
Defensemen Jusso Riikola ($850,000), Chad Ruhwedel ($700,000) and Zach Trotman ($700,000) provide solid depth, and moving them wouldn’t create a lot of cap space. In addition, Rutherford said Riikola will push for a regular spot, which would make him a great value.
Rutherford also mentioned forward Teddy Blueger (qualified restricted free agent) as a player probably ready to stick in the NHL, and his signing won’t break the bank, so he, too, could be a good value to keep.
Defenseman Justin Schultz ($5.5 million) is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent next year and he’s coming off an injury-shortened season, so if the Penguins were willing to trade him, his value would be higher toward the trade deadline, assuming he stays healthy and plays well.
So we’ve narrowed the field of trade bait candidates considerably. Let’s take a look at the players the Penguins might be willing to part with this summer.
Right winger Patric Hornqvist has been a key player at times, given his tenacity and net-front play, but that role could fall to a younger player, such as Zach Aston-Reese. Hornqvist has had several concussions, is 32 and has four more seasons left on a contract that pays him $5.3 million per. So finding a taker on a palatable trade might be difficult.
Aston-Reese (qualified restricted free agent) has missed a lot of time because of injury, which probably would blunt his potential return in a trade.
Winger Dominik Simon ($750,000) takes a lot of grief from fans, but the Penguins like him. One strike against him, though, is that Kahun seems like a similar player.
The Penguins also like backup goaltender Casey DeSmith ($1.25 million), and any reliable replacement likely would not come much cheaper, if cheaper at all. The No. 3 goalie in the organization, Tristan Jarry, could well be traded, but that would not provide cap relief.
Defenseman Erik Gudbranson ($4 million) brings the type of size and physical game the Penguins supposedly need to complement their skill and speed, but the right offer might pry him loose and provide decent cap relief.
That brings us to the three players most likely to be available in a trade.
Nick Bjugstad ($4.1 million) and Bryan Rust ($3.5 million) would seem to be at the top of the list among forwards, if only because there are less expensive options who, like those two, are versatile enough to play in various spots and roles.
Among defensemen, the Penguins have already tipped their hand that Jack Johnson is available. They had a deal in place with Minnesota in May that would have included Johnson, but Phil Kessel nixed it based on a clause in his contract.