The Pittsburgh Penguins are careening towards the 2019 NHL Draft in Vancouver perilously close to a losing streak. The only acceptable Phil Kessel suitor was summarily rejected by Phil Kessel, and while I wish I could say I haven’t been on both sides of that type of equation, haven’t we all? The Penguins missed on Jacob Trouba who was dealt for an affordable price and would have been a significant upgrade to their defensive corps. They were able to shed Olli Maatta’s salary and recoup a potentially usable piece but that isn’t shouting distance from the necessary changes facing the Penguins.
The Penguins are still tight to the cap even after the Maatta deal because they will be paying Marcus Pettersson this summer and presumably Jared McCann next summer while dealing with a decreased salary cap.
Realistically, the Penguins window has two more years, perhaps a third. That’s all unless the entire Penguins core proves to be freaks of nature.
Need #1: Trade Phil Kessel
It just can’t go into next season, can it? Phil Kessel has spoken but so has the league. Perhaps Penguins fans can have a chat with the GMs? No greater PR machine for the winger has ever existed.
There will not exist a greater chance to deal the winger than the draft. The Penguins erred last season by sweeping the issues under the rug and shutting down talks. Now, the league understands the Penguins are over a barrel, and many don’t care. Those which do care are likely not on Kessel’s exclusive eight-team list.
Regardless of the tremendous external goodwill, the internal story is different.
Need #2: Any Prospects
The Pittsburgh Penguins need prospects. Defense. Forward. Goaltending. Come one, come all. The Penguins cupboard is empty. Top defenseman prospect Calen Addison is still a few cheeseburgers and some game-maturation away from surviving professional hockey.
Beyond Addison, fellow 2018 second-round pick winger Filip Hallander has done little to distinguish himself since being selected. A lower body injury dropped his stock and it appears he has not yet fully overcome it.
Goalie Tristan Jarry does not figure to be with the Penguins much longer. He will not be waiver wire exempt next season. The Penguins will be forced to carry three goalies to keep Jarry in the system or risk losing him to waivers. It isn’t likely Jarry would clear. The alternate route is to trade Jarry. Either way, the Penguins do not have another goalie prospect.
Need #3: Stability
Peace and quiet. The Penguins need the tumult to be in the rearview mirror as soon as possible. Their offseason is two months old and there are still more questions than answers. GM Jim Rutherford has stoked fires rather than extinguishing them.
The door must be closed sooner than later and whoever is on the inside of those doors need to come together both as a team and under head coach Mike Sullivan. Anything less and the soap opera will not only continue but get worse. Negativity rots a room and the Penguins room needs a steam cleaning before it gets worse.
Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan needs to do his part to re-establish the room and that includes player pow-wows. It will be impossible to accomplish the above if players or coaches are waiting for the guillotine.
The draft weekend is the best time to chop and add new.