There is an undeniable attractiveness to acquiring the reigning Norris Trophy winner and a potential 100-point defenseman. One of those does not come around often on the NHL trade block, and the opportunity to add a player of that caliber and reshape the core of the Pittsburgh Penguins must be tantalizing.
The Penguins missed the playoffs for the first time since Sidney Crosby’s rookie year, and we’re much closer to the end of the Crosby era than the beginning. Penguins president of hockey operations Kyle Dubas wants a home run, a splash, a shakeup for his new team, and Erik Karlsson is the biggest fish in the pond.
Earlier this week, colleague Kevin Allen of Detroit Hockey Now said he believed the Penguins were also interested in Vladimir Tarasenko.
We can scratch that one off the list.
Thursday, Tarasenko signed a one-year, $5 million deal with the Ottawa Senators. He joined other big-name free agents such as Tyler Bertuzzi, Max Domi, Shayne Gostisbehere, and even former Penguins winger Jason Zucker by signing for just one year, kicking the big-money free agency can to next summer.
The Penguins thought they were close to acquiring Karlsson on July 1. However, Daily Faceoff lead writer Frank Seravalli reported this week that no team had come close to San Jose’s asking price.
In the meantime, Dubas’ options to change, tinker, or reshape the core of the Pittsburgh Penguins are dwindling. The big names have signed, and the only healthy free agents with any notoriety left are Tomas Tatar, Phil Kessel, Zach Parise, and Josh Bailey.
After Tatar, it’s not exactly a crew befitting a top-six role on any team. And only Tatar is under 35.
The big trade boards are bereft of lineup-replenishing talent as well. Pierre-Luc Dubois and Alex DeBrincat have been dealt, the Penguins filled their goaltending vacancy with the previous tenant, and other options carry price tags that outpace potential benefits.
Travis Konecny and Scott Laughton from the rival Philadelphia Flyers remain in the NHL trade rumors, but the Flyers have no pressing need to trade them and would be poorer for it.
Konecny would be a solid addition to the lineup, capable of adding offense on any of the top three lines. However, the Penguins have a bit of gridlock with Reilly Smith and Jake Guentzel on the left wings, Rickard Rakell and Bryan Rust on the right side.
Mikael Granlund will be somewhere in the lineup? And the team is currently a couple million over the NHL’s $83.5 million salary cap.
As August approaches, it’s fair to wonder about the details of the Penguins’ internal plan to slip below the salary cap. Not every team can suddenly find their $6 million goalie eligible for indefinite LTIR.
Make no mistake, the Penguins are significantly better today than in April. Goalie Tristan Jarry figures to be healthy, Ryan Graves is an upgrade of the 2022 version of Brian Dumoulin, and the bottom six now has legitimate NHL talent throughout.
So, if Dubas does nothing from here, it will have been a good summer but not transformative.
Despite improving, the Penguins probably are not Stanley Cup contenders. Simply looking throughout the Metro Division, the Carolina Hurricanes may boast the best blue line in the NHL. The New Jersey Devils might be the fastest team in the league and have a roster full of very good young talent just coming into their own. The New York Rangers are talented and have Igor Shesterkin in net.
But it doesn’t feel like Dubas is done.
Or wants to be done.
Yet the Penguins are one of 10 teams over the salary cap or don’t have enough to add a player on a minimum salary. So, Dubas can no longer weaponize his cap space as he did when acquiring Smith from the Vegas Golden Knights.
Sure, Konecny would look good in black and gold. So, too, would Josh Anderson, Brett Pesce, or Brock Boeser.
Dubas has done well, though he clearly wants to jolt the team, but his options are dwindling.