The NHL trade deadline is three weeks away. The Pittsburgh Penguins are fresh from a thrilling 1-0 win over division rival New York Rangers and a 3-2 comeback win over the Columbus Blue Jackets. A couple of solid defensive performances should make all involved feel better, especially after hanging goalie Tristan Jarry out to dry in the previous three games in which he gave up no less than four goals in each.
A couple of teams stand out as recently scouting the Penguins. The Buffalo Sabres AGM Jason Karmanos was in Pittsburgh for the last couple of Penguins home games. Since Karmanos didn’t work with much of the current Penguins front office, it’s unlikely it was a social call.
And, the Anaheim Ducks have been keeping tabs on the Penguins with scouts in Pittsburgh and again in Columbus on Sunday.
With the recent upper-body injury to Mike Matheson, which will keep him out week to week, the Penguins’ blue line also consists of two depth defenders. Chad Ruhwedel and now Mark Friedman, who stepped into the lineup for Matheson to fill the defense corps.
Friedman is playing well in his first two games, which may remove any urgency by Penguins GM Ron Hextall.
“He plays a simple game. He’s a good defender. He’s a good skater. He’s a real old guy. So he uses a skating ability, I think, you know, to win pucks and to defend. I thought he did a real nice job (Saturday),” head coach Mike Sullivan said.
Friedman was even better on Sunday. He had two shots on goal, five attempts, and one high-danger chance.
The Penguins defense corps has not been a problem this season, but it could be upgraded via the NHL trade market. Buffalo and Anaheim also need a lot of help to rebuild. Despite languishing at the bottom of the league for nearly a decade, only a few blue-chippers are on their way through the system.
The Buffalo Sabres assistant GM was at the last two Penguins home games, including Saturday. The Sabres have a pair of defensemen worthy of top-four minutes, but who would fit on any pairing.
Anaheim also has some rental pieces that could benefit the Penguins. Because they have played more games, Anaheim is two to eight points behind the Dallas Stars for the second wild-card position. A playoff charge is probably not in the cards, especially because they also trail the Edmonton Oilers. If they’re not throwing in the towel, perhaps the Ducks could also look for hockey talent to close that playoff gap.
Potential Penguins Targets, NHL Trade Deadline
Robert Hagg, LHD, Buffalo
Hagg, 26, is both young and cheap. The Swede will be an unrestricted free agent after his season, and Buffalo has no reason to let the former Philadelphia Flyers d-man walk without getting anything in return.
He carries an affordable $1.6 million salary-cap hit based on some struggles in Philadelphia but has been a solid defenseman for the Sabres. Hagg is a stay-home defenseman with a bit of size. He’s 6-foot-2, 204 pounds.
Hagg is in the mold of a Swedish defenseman. He takes care of his zone, isn’t a blazing skater (he’s not terrible), and will block shots with aplomb.
“Solid third-pairing guy. Blocks a lot of shots. Underrated player and a standup character guy. His best friend on the Flyers was fellow Swede Oscar Lindblom, and he really helped him through his cancer battle,” Philly Hockey Now’ Sam Carchidi told PHN.
Oh, and Ron Hextall was the Flyers AGM when they drafted Hagg. He would fit neatly on the third pairing with Chad Ruhwedel or possibly slot up with John Marino.
Price tag: A third-pairing lefty is likely a second, maybe third-rounder on the NHL trade market. However, Hagg’s affordable deal may bolster the price. Hagg would be a perfect fit for the Penguins as either depth or reliable top-six. He has a history with Hextall, he’s inexpensive, and Hextall seems to prefer smaller deals.
Colin Miller, RHD, Buffalo
Miller, 29, cost Buffalo a second and fifth-rounder in June 2019. His stock may be a bit higher right now, but he’s also a rental. The 6-foot-1, 199-pound offensive defenseman has been mired in the Buffalo malaise for a couple of years.
He can run a power play, move the puck, and add offense without sacrificing the position. He’s not physical but has a 41-point season on his resume (Vegas Golden Knights inaugural season).
He’s a tad expensive, at $3.85 million AAV, so the Penguins would need to move salary to make it happen. Miller is currently injured but will be back soon.
Josh Manson, RHD, Anaheim
Manson, 30, can move the puck. In the past, he’s put up decent offensive totals, but he’s a gruff defenseman. His contract with a $4.1 million AAV expires this season.
If Anaheim puts him on the NHL trade block, he will not be a cheap get but well worth it. If Miller is a second and fifth-rounder, Manson is more, and we’re getting into giving up a piece or two of the future.
Rickard Rakell, Winger, Anaheim
Hextall could be the latest to participate in the Penguins’ nearly annual telethon, “A winger for Malkin.” The team is probably a middle-six winger short, and a legit scoring threat would help.
Rakell, 28, makes $3,789,444 and has 25 points, including 14 goals in 44 games this season. His contract expires after the season. He doesn’t bring physicality or a grinding game, but perhaps he’s the finisher that Malkin needs.
It seems Rakell is mentioned in NHL trade rumors with the Penguins every season, maybe this is the year.
Darkhorse: Ryan Getzlaf. Rumor percolated last season that Getzlaf, a member of Brian Burke’s Stanley Cup-winning Ducks team in 2007, could take one more run at a Stanley Cup. He passed up that opportunity. Will he reject an offer to play for a Stanley Cup again? Would the Penguins have room for a right-handed center at the end of his career? Such a move could make Jeff Carter the “winger for Malkin.”
Getzlaf makes $3 million, so Anaheim would have to make concessions in return or eat salary. The 6-foot-3, 36-year-old center has 28 points but just three goals this season.