The target may be shifting. The Vancouver Canucks want players in their mid-20s to revitalize their inconsistent lineup. The talent on paper has not translated to a successful on-ice product, and a few changes are in order. The Pittsburgh Penguins are the great enigma of the 2022 NHL trade deadline as GM Ron Hextall is both building for the future and the now.
Kasperi Kapanen for Brock Boeser was enough to send fans to keyboards across the league, but there are a few details that don’t fit. Primarily, Boeser makes twice as much money and is due a $7.5 million qualifying offer in July to retain his rights.
On Tuesday, Pittsburgh Hockey Now reported or officially downplayed those NHL trade rumors. There have not been serious talks between the two teams for Boeser.
The Penguins-Canucks matchmaking is natural. Hextall’s first trade as Penguins GM was Jeff Carter. Bill Guerin’s first big trade as Minnesota Wild GM was with the Penguins (Jason Zucker). And, with some irony, Jason Boterill’s last trade as the Buffalo Sabres GM was with the Penguins (Conor Sheary).
It happens often.
And Canucks President of Hockey Operations Jim Rutherford certainly chased a few of the current Penguins on the NHL trade market during his time as the Penguins GM. New Canucks GM Patrik Allvin certainly helped build the current Penguins roster both as head scout and assistant GM.
So, it’s fair to make a prominent mention of Canucks AGM Derek Clancey, former Pittsburgh Penguins director of player personnel, visiting the Penguins-Florida Panthers game on Tuesday.
But the names being tossed around in the second wave of breathless trade chatter also don’t make sense unless Hextall has a Craig Patrick-like four-card punt in the works.
In my view, some players make far more sense as an off-season transaction, if at all, but don’t make sense for the 2022 NHL trade deadline.
Who Makes Sense, Who Does Not?
The Penguins 24-year-old wunderkind defenseman was acquired for merely a sixth-round pick after finishing his collegiate career at Harvard but rejecting his drafting team, the Edmonton Oilers. Marino had a brilliant rookie season, a sophomore setback, and has settled in as a dependable second-pair defenseman.
Rutherford and Allvin have every reason to covet the right-handed Marino. He’s young, he’s 6-foot-3, and it was Rutherford who immediately splashed the cash on Marino after his rookie season.
However, here’s the stone-wall impediment: the Pittsburgh Penguins don’t have a replacement unless they plan to put Mark Friedman or Chad Ruhwedel in the top-four for a Stanley Cup playoff run.
We like Friedman’s and Ruhwedel’s contributions, but permanent top-four minutes and duties might be a big stretch.
The Penguins could also lose their top right-side defenseman Kris Letang to free agency after the season. Trading Marino now would create cascading lineup issues unless Hextall immediately swings a second significant trade to find a replacement.
Right-side defensemen are worth gold. If it’s Marino the Canucks want, there’s plenty of time later, but a replacement will not be cheap, either on the NHL trade market or free agency. Hextall could snag a first-rounder and more for Marino, but not while the playoffs loom.
Verdict: Doesn’t make sense at the deadline.
Have you asked yourself–Clancey, Allivn, Rutherford, shouldn’t they already know the Pittsburgh Penguins players pretty well? So why are they scouting the Penguins and causing a stir?
One player they didn’t get to see in a full-time role was Rodrigues.
Rodrigues is a Swiss Army knife able to play center, wing, top-six, bottom-six, and has a wicked wrist shot. Rodrigues showcased his abilities from the mid-wall on the Penguins’ top power play earlier this season.
He’s cheap ($1 million), has a high upside, and things aren’t going well in the second half of the season. Rodrigues has only five points (1-4-5) in the 23 games since Evgeni Malkin was activated. However, his season stats look respectable, with 35 points in 58 games (16-19-35).
Rodrigues. 28, will be a UFA after the season.
Verdict: Makes sense. Rodrigues has real value both on the market and on the ice. BUT, Rodrigues’ small salary means a trade would likely include others to balance the salary cap ledger.
The Penguins do not have a surplus at many positions and certainly not a surplus of prospects. However, the one spot where those positions do create extra is LHD. The Penguins have five players capable of filling an NHL spot on the left-side, including Friedman and top prospect P.O. Joseph.
Pettersson, 25, is a smooth operator with a good first pass, long reach, and dependable game. He does lack quickness but makes up for it with defensive acumen.
He became a prized acquisition when Rutherford traded a player he very much believed in, Daniel Sprong, and Pettersson immediately flourished in the Penguins system.
Both Pettersson and Mike Matheson are top-four capable. Pettersson’s AAV ($4.025 million) makes him a potential “salary balance” should Hextall try to acquire a middle-six winger with a more reliable scoring touch.
Verdict: Makes sense.
What to do with the lost soul of the Penguins lineup? After a couple of good games, Kapanen was again adrift on Tuesday night against the Florida Panthers. Kapanen will be an RFA with arbitration rights and an expiring $3.2 million salary.
PHN did not intend to do a negative piece on Kapanen, but our Kasperi Kapanen shift-by-shift diary became a viral read because it laid bare Kapanen’s lack of impact.
So much talent. So tantalizing. Speed. Hard shot. Physical. Yet, so little production this season and at other times in his career. Rutherford chased Kapanen for over a year on the NHL trade block. He outbid the Carolina Hurricanes, who were thought to be the front runner, by giving up a mid-first-round pick.
This season, Kapanen has 26 points (9-17-26) in 57 games but only eight points, including one goal, since Malkin returned on Jan. 11. He has two points (0-2-2) in his last 17 games.
Verdict: Makes sense, but the price is a crapshoot.
Vancouver has a few pieces which make sense for the Penguins, too. Perhaps second-line RW Conor Garland, who is in the first year of a five-year, $24.75 million deal.
Garland, 25, has 31 points (14-17-31) in 52 games. He’s a bit undersized at 5-foot-10, 165 pounds but has produced at the NHL level for three seasons running.
Bo Horvat’s name has not popped up this season, but he was formerly a mainstay in NHL trade rumors. The 2013 ninth overall pick is a heavy center (6-foot, 215 pounds) who can score. Horvat has 33 points (17-16-33) in 52 games and has one more year at $5.5 million remaining. The Penguins could sure a player like that, who is under 35.
If Hextall wants to add some heavy jam to the sandwich, Alex Chiasson knows how to bang around and even drop the mitts when necessary. His 11 points (6-5-11) place him above the Penguins’ fourth-line wingers, Dominik Simon and Zach Aston-Reese.
Or maybe, just maybe, Boeser does make sense. His negatives are significant hurdles, but the Penguins need a jolt of offense and someone to finish from Evgeni Malkin’s right side.
Also, from my hockey troop, Tom & Rick:
Don: You've got some #Canucks tidbits..
Dhali: *stares blankly*
— Donnie & Dhali (@DonnieandDhali) March 9, 2022