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‘Couple Too Many,’ Hextall Confirms Penguins Trying to Trade Defensemen



Pittsburgh Penguins, Ron Hextall, NHL trade

CRANBERRY — The Pittsburgh Penguins signed Jan Rutta to a three-year deal with a $2.75 million AAV on Wednesday. The big right-hander is a steady middle-pairing defenseman with two Stanley Cup rings in the last three years courtesy of the Tampa Bay Lightning. The NHL trade market rightfully stirred.

After signing P.O Joseph to an NHL contract this week, in addition to Mark Friedman and Chad Ruhwedel last season, Hextall has amassed nine NHL defensemen.

“That’s a couple too many,” Hextall admitted.

How Hextall escapes his trap and uses the NHL trade market is a matter of conjecture. He could take the easy route and simply put Mark Friedman through waivers as the Philadelphia Flyers did early in Hextall’s Penguins tenure. Hextall pounced, just as would another team should Hextall do the same.

Hextall could hope for a bit of compensation for third-pairing defenseman Chad Ruhwedel, whose steady albeit quiet game was solid in his first season as an NHL regular at age 31.

But neither of those moves would free up significant cap space.

With Kris Letang on a new six-year deal, John Marino in the second of a six-year $26.4 million deal, Marcus Pettersson in the second of a five-year deal with a $4.025 million AAV, and veteran Brian Dumoulin in the final year of a six-year contract which also pays north of $4 million, the Penguins have some meaty contracts on the blue line.

But not necessarily easily moveable options.

“… We have nine defensemen. That’s a couple too many,” Hextall said. “If we could move a defenseman maybe for a forward, something like that, or if we could move a defenseman for futures, those are the types of things that we’ll be looking at. I don’t know when or where…”

That doesn’t mean the Penguins fanbase hasn’t started devising trades for Mr. Hextall to consider, especially with the Vancouver Canucks. Pie in the sky dreams have fixated local boy-made-good, J.T. Miller, who is currently playing in the summer league at the UPMC Lemieux Complex.

Miller had 99 points last season and one more season with a $5.25 million cap hit. He’s been the apple of every NHL trade rumor for months, but the Penguins don’t have the pieces to get that deal done, no matter how important it is that every player come home. The Penguins aren’t even in that ballpark.

But the Pittsburgh Penguins will do something.

“We’re certainly not going to have nine (defensemen) on our opening roster. So that’s a fair assumption. I don’t know where that’s all going. Sometimes you sit there and wait till something moves before you sign the guy. But we felt like we wanted to get a little bit heavier on the back end,” Hextall said. “We feel Jan is a very sound penalty killer, a real solid guy to play with, really with any left-hander on our team. So we feel like he’s a good addition to our team. We feel like we got better and added a little bit of a girth that we need in front of the net in penalty-killing situations.”

And Rutta only costs $2.75 million AAV. Marino, Pettersson, and Dumoulin all cost above $4 million. It’s not hard to see the pool from which Hextall would like to deal. However, the NHL trade market is a bit clogged. On Wednesday, the Vegas Golden Knights sacrificed Max Pacioretty and Dylan Coughlin for nothing.

They were traded for future considerations.

That’s a pair of talented, valuable players coughed up for a promise to pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today. That’s Vegas GM Kelly McCrimmon’s second salary dump for nothing. He also put Marc-Andre Fleury on the NHL trade block for the low, low price of nothing last summer.

So, it’s not so easy to move salary. Vegas couldn’t get a return on top-shelf talent. Hextall may find himself in a similar situation, especially since he has nine defensemen, and every GM knows he can’t feasibly hang onto them all.

The NHL trade chatter will continue. As will Hextall’s work. For the moment, the Pittsburgh Penguins’ blue line with Rutta is better than before. Now, we’ll see if it can be better without someone.