The NHL trade deadline prices were steep. Late last week and into the weekend, a first-born child was only a starting offer. As big names fell off the board, prices remained stiff. Pittsburgh Penguins General Manager Ron Hextall didn’t think his team would get anything done the hours before the deadline. And now Anaheim Ducks forward Rickard Rakell is Penguins forward Rickard Rackell.
Hextall snagged depth defenseman Nathan Beaulieu in the before-breakfast hours Monday morning. Still, Hextall said Beaulieu would be out for quite a while longer, sounding pessimistic he’ll be in a Penguins sweater anytime soon. Hextall alluded to it being a depth acquisition for a playoff run, not necessarily for the regular season.
As the hours ticked by on Monday afternoon, there was nary a whisper of Penguins involvement in bigger names. Andrew Copp, Artturi Lehkonen, Nick Leddy, and Marcus Johansson dropped off the NHL trade boards.
Only in the final minutes before the 3 p.m. deadline did Hextall strike.
“I didn’t know we were going to do anything the whole time. I guess we value the assets we have, but if something came along that made sense–we had cap issues, so we had to work through that,” Hextall said. “But I didn’t know, probably until early this afternoon, that I thought–getting a sense that we’re going to make something happen.”
The Pittsburgh Penguins got quite a haul. Maybe. Hextall acquired Rakell from the Anaheim Ducks in exchange for Zach Aston-Reese, Dominik Simon, prospect goalie Calle Clang, and a 2022 second-round pick.
On the surface, the price may not seem like much to some fans, especially those who gritted their teeth whenever Simon hit the ice, but the players were integral parts of the Penguins’ bottom-six forwards. Aston-Reese’s defensive prowess ranks him among the best in the NHL.
However, to get, one must give. And the Penguins snared a former 30-goal scorer with silky mitts and a skill game. He should add the missing middle-six scoring, which has been missing since early January, when Evan Rodrigues, Kasperi Kapanen, and others lost their touch.
“…We felt like our secondary scoring has been a little bit of an issue that came to life a little bit lately. But I think whenever you can add to it, we think Ricard adds a lot to our group in terms of the skill part of the game and really makes us–certainly in our top-nine and our top-12–makes us a lot, a lot deeper,” Hextall said. “It gives (head coach Mike Sulivan) some good options on the wings and also in the middle. So we’re excited about the acquisition, and hopefully, he’ll be here to play tomorrow night.”
Rakell, 28, is having a resurgent season after a couple of down years with the declining Anaheim Ducks. Rakell has 16 goals and 28 points in 51 games. He’s played center in his career. The right-handed forward is a comfortable left-winger.
The 6-foot, 196-pound Swedish forward had his best seasons in 2016-17 and 2017-18 when he netted 33 and 34 goals. However, he has just 58 goals in the three-plus seasons since.
In 46 career playoff games, Rakell has 19 points, including 11 goals. Most of those points came in the surprising 2017 Anaheim run to the Western Conference Final. Rakell had 13 points in that run with seven goals. Otherwise, he has six points (4-2-6) in 31 playoff games over his other four appearances.
Playoff success or failure aside, the Penguins needed a little bit of help, even if Hextall was content to close up shop.
“We like his skill set. He plays with speed. He can play a fast game, so we feel like he will fit in really well with our group here. And again, whenever you can add to your scoring–it’s hard to score in this league–so when you can add a player with Rickard’s resumé, and put them with our players, we feel like we’re a better team right now than we were earlier this morning.”
Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Metro Division:
The Metro Division and the Eastern Conference powers were loading up at the NHL trade deadline. The Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning kicked off an arms race that included Claude Giroux and Robert Hagg to Florida by Sunday. Nick Paul and Brandon Hagel landed in Tampa before the Toronto Maple Leafs grabbed former Norris trophy winner Mark Giordano.
Monday, the Metro Division took the lead. The New York Rangers acquired tough middle-six scorer Andrew Copp from Winnipeg, bottom-sixer Tyler Motte from Vancouver, and gritty defenseman Justin Braun from their rival Philadelphia Flyers.
“There were a lot of deals made, and really until they flush out, you’re not sure how much every piece helps every team … So I don’t think you have to necessarily make a deal because other teams are making deals or you feel like you’ve got to keep up with a certain team,” Hextall said. “We just kind of look within ourselves and say, ‘OK, where are we at? We know we have a good team, we believe we’re going to make the playoffs, and we just wanted to add a piece. But again, it had to fit. It had to make us a better team.”
Carolina, like the Penguins, sneaked in under the wire by getting Max Domi from Metro rival Columbus Blue Jackets.
Dominik Simon & Zach Aston-Reese
Before Hextall took questions, he made a special point to thank Dominik Simon, whom the Penguins signed to a one-year, two-way contract in the offseason, and Zach Aston-Reese, who spent the first three-plus seasons of his career with the Penguins. They were the Penguins’ losses at the NHL trade deadline.
“First of all, when we make trades, one of the hard things for us as a management team, as coaches–you know, Zach Aston-Reese has been a terrific Penguin and, certainly thanks to Zach for everything he’s done for the organization. Dom Simon as well. Again, that’s the hard part of this business is seeing guys that have played hard and done a good job for our organizational goals. So again, thanks to Zach and Dom,” Hextall said.
Hextall also said he hated to lose prospect Calle Clang, the 20-year-old Swedish goalie who was the Penguins 2020 third-round pick, but the organizational depth at the issue allowed him to make the sacrifice.