The NHL trade deadline is just six days henceforth, and the Pittsburgh Penguins are fighting for their playoff lives. They find themselves ahead or behind the youthful, exuberant and slightly crazy Carolina Hurricanes who have struggled to score goals and with goaltending but have caught fire behind the unlikely netminder Petr Mrazek and recently acquired Nino Niederreiter.
Carolina has become a freight train of on-ice limbo contests, ride-the-bull dances and home plate celebrations to the ire of Don Cherry, who said they look like “jerks.” That should quell their enthusiasm, eh?
But the Penguins are also just a couple of points out of second place in the Metro Division. Welcome to NHL standings which look like the Ft. Pitt tunnel at 4:30 on Friday.
And so Penguins GM Jim Rutherford who wanted to get a good look at the team with Evgeni Malkin, Justin Schultz, Nick Bjugstad and Jared McCann in the lineup is running out of time. Head coach Mike Sullivan is still working the combinations trying to find what he likes, though the third period Sunday against New York could be a good starting point.
If Rutherford feels the team needs more or wants to make additional changes, the end of his chance to do so is near. Whether that light at the end of the tunnel is the Penguins gelling or the Carolina train remains to be seen. Missing the playoffs would not be good for players or front office job security.
Penguins Trade Bait
4. Dominik Simon
More than a one person in the know have told us Simon is well regarded inside the Penguins, which like his speed, ability to play with the puck down low, and ability to create scoring chances (even if those don’t translate to point totals).
However, last June Pittsburgh Hockey Now was the first to report the Penguins offered Simon as part of a package to the Arizona Coyotes in exchange for Max Domi.
This season, Simon has 21 points in 49 games. He was a healthy scratch Saturday but returned to the lineup, Sunday. Coaches shuffled Simon off the third line when the Penguins made sweeping changes to begin the third period.
The 24-year-old signed a two-year, $1.5 million deal over the summer so he is a cost-effective, speedy winger with some upside but the Penguins are currently well stocked.
3. Tanner Pearson
Pearson, 26, was acquired for Carl Hagelin in November as the first part of the Penguins team shakeup. Pearson has scored points in consecutive games just twice with the Penguins and has one point in his last 11 games. He served as a healthy scratch for both ends of the Penguins back-to-back home games last weekend.
Pearson notched 24 goals in 2016-17 and has a championship pedigree from his time with the LA Kings. However, this season has gone sideways. It isn’t hard to imagine a Western Conference team remembering a founding member of That 70’s Line with the LA Kings which propelled them to a Cup.
Pearson has two more seasons at $3.75 million remaining.
PHN believes the Penguins may have to add additional assets to move Pearson if they choose, however, other knowledgeable hockey people we spoke to do not believe the Penguins would need to part with additional assets.
If Rutherford feels the need or has the chance to add an impact player, Pearson probably has to be moved.
2. Juuso Riikola
Putting Riikola on the trade board has nothing to do with his recent scratches and everything to do with our belief that at least one team included his name in discussions during Rutherford’s push to move Derick Brassard.
Riikola, 24, is the quintessential late bloomer. He has speed, a bit of sandpaper in his game and nice puck moving skills. Riikola’s value is not hard to ascertain. When his ELC expires this summer, he’ll be a restricted free agent but still growing into the NHL game. The Penguins have a speedy third pairing defenseman who still has potential.
That’s a valuable commodity.
On the downside, he has just four points (2g, 2a) in 34 games. A young or rebuilding team like Ottawa, Chicago or Minnesota could value a player like Riikola and part with a “now” type asset.
And given the Penguins blue line depth, especially when Olli Maatta returns from his suspected shoulder injury the Penguins may find themselves able to afford more than they expected.
1. Tristan Jarry
Heaven help the Penguins if they deal Jarry for the riches which await but do not get an NHL capable goalie in return or a subsequent deal. The Penguins have only won only one of their five Stanley Cups without suffering a goalie injury (1992). Otherwise, the Penguins have needed at least two goalies. Three netminders started games in 2016. In 2017, three goalies also dressed as Matt Murray was injured.
For the Penguins to deal Jarry, they would need to replace the insurance policy which he represents.
In 29 AHL starts this season, Jarry has posted a .911 save percentage and 2.75 goals against average; not exactly world beater numbers.
PHN knows the goalie is frustrated by his lack of inclusion on an NHL roster but also understands the situation. The goalie market has been wildly inconsistent over the past several years and the Penguins may have a blue chipper or they may have a prospect which nets only a fair return. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
Since Jarry is under contract for next season, the Penguins have little need to deal Jarry but the stars could align in which the Penguins get a difference maker in return. Anything short of an impact player and the Penguins can wait until the summer.
And a little look ahead–the Penguins may also be wise to wait until they discuss a new contract with Matt Murray this summer before dealing Jarry.