So far, Ron Hextall has executed just one Pittsburgh Penguins trade since taking over the GM spot in February, following Jim Rutherford’s shocking resignation in January. In the first course of the Pittsburgh Penguins offseason, we’ve circled a few players via free agency or via the NHL trade market who could or would make the Penguins a better team in 2020-21. Still, there has been little movement around the league in advance of the July 21 expansion draft.
Though NHL circles exploded with chatter on Thursday as the LA Kings snagged Victor Arvidsson from the Nashville Predators.
Three straight opening-round losses mandate changes, but the 2021 Penguins showed the burst and fire necessary to charge forward. They raised their potential and hopes enough that structurally altering changes aren’t necessary, but significant changes are both possible and probable.
Without structural changes like an Evgeni Malkin or Kris Letang trade (not happening), the Penguins trade chips are both significant but few.
Somewhat of a taboo subject, but possible Penguins trade could involve Jake Guentzel.
To be clear, there hasn’t been a leaked rumor or so much as a hint from our league sources that the Pittsburgh Penguins have engaged in talks about Guentzel. But you also don’t want something like that getting around, and there are very few players in exchange for Guentzel who could make the Penguins a better team.
Guentzel is a crafty winger. At 5-foot-11, 180-pounds, he certainly not a bruiser. Instead, he finds ways to score. Or help Sidney Crosby to score.
And therein lies Guentzel’s unique value. The Penguins seemingly had an annual trade deadline derby where one lucky winger would come to Pittsburgh to be on Crosby’s line. Some stuck, like Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis. Most didn’t stick on Crosby’s wings, even talented snipers like Phil Kessel.
Not until Guentzel arrived in 2017 did the Penguins finally find another young winger who made Crosby better.
The statistics speak for themselves. Guentzel has 43 goals in his last 96 regular-season games. He sprang for 40 tallies in the last full NHL season of 2018-19. And he’s scored more than a point per game in the last two seasons.
Those types of wingers aren’t just hanging around on the trade market or begging for work in the free-agent pool.
But the Penguins also have needs.
And salary cap problems.
And a lack of size.
And–those pesky three straight opening-round losses hanging over them like a fart in a crowded elevator.
In those three losses, Guentzel has three goals and six points; he scored one goal in each series. That sort of production is No Bueno for the top line LW.
His lack of size was an obvious impediment in these obstruction playoffs.
It doesn’t help that the Penguins’ opponents have been THE most stingy defensive teams in the NHL: The New York Islanders and Montreal Canadiens…and the Islanders again.
Some may want to give the Penguins a slight pass because of the success of their opponents, but the Penguins will politely decline. They should have beaten the Islanders this season.
“I’ve got to find a better way to produce and do my job there,” Guentzel said on locker clean-out day last month. “So I take responsibility for that, and I let a lot of people down. But I’ve just got to find a way to put the puck in and make plays and be better there.”
Guentzel is headed to the weight room this summer, too.
But can the Penguins trade Guentzel and solve a few issues? The answer is a definite “Maybe.”
Guentzel has a high value to the Penguins and a $6 million salary. It doesn’t make sense for the Penguins to trade him for green bananas on the NHL trade market because they are in win-now mode. It would be wildly foolish to move him to simply clear salary-cap space.
So, a Penguins trade would be a hockey trade. A player for a player.
And there aren’t many players who can boast 83 goals in their last 178 games. Nor the ability to make Sidney Crosby better.
The Penguins would need a Guentzel replacement in return for Guentzel. Or perhaps he is the key piece in a blockbuster deal for another star. When Mathew Tkachuk’s name popped up for a brief moment on the NHL trade watch, that is the type of deal that makes sense.
A John Gibson type deal.
But there aren’t many available.
So, could the Penguins trade Jake Guentzel? Absolutely. He is a valuable Penguins trade chip. But they have to get better in the process, and that’s not so easy.