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Penguins Notebook: Playoff Odds Tumble, Hypothetical Trade Chips

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Pittsburgh Penguins, Jake Guentzel

One game in January is not supposed to have a dramatic effect on a team’s playoff chances. However, when that game is against a division rival and a team is already behind, the consequences can be huge, as the Pittsburgh Penguins learned.

According to MoneyPuck.com, the Penguins’ playoff chances fell from 52.4% to 41% after their loss to the Washington Capitals on Tuesday.

The New Jersey Devils and Capitals facing each other Wednesday didn’t help the Penguins’ cause. Regardless of which team won, the Penguins were guaranteed to lose ground.

New Jersey won, which kept the Penguins two points back and slightly improved their odds to 42.5%. They’re significant;y

The good news is the Penguins are back in the fight after winning seven of nine games. The bad news is they have to do it again. The worst news is New Jersey and the Tampa Bay Lightning are between them and a playoff spot.

If New Jersey gets some goaltending, any goaltending, any at all, they are a solid playoff team.

I’ve never seen a year in which so many good teams are bereft of goaltending.

Penguins Trade Deadline, Buyers or Sellers

Sellers

The Pittsburgh Penguins have not yet earned the right to be buyers at the NHL trade deadline, just as they have not yet sunk so low as to become sellers. The NHL All-Star game is one month away, and that was President of hockey operations/GM Kyle Dubas‘s line of demarcation.

While Vancouver media might be salivating over the idea of prying Jake Guentzel from the Penguins, Guentzel might not be the Penguins’ biggest trade chip come March 8 (nor are we convinced Dubas would deal Guentzel unless the Penguins are ready to signal they are out if it).

What is goalie Alex Nedeljkovic worth? His $1.5 million salary more than offsets his free-agent status, and his .924 save percentage would be a godsend with several teams. Backup goalies don’t usually command more than a second or third-round pick, but Nedeljkovic is on the cusp of becoming a 1A goalie with the Penguins, and a bidding war could ensue because he is affordable for all suitors.

Also, what is Tristan Jarry worth? The relentless external Jarry criticisms ring of obstinance. Like locusts, the criticisms sit dormant, merely waiting for an opportunity while chewing through the stellar performances in between. The Penguins No. 1 goalie had a bad night Tuesday but has been a solid starting goalie for several seasons, with a pair of All-Star appearances.

His injury-plagued 2022-23 season is easier to erase with the above-board performance this season.

Rival GMs would not be as swayed by the occasional stumble as anxious fans. GMs would be more deterred by his five-year contract, which carries a $5.375 million salary cap hit and began this season.

Then again, what would happen if Edmonton, Detroit, Ottawa, or Buffalo had a do-over for July 1?

Buyers

If the Penguins become buyers, their targets are likely defensemen. Dubas has stockpiled defensemen throughout the organization, but the crop is not necessarily capable of being NHL regulars. From John Ludvig to Will Butcher and Jack Rathbone, the org has amassed 12 defensemen with NHL experience, but only Ludvig or P.O Joseph might be able to plug the hole on the NHL blue line.

Joseph has struggled to stick in the lineup this season but has the raw talent to be a top-four defenseman. With Ludvig out, Joseph will get his shot beside Erik Karlsson.

“I feel with different partners, you’ve got to play differently,” Joseph said. But I’ve been watching all the games, and I feel like I’m starting to understand (Karlsson) a bit. So I’ve been watching him with (Marcus Pettersson) and with Ryan (Graves). So I’m just trying to be a support for him.”

For what it’s worth, Joseph is the first Penguins defenseman to give that deferential answer. It may serve him well.

Ryan Graves remains a train whistle off in the distance, forever present, but his arrival is unknown. Graves’s ongoing difficulties on the top two pairings may have ended Tuesday when coaches put Joseph beside Karlsson and dropped Graves to the third pair.

One wonders how much more runway the Penguins will give Graves, who signed a six-year, $26 million contract on July 1. One wonders if they have options beyond dropping him to the third pairing.

Trading a newly signed free agent is rare, though not unprecedented. The Penguins acquired Carl Hagelin in January 2016 for David Perron and Adam Clendening. Hagelin was in the first year of a four-year deal signed with the Anaheim Ducks.

However, for those becoming impatient with Graves, a move this season is unlikely, no matter how long his struggles persist.

According to Puckpedia.com, the Penguins have $200,000 of salary cap space, meaning should Dubas acquire help, a deal would be constrained by the amount of salary traded away or the Penguins limited to a defenseman making $1 million or less.