Perhaps the newness of finally having a healthy roster will be enough for the Pittsburgh Penguins. Maybe just getting the band back together will be enough for GM Jim Rutherford as the trade deadline approaches on Feb. 24.
The Penguins are a rock-solid team with proven depth for every role but every team can improve at the trade deadline. Their play this season should give Rutherford confidence that his moves to construct the team have been successful and postseason success is a genuine possibility. The Penguins are everything he and head coach Mike Sullivan hoped to be; the team is tough to play against., fast, and aggressive. They are also winning games.
The Penguins learned Bryan Rust is not expendable because they signed Brandon Tanev. Rather, they learned they are much better for having both. The Penguins also learned they have much greater depth in net than anyone realized.
Just imagine, Rutherford offered Tristan Jarry around the league but the fish weren’t biting. Do you think a few GMs are kicking themselves, now?
The Penguins could specifically upgrade their lines with a sharp-shooting winger and a left-side defenseman for depth. Rutherford’s search for that type of winger is a poorly kept secret, while the depth defenseman who fits with their right-side crew is an assumption based on the current difficulties to ice a balanced blue line. Those difficulties will likely persist for at least another six weeks and the Penguins do not have a spare left-handed defender ready for real NHL minutes behind Juuso Riikola.
Updates Pittsburgh Penguins Trade Bait List
Bjugstad, 27, is the Penguins’ big decision, no pun intended. The 6-foot-6 center is a 40-point scorer with reliable defense and a complete game, but there isn’t any sizzle. Jared McCann has proven he could be a capable third-line center who adds speed and tenacity in the middle of the Penguins line up.
However, the Penguins decision will rely on the role they choose for McCann. Could he be Penguins shooting winger? Or is he a center? If the Penguins choose the pivot for McCann, then Bjugstad will be front-and-center on the trade block.
Florida switched Bjugstad to right-wing a year before the Penguins acquired him, and the Penguins were anxious to try him on the flank. However, they quickly realized his true calling was not on the wing. Yes, Bjugstad’s best offensive season was on the right-wing in 2017-18 when he scored 19 goals and 30 assists.
However, they tried him with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. And Sullivan made the decision to move him back to center. PHN analysis posits it is center or bust for Bjugstad, and if McCann is the Penguins choice for 3C, then Bjugstad will have real value. He could be off the IR and back in the lineup soon.
Potential return: Middle lines winger, 5/6 defenseman
Riikola, 25, never said was a victim of circumstance. He still belongs (Billy Joel reference). However, Riikola may fit better on the Pittsburgh Penguins trade block than with their current right-side defensemen who closely mirror his game, thus creating awkward pairings.
The Penguins may find the harmony they need until Brian Dumoulin returns in February by swapping Riikola.
Potential return: 6/7 left-side defenseman.
This isn’t so much potential trade bait as a necessary parting. Galchenyuk has much more to give the Penguins than his two goals and eight assists in 27 games. Galchenyuk is only 25-years-old, had 19 goals last season despite a slow start and he missed 10 games. That was a fact he was quick to point out to PHN as we chatted last month.
However, things are going south. He’s been demoted to the fourth line because of his often invisible production. He will be an unrestricted free agent at season end and there appears to be zero chance the relationship continues beyond this season. Galchenyuk’s wicked wrist shot has not helped the second power-play unit not added goals from any lineup position, so this will be a tough move, too.
Potential return: Salary cap relief from Galchenyuk’s $4.9 million salary. Perhaps a depth player or later round draft pick.
On the surface, a 27-year-old goalie in the minor leagues who already cleared waivers this season would not seem to garner anything on the Penguins trade wish-list. However, DeSmith is a proven capable backup and more than a few teams have learned only too late that they needed a backup goalie. Florida and Toronto spring to mind.
DeSmith has a career .917 save percentage in 50 NHL games and has been stuffing the AHL. DeSmith was the AHL goaltender of the month for November. After an adjustment and acceptance of being shuffled to the minors despite not losing his NHL job on the ice, DeSmith has helped to carry the rebuilding Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.
He would be a useful piece to several teams. However, the traditional price for a backup goalie is a middle-round draft pick.
Potential return: Draft pick or part of a package for depth scoring or straight up for a depth defenseman.
Given the Penguins injury woes and history, they have no reason to casually deal DeSmith, who provides proven depth. But if someone steps forward for DeSmith, they’ll find they have an NHL goalie capable of 30 starts, a good locker room presence, and the acquiring GM may wonder why he didn’t do it sooner. Of course, that same GM may still be regretting not snagging Jarry, too.