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NHL Trade Rumors

Penguins Trade Talk: Does Vegas Need Reilly Smith? Is a Goalie Available?



Pittsburgh Penguins, Alex Nedeljkovic

The NHL trade chatter has finally picked up after a couple of months of stagnation when the focus was solely on the Calgary Flames. We can finally move past Calgary and look to the deadline. Injuries and playoff contention are creating openings and opportunities, including for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Penguins president of hockey operations/GM Kyle Dubas stated the obvious Wednesday when he declared the reality is that the Penguins need to get younger. The oldest team in North American pro sports could only get older if they signed Jaromir Jagr. In the absence of that Disney-made-for-TV movie, the internet is chattering over how soon — or how — Dubas will make the Penguins younger.

Reilly Smith, 32, has not filled the shoes of Jason Zucker alongside Evgeni Malkin and was recently paired with Lars Eller on the third line. Smith’s play has improved, but the Penguins aren’t getting $5 million worth of production or anything close.

It’s fair to say things aren’t working out.

With the Penguins, smith seems to be a misfit. Smith has 23 points, including 10 goals, in 48 games.

However, elsewhere, Smith is a Misfit. He was part of the original Vegas Golden Knights that took on the underdog role and shocked the NHL with a tireless run to the Stanley Cup final in their first year. They were the castoffs, the nowhere generation, the kids that no one wants. And they built a franchise and a rabid fanbase that adored them.

And still does.

Vegas is the NHL’s great success story, and Smith was an original Misfit, a term coined by Ryan Reaves but quickly embraced by the team and city.

Thursday, the Golden Knights announced the heartbeat of their team, Mark Stone, would be out week-to-week, and hopefully ready for the playoffs. Stone’s injury gives the Golden Knights salary-cap space and the need for a winger. Perhaps also a need for some additional presence in the room.

Smith is a left winger, and Stone is a right wing, but there could be a possible deal because Vegas is weak on the left side. Ivan Barbashev, Paul Cotter, and Brendan Brisson are there. Smith would fortify that side while Vegas temporarily fills the right-side void.

A deal would not make the Penguins better but could add the most vital asset of all: cap space.

Smith’s value is low because of his salary and scant production since October, so the Penguins would likely need to bring a bib for the amount of salary they would need to eat. However, a golden reunion where Smith helped build an organization, is well-liked in the community, and seemed happy would be a bit of a Disney story.

Goalie Trade Market

The Penguins had an interesting roster construction until Thursday evening. Third goalie Magnus Hellberg still was with the team then, before being assigned to their farm team in Wilkes-Barre.

At first, his recall was thought to be an emergency loan. Coach Mike Sullivan said one of the goalies was sick on Tuesday, so they wanted to make sure they were covered. Alex Nedeljkovic started, and Tristan Jarry was the backup.

But Hellberg stayed with the team, and his recall was not listed as an emergency loan. In fact, both Penguins goalies were healthy enough to dress, practice, and play between Tuesday and Thursday.

The trade market for goalies is complicated, especially for a team in the Metropolitan Division. New Jersey is the team most in need, but if the Penguins want to make the playoffs, providing goaltending help to one of their chief rivals for a spot might be a bad move.

The Philadelphia Flyers could use some help, too. Again, Dubas would have no incentive to deal, at least as long as the playoffs are a possibility.

Nedeljkovic turned in his worst game of the season on Tuesday. However, he’s been a solid addition, posting a .915 save percentage in 19 appearances. Nedeljkovic’s cap hit of $1.5 million is equally attractive.

It wouldn’t take much reconfiguring for any team to fit the gregarious Cleveland Browns-loving netminder. His poor taste in football teams aside, he could provide no less than tandem support for a playoff team like the LA Kings, a good backup for the Colorado Avalanche, and perhaps a 1A for the Edmonton Oilers.

The starting goalies on the trade block, such as Juuse Saros and Jacob Markstrom, will come at a heavy trade cost and high salary-cap hit. The other goalies available, such as Montreal’s Jake Allen, don’t move the needle.

Nedeljkovic has a low cap hit and a high ceiling. The Penguins might do very well if they make him available. He’s a pending unrestricted free agent who has outplayed his current contract and figures to get a healthy raise on July 1. Hellberg was solid in NHL action earlier this season, including helping Jarry with a shutout win in Anaheim and his own win over LA. Moreover,  the Penguins’ top goalie prospect, Joel Blomqvist, is playing very well in Wilkes-Barre.

Nedeljkovic might be the easiest and most accessible arrow in Dubas’s quiver. A first-rounder or NHL-ready prospect is not out of the question. In past years, a backup goalie would fetch a second-rounder, but scarcity drives up the price.