It is five weeks and counting toward the March 8 NHL trade deadline. The Pittsburgh Penguins are both outside the playoff seeds but a favorite to overtake one or more teams, including the Philadelphia Flyers, to put themselves in the NHL postseason.
On the hot stove, reports link the New York Rangers to Calgary Flames center Elias Lindholm and posit the Rangers are also listening on 2019 second-overall pick Kappo Kaako. The Metro Division seems to be weaker than in years past, and the first-place Rangers getting better would only serve to make a potential first or second-round matchup even more difficult.
Examining the Penguins lineup shows a couple of holes in the middle six, pending the organization’s outlook on their relationship with LW Reilly Smith. Smith had just two goals in the 30 games prior to suffering an upper-body injury.
Smith, 32, hasn’t captured the same rhythm with his new team that he did with his former club, the Vegas Golden Knights, where he was one of the original Misfits and part of the 2023 Stanley Cup winner.
His lack of production has only added questions about his fit in Pittsburgh.
The Penguins’ offensive punch on the third line has been lacking, too. Right-wing Valtteri Puustinen has considerably cooled after a hot restart to his NHL career. Puustinen broke a 10-game scoreless drought with an assist in the final game before the Penguins’ bye week, but the small Finnish winger has just one goal in 22 games.
An awful power play further deepens the Penguins’ need for some offensive pop. Someone who can take the mid-wall or the top of the problematic man advantage could mean several wins in the stretch run.
The bar has been set pretty low for the level of contributions that could improve the Penguins. And there happen to be a few wingers with an affordable trade cost, though the pesky salary cap is always an issue.
Could the Penguins move Smith, who carries a $5 million average annual value (AAV) through next season, to make room for another solution in a similar role? Can president of hockey operations/GM Kyle Dubas find other ways to move out salary to bolster his middle six?
Penguins Trade Potentials
The 32-year-old Russian winger is piling up points for the struggling Ottawa Senators. In 44 games, Tarasenko has 13 goals and 19 assists. He carries a $5 million cap hit and the ability to improve a power play.
Tarasenko has a Stanley Cup ring courtesy of the 2019 St. Louis Blues, and he’s tied with a team-leading plus-16 on the defensively poor Senators squad.
The former star winger has six power-play points this season, including a pair of goals. One also wonders if Tarasenko could snap fellow Russian Evgeni Malkin out of his funk, too.
New Senators GM recently sang the praises of Tarasenko, as printed in the Ottawa Sun.
“I knew the player coming in but didn’t know the person, and I’ve been impressed with his commitment,” Senators GM Steve Staios said. “There’s a lot to his game other than the offense. He’s won a Stanley Cup, and he’s played the right way in situational hockey as well.”
Tarasenko will probably net a higher draft pick, but the rebuilding Senators are also looking for mentors and veterans to guide the young team.
Last season, Olofsson scored 28 goals with the Buffalo Sabres and was part of the rising tide of optimism in the snow belt that has not seen playoff hockey since 2011.
The left winger handsomely rewarded Buffalo in the first year of his two-year deal with a $4.75 million cap hit.
This season has been as bad as last season was good. Olofsson has played in just three of 11 January games, not because he’s injured but because he has served as a healthy scratch. He has only 12 points, including four goals, in 33 games this season.
Last season, Olofsson had 14 power-play points, including seven goals.
For comparison, the Penguins have only 20 power-play goals this season.
An acquiring team can get a good deal if they are able to take on the entire salary. Olofsson might cost a mid-round pick with some salary retention, which could put him well within the Penguins’ price range.
The winger, who spent three seasons with the Penguins, the first two marred by serious injuries, returned to health last season, scoring 27 goals with 48 points. This season, he has 17 points with seven goals in 38 games with the Arizona Coyotes.
He signed a one-year deal with Arizona carrying a $5.3 million AAV.
Speed. Emotional engagement. And a little boost in the room. None of that would hurt, would it?
His salary is the drawback. However, Arizona has plenty of cap space to eat some salary and a seemingly endless need for young, inexpensive players. Could Dubas convince Arizona to keep some salary in exchange for a prospect and NHL player?