The Pittsburgh Penguins trade clock is ticking. One of the two Penguins chief rivals in the East Division, the New York Islanders, threw down the gauntlet on Wednesday night. New York made the first big splash of the 2021 NHL trade deadline when they snagged consistent scoring winger Kyle Palmieri and solid center Travis Zajac from New Jersey in exchange for depth forwards, a future fourth-round pick, and a 2021 first-rounder.
If you’re keeping score at home, it certainly is a buyer’s market. If Palmieri earned a presumably late first-round pick, that means the New Jersey Devils only netted depth forwards and a future fourth-rounder for Zajac.
That would bode well for Penguins’ trade hopes if they had more than a 2021 second or fifth-rounder to give. However, the Penguins have a full complement of 2022 draft picks.
While both GM Ron Hextall and President of Hockey Operations Brian Burke admit physicality is a targeted area, their other comments do run somewhat counter to each other. The Instagram account Everyday.Pens compiled a list of quotes from various media outlets. Our apologies for not directly attributing the quotes to the original source.
“We’re certainly not going to give critical future assets away for players that might make us minimally better or add depth,” Hextall is quoted as saying. “It would really have to make us noticeably a better team.”
While Burke offered this:
“I wouldn’t anticipate, right now, a hockey deal,” Burke said. “If there’s going to be anything, I think it would be more of a move to help us right now.”
The Penguins don’t expect a hockey trade, which means they don’t expect a dollar-in, dollar-out deal with established NHL players? “Help right now” seems to be code for a rental player. Rentals cost draft picks or prospects usually.
Hextall wisely set the bar high for a Penguins trade involving future assets, but that puts them in a pickle. If the Penguins make any significant deal, it seems one of those statements may be walked back, if only slightly.
The Islanders curious get of Kyle Palmieri now puts the Penguins on notice. One of their two chief rivals in the East Division presumably got better (though we wonder why New York acquired a career RW to play LW. Where have you seen that before, Jarome Iginla?)
New York GM Lou Lamoriello rarely makes mistakes, anything involving Ilya Kovalchuk notwithstanding.
With just four days remaining until the league blows the horn on the 2021 NHL trade deadline, here are three big names who fit the Penguins’ desires, are linked in some way, and potentially available.
One thing to note, at the NHL trade deadline, players will cost half their cap hit for the remainder of the season. So, if a team had only $1 million in cap space and acquired a player who made $1 million, the team’s hit would be $500,000.
Pending injuries, the Penguins have somewhere between $1.1 million and $7 million of cap space for the trade deadline. We expect Evgeni Malkin and Brandon Tanev to return sooner than later, but Kasperi Kapanen ($3.25 million) remains a mystery.
You’ll notice we didn’t include the hot discussion topic of Scott Laughton. PHN was the first to offer his name, but we feel that would be an offseason discussion when Laughton is a free agent.
Potential Big-Name Penguins Trade Targets
1. Anthony Mantha, 26, DET
Mantha is in the first year of a four-year contract with a $5.7 million AAV. His name popped up in legitimate NHL trade rumor discussions earlier this season.
The 6-foot-5, 234-pounder is not a power forward, but he’s not pure finesse either. Mantha has only 20 points (10g, 10a) in 40 games this season, but the Detroit rebuild under GM Steve Yzerman is going sideways.
Mantha can play both wings. In Detroit, he’s a
right-handed left-shot who plays LW RW. Mantha brings good skates for a big man, offensive creativity, and past production. Mantha had 38 points in 43 games last season. Before that, he had a pair of 48 point seasons.
What might he look like playing beside a generational talent who can get him the puck in scoring areas?
Connection: Detroit assistant GM Pat Verbeek was a frequent guest at PPG Paints Arena this season. Since there were no press-box nachos, it’s more than plausible that he was watching someone closely.
Penguins trade cost: Difficult to predict. Detroit has no need to deal him but could save money in tough economic times and gain roster depth by putting him on the NHL trade block. It’s not what Mantha is worth, but what Detroit needs. They would have every right to ask for one of the Penguins’ top prospects (Nathan Legare, Sam Poulin), in addition to NHL talent. If Detroit saw something it liked, the Penguins could part with a defenseman, a prospect, or even a well-salaried winger to make room.
Cons: Mantha doesn’t add physicality. He will be expensive.
2. Sam Bennett, 24, CGY
In full disclosure, it appears Bennett and the Calgary Flames have kissed and made up since new coach Daryl Sutter took over. Bennett is getting more opportunities. He’s happy. And Sutter is happy with him. Sportsnet Calgary chronicled the repaired relationship.
But… Calgary is essentially eliminated from playoff contention, and the organization is stuck in the middle. Could the Penguins offer something that Calgary GM Brad Treveling believes makes his team better?
Bennett is in the final year of a contract with a $2.55 AAV. He’ll be an RFA this summer and eligible to be UFA next summer. The benefits of a Penguins trade for Bennett are easy. He’s a playoff performer. His nickname is Playoff Sam. He’s a gritty, tough western Canadian forward who fits the mold of Burke’s stated objective.
He can play all three forward positions, though center is his natural spot. He’s a left-handed shot with 73 hits in 37 games.
Penguins trade cost: The Penguins can offer a legitimate NHL player, forward or defense, or a higher 2022 draft pick. Perhaps a second-rounder? The Penguins could also offer a defenseman.
Cons: Bennett maddeningly disappears in the regular season. He has 10 points (4g, 6a) and is a team-worst minus-17. He’s a bottom-six player who could command something close to a top-six price.
It is tantalizing, no?
3. Jake Virtanen, 24, VAN
The Vancouver Canucks don’t want to give up on the gritty hitter. He was the sixth overall pick in 2014, but things just aren’t working in Vancouver. He has four goals in 32 games. No assists. And a $2.55 million cap hit.
Vancouver is going to miss the playoffs despite high expectations before the season. From the outside, it seems like some changes are in order.
Virtanen is a hitter. A ferocious hitter. He also scored 36 points in 69 games last season, including 18 goals. He had 15 goals two years ago.
So, he can score. Virtanen is 6-foot-1 but a hefty 226 pounds. He is truculence.
Penguins trade Cost: The great mystery. Virtanen’s name has appeared in NHL trade rumors, but Vancouver can ride this out. His contract runs through next season, so he comes with control and cost certainty. A 2022 second-round pick doesn’t seem to fit here. Vancouver should want a young prospect or NHL help.
Here’s the catch, according to Capfriendly.com, Vancouver has literally ZERO cap space. Any deal would have to create space for them, so scratch any of the Penguins veterans who make more than $2.55 million, unless the Penguins offer to eat years of salary.
Cons: Virtanen would likely cost the Penguins a painful prospect to lose. And, four goals, only four points in 32 games? Virtanen also has a reputation for taking shifts off, which would quickly land him in head coach Mike Sullivan’s dog house.