The Pittsburgh Penguins need a second-line center, either by re-signing Evgeni Malkin, in free agency, or they could pluck an available pivot off the NHL trade block later this summer.
For now, the Penguins don’t have a legitimate second center. Welcome to how the other half lives. Not every team can have a hall of fame captain who ranks among the top five all-time players followed by another center who is another generational talent. Not every team can roll out a second-line center capable of winning the game, winning the Art Ross, or dominating opponents at will.
A pair of all-world centers has been a luxury and the envy of the league. With just 22 days until the NHL free agent frenzy begins on July 13, the Penguins don’t have Malkin or a replacement under contract. Penguins GM Ron Hextall is presumably still working, or at least nibbling on a contract but those talks have been sworn to a level of secrecy rivaled only by KFC’s 11 herbs and spices.
If Malkin finds greener pastures, the consolation price will be having some or all of his $9.5 million salary cap hit to find a replacement.
There are a few potential UFA centers that fit the bill, beginning with Vincent Trocheck and Nazem Kadri, but what if the Colorado Avalanche re-signs Kadri? What if others throw more money at Trocheck than the Penguins think he is conceivably worth?
Both are very possible.
Besides the “uh oh” moment, the Penguins and Hextall will have to grab a cart, probably with a wobbly wheel, and go shopping on the NHL trade market. PHN has been sampling our colleagues, beating the bushes, and otherwise reading tea leaves to see which centers around the NHL will be or could be available.
No, second-line centers aren’t cheap, so we’ve had to exclude a few potential names that would fetch maximum value if they hit the market, like San Jose Sharks pivot Logan Couture.
Potential Pittsburgh Penguins Trade Targets
Adam Henrique, ANA
Anaheim is in the midst of a youth movement. Ryan Getzlaf retired. Newbies Trevor Zegras and Troy Terry electrified casual fans with “Michigan” goals. Jamie Drysdale is barely 20 years old and will be a star.
Yet the team is near the bottom of the standings and Adam Henrique is a 32-year-old center with two years left on a contract that carries a $5.8 million AAV. Henrique’s offense seems to be tied to his usage. He’s been a third-line center and a top-line center in Anaheim. With good wingers, Henrique could maintain his .72 points-per-game pace of this season.
Henrique had 42 points (19-23-42) in 58 games.
He lacks the high-end offensive skill, but he’s also defensively responsible. For most of his career, Henrique has also killed penalties. He could be the right blend of value and upside.
Jamie Benn, DAL
Benn, 32, made the unusual later-career switch to center from LW last season. He anchored the Dallas Stars’ second line with Tyler Seguin on the right side for much of this season. He had only 46 points in 82 games and was a significant minus-13, but most of the reviews of his play were positive.
He’s loved in the locker room and trusted by coaches. He brings a power game, size (6-foot-2, 210 pounds), and is typically better down the stretch and in the playoffs. The Penguins could sure use more players able to elevate their game in the playoffs.
He makes $9.5 million (AAV) for three more seasons, so he would not represent any savings over Malkin’s current deal. However, Dallas needs to make some changes. Their bubble Stanley Cup Final run notwithstanding, they’ve not been a consistent playoff team. Perhaps they’d like to spend that money elsewhere.
Kevin Hayes, PHI?
No. Well, at least not yet. This week, new Philadelphia Flyers head coach John Tortorella gave Hayes the kiss of death in his opening press conference. Tortorella said he’s looking forward to working with Hayes, and that Hayes has more to give. Uh oh. That means Hayes will be Tortorella’s target to remake the team. Sometimes, the tactic works. Usually, it means the player will be traded by next summer (see also, Ryan Johansen, Pierre Luc Dubois).
Yanni Gourde, SEA
Tampa Bay didn’t want to give up Gourde, who was a zippy center with finish in the Sunshine state. However, the expansion draft mandates such things, and Gourde went to Seattle.
Gourde, 30, is only 5-foot-9, but there is a lot of fight in that dog. Gourde is a physical player who can skate, score, and is defensively responsible. He’s been a consistent 20-goal scorer and knocked 21 goals this season.
Seattle isn’t close to contending as GM Ron Francis decided on the scenic route; they are building from the ground up. So, a player like Gourde could fetch more future pieces for Seattle. He’s not on the NHL trade block, but a 30-year-old player with three years left on his contract is rarely unavailable.
Gourde’s AAV is just over $5.1 million, so he would be affordable, too. However, the Penguins would probably have to sacrifice a top prospect, perhaps even a top pick.
Honorable mention: Jared McCann, but I like Gourde as a more consistent producer in the middle.
J.T. Miller, VAN
The NHL trade rumors have been percolating all season. Miller has one season left at a $5.25 million AAV, and it makes sense for the Pittsburgh Penguins to covet a speedy, scoring center.
Miller, 29, scored 99 points this season with 32 goals in 80 games. Per President of Hockey Operations Jim Rutherford, Vancouver plans to offer a QO to RFA Brock Boeser. That will essentially max out Vancouver’s salary cap, and someone has to go.
Things aren’t great in Vancouver–head coach Bruce Boudreau is a lame duck, NHL analyst Nick Kypreos called the locker room “a country club,” and they missed the playoffs.
Miller’s career year belies his typical statistics. His previous career-best was 72 points in 2019-20. His second-best season prior to his monster outburst this season was 56 points with the 2016-17 New York Rangers.
So, he really can’t be called a 100-point center…unless he does it again.
Ordinarily, we would say a trade for Miller is way out of the Penguins’ price range. However, perhaps Rutherford and GM Patrick Allvin have some residual love for their former players. Perhaps some combination of a young defenseman, a prospect, and an NHL player?
Or, Evgeni Malkin could re-sign and this is moot. The clock is ticking on all options.