Hextall Seems to Indicate Penguins Trade for 3rd Line, Won’t Dump Top Pick
CRANBERRY — The Pittsburgh Penguins need to improve their chemistry, especially on the much criticized third line. They will not make merely a shakeup trade, and a Penguins trade involving their first-round pick, at least for a salary dump, is basically off-limits.
Penguins GM Ron Hextall addressed the media at the UPMC Lemieux Complex less than one month before the March 3 NHL trade deadline. While he did his best to avoid specifics as the team hurtles towards the point of no return, struggling for wins and consistency, he did take one possible move off the table.
Hextall will not trade the Penguins’ first-round pick to move out a salary, and it didn’t sound like the first-rounder was in play for a straight-up deal, either.
Reports since the summer indicate the going rate amongst teams with more salary cap space than ambition has been a first-round pick or equivalent.
“I would say that’s not on the table. I haven’t been asked for that. Certainly, conversations are starting to pick up with a lot of guys,” Hextall said. “But there’s a lot of guys that are looking to see what’s out there, (not a lot of GMs) kind of grabbing the group. ‘Okay, we’d be interested in this or this on both sides.’
“Whether you’re a buyer or seller, not a lot of teams — obviously, we saw the big one the other day with the Islanders — but there are not a lot of teams that are looking to jump (or are) getting down to the fine strokes here. But certainly, the talk is picking up … But in terms of first round picks for getting salary out, I don’t see that as being an option for us.”.
CapFriendly.com projects the Penguins to have just over 18k of cap space when healthy. Hextall’s ice-cold water on the possibility, combined with the Penguins’ extremee lack of cap space, begin to frame the coming trade deadline.
It’s not talent, as Hextall sees it, but fit and working within the salary cap confines.
“When I look at our team on paper, I like our team. When I look at some of the games and the results, I don’t like it as much. So sometimes you get better when you make a move with a certain player that fits better, whether it’s internal or external,” said Hextall. “…We’re going to be creative with our cap situation. I think there are 22 teams either within $2 million of the cap or into LTIR. So there’s a lot of teams that are in a tight situation here, and certainly, we’re one of them. So we’ll have to be creative, but we’d certainly like them to find something that upgrades our group. And, like I said, maybe it’s a better fit.”
Beyond the Penguins’ limitations will be the big names like Timo Meier, for whom division rivals New Jersey Devils and New York Rangers remain the rumored favorites.
Like many fans, Hextall circled his third line for improvement, and all three frequent inhabitants, Brock McGinn, Jeff Carter, and Kasperi Kapanen, could be the odd man or men out.
Carter has 19 points and just one even-strength, 5v5 goal since scoring against the LA Kings on Oct. 20.
Kapanen, who was in a regular contact jersey at practice Sunday, has been in and out of the press box as a healthy scratch. He has 17 points in 35 games, including six goals, though three were scored in one game.
“I think it’s fair to say the chemistry hasn’t been like we hoped it would be. There are times where we’ve had some chemistry down there, but over the course of the year, the chemistry hasn’t been that great,” Hextall said. “And chemistry is tough to define when you’re talking about a line or a hockey team or defense or a forward group, but you can feel it and see it when it’s there. And I think that’s somewhere where we can look to hopefully improve.”
Hextall also seemed to dismiss the idea of a shakeup trade. In stark contrast to his predecessor Jim Rutherford, who openly threatened such things at a couple of points in his Penguins tenure, Hextall held that there would be no bad deals or trades just to make changes.
Penguins fans may grimly remember Rutherford dealing Carl Hagelin to the LA Kings for struggling winger Tanner Pearson (and then trading Pearson later that season and trying to reacquire Hagelin).
“It’s really dangerous to feel like you have to make a deal because, quite frankly, you look at the history and all of a sudden you make a bad deal. We’re not going to make a bad deal,” Hextall said. “We’re going to make a deal because we feel like it makes our team better in terms of the chemistry part that I’m talking about. We can bring in a piece that we think will fit better with our group here and maybe connect the line. That’s what we’ll look to do.”
That sure sounds like a third-line center, doesn’t it?
Hextall used to have a personal rule — he always wanted $2 million of cap space to make trades or call-ups, but the flat cap and the chance to keep star players erased that.
On the heels of Penguins president of hockey operations Brian Burke telling Dave Molinari the team was “looking hard” for a deal, Hextall framed the coming three weeks. The Penguins want to make moves, but they just won’t be headline making deals. They won’t sacrifice too much of the future, nor will Hextall trade someone to make a point.