Everyone including those inside the Pittsburgh Penguins organization awaits what could be a summer of regeneration or the equivalent of a 9.9 on the Richter scale. The Penguins have more than one big name and salary, which could find a new home to facilitate the turnover for fresh legs and spirit. And the Penguins trade rumors are about to begin in earnest.
The million dollar question will which big names or salaries General Manager Jim Rutherford decides to move. And how much new spirit Rutherford feels the need to add.
The Evgeni Malkin situation is a separate situation. No matter the decision regarding him or the choice from Malkin, he will not be trade bait. Penguins fans may note the recent quiet front on this matter. That likely bodes well for Malkin’s Pittsburgh future.
Penguins Trade Bait List
5. Bryan Rust
Rust, 27, is the Penguins utility knife. Top line right wing. Second line left wing. Third line both sides. And Rust even played on the fourth line this season, too. Rust signed a four-year, $14 million deal last summer and popped 18 goals but only 35 points in 72 games this season. His point production was more than streaky.
Rust is a valuable piece of the Penguins puzzle. He brings speed and tenacity to a lineup which could use more of those things, but with lesser priced options like Jared McCann and Dominik Simon, Rust could be included in a broader deal.
Probability: 2 in 10.
4. Teddy Blueger
He finally cracked the Penguins roster after two and a half seasons in the AHL. He made his NHL debut on Jan. 30, then scored two goals in his first three games. The Riga, Latvia native was the Penguins second-round pick in 2012 (52nd overall) and spent four seasons at Minnesota State-Mankato.
He scored 10 points (6g, 4a) in 28 games. He will turn 25 in August, so inexperienced might be a more apt description than young (Nick Bjugstad is 26-years-old for comparison). However, Blueger did not play well enough when shifted to LW to lock down a spot in the lineup. He did play well as a center but would figure to be no higher than fourth on the Penguins depth chart.
Blueger won’t appear in many Penguins trade rumors but could be a classic case of another team seeing more potential than the Penguins have space to use, or being included in a larger deal. Blueger’s speed could be an asset to the Penguins but fourth line centers have limited value. Matt Cullen was an exception as head coach Mike Sullivan trusted Cullen to face the opponent’s top line.
Probability: 2 in 10.
3. Tristan Jarry
Jarry, 24, is an interesting situation. He is thought to have starting goalie potential and pedigree. But he is caught in the Penguins system behind signed backup Casey DeSmith and starter Matt Murray. DeSmith showed well as a 35-game backup able to make starts in stretches and offer valuable support without needing the net.
Jarry very much wants his chance as a starting goalie. In 2017-18, Jarry appeared in 26 games with a .908 save percentage and 2.77 goals against average. His save percentage was equal to Matt Murray’s, and both played behind a porous defense and lackluster forward effort in their own zone.
The Penguins could choose to keep Jarry as insurance against Murray’s new contract demands. Or they could recoup a nice return for the 6-foot-2 netminder who plays an athletic style. In the summer is the proper time to deal Jarry as it would also allow the Penguins time to find a third goalie for the organization.
In the AHL this season, Jarry posted at .915 save percentage and an even record 23-23-3 behind a non-playoff team. He probably can’t marinate much longer in the A. Jarry badly wants to play in the NHL.
Probability: 5 in 10
2. Olli Maatta
The Penguins defense was stingy in the second half of the season and did so largely without Olli Maatta. The left-side defenseman has plenty of company as the Penguins can employ Brian Dumoulin, Jack Johnson and Marcus Pettersson on the left, with Juuso Riikola in reserve.
Maatta has had a good run with the Penguins and was the club’s best defender in 2017-18. However, injuries and inconsistent play diminished this season. And after drawing in for the first playoff game, he was a healthy scratch in the next three. His $4 million salary is now superfluous in the Penguins structure.
Maatta, 24, has failed to crack 20 points in three of the last four seasons. This season, he had just one goal and 13 assists and too often looked slow or tired. Such was not the case last season.
A change of scenery could do both parties well. PHN reported in January that Maatta was available. Last week, we confirmed he was initially a part of the trade talks with LA and Anaheim.
Probability: 8 in 10
1. Phil Kessel
Oh, Phil. The enigmatic yet beloved star of the Pittsburgh Penguins created locker room friction and few goals in the second half of the season. The fan outcry will dwarf that of the James Neal trade (which brought Patric Hornqvist) but the internal heat is too much to sustain. Soon to be 32-year-old wingers who aren’t generational talents don’t get to play their own way.
Kessel will be the star of Penguins trade rumors leading up to the draft.
Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet reported the Penguins would have difficulty making a deal as some coaches around the league don’t want the headache. Kessel is a point-per-game player as he evolves from a sniper to a playmaker. That can’t be overlooked and ultimately, another team will take on Kessel and his $6.8 million cap hit for that reason.
Though the Penguins may need to hold back just a little bit of salary or accept a paltry return, Kessel’s trade value is not high. Certainly not as high as it was last summer.
Arizona coach Rick Tocchet told The Athletic that his team needs a 20-goal scorer. And it’s a poorly kept secret around the Penguins that Kessel would like to play for Tocchet.
It was a hell of a run with two Stanley Cups. No one can take away those memories from Penguins fans but the run is over.
Probability: 8 in 10.
Patric Hornqvist. The Penguins 32-year-old winger had a frustrating season. However, he provides a unique skill set which cannot be easily replaced and trading him now would be selling at a low point. Also, it cannot be underestimated what he means to the locker room. Emotion and glue guys were in short supply this season. To deal him this summer would be to remove yet another heart and soul player.
Jack Johnson. His five-year deal has four years remaining. Even though the cap hit is very affordable, he will need to continue his second-half turnaround. His physical style was welcome, but his offensive game was absent. Season two should tell the tale of Johnson in a Penguins sweater.
Though a Johnson trade is not out of the realm of possibility. Several teams called him during the free agency talk period. At $3.25 million, a defense starved team could see him as a piece. The Penguins also have Erik Gudbranson.