The Pittsburgh Penguins have used bubble NHL players on their fourth line for most of the 2019-20 season. As the injuries mounted, coaches even defenseman Juuso Riikola into service as a fourth-line forward. Center Nick Bjugstad has played just 10 games this season and his return does not yet appear imminent, though he began a skating program last weekend. So, the Penguins trade needs begin with a forward.
Earlier this week, a league source told PHN the Penguins were picking through fourth-line centers, and preferably one with some defensive zone faceoff prowess. But that seemed obvious enough. The Penguins are 27th in the league on the faceoff dot and Thursday night, Toronto burned the Penguins for three goals immediately off of faceoffs.
Names have not yet floated to the surface.
However, a rival executive also said the Penguins are believed to have some interest in New Jersey Devils power forward Wayne Simmonds.
Over the summer, some in the Penguins organization were interested in Simmonds, though Penguins GM Jim Rutherford put Simmonds on the maybe later list.
Thursday, TSN reported the Vancouver Canucks nearly completed a deal for Simmonds this week, but it fell through when Vancouver was unable to clear enough salary cap space to complete the deal.
New Jersey scouts have attended recent Penguins games.
Simmonds, 31, makes $5 million this season. The Penguins have a prorated portion of about $4.3 million according to CapFriendly.com. The 6-foot-2, 185-pound forward is known for being hard to play against, especially in the offensive zone. He played eight seasons with the Philadelphia Flyers before Philadelphia traded him to Nashville at the 2019 trade deadline.
Simmonds signed a one-year, $5 million “show-me” type contract with New Jersey in July. This season, the power forward has 23 points, with only seven goals in 60 games.
On paper, it may seem a bad match for a Penguins trade target, as the NHL executive questioned if Simmonds can skate well enough for the Penguins style. Recent lower body injuries have slowed Simmonds, who was not the fastest skater before the injuries. He is averaging over 15 minutes of ice time per game and has 127 hits this season.
Simmonds is also the reigning Mark Messier leadership award winner. New Jersey interim GM Tom Fitzgerald is also a former assistant-GM with the Pittsburgh Penguins and served under Rutherford until taking the same position with New Jersey under the recently-fired Ray Shero.
Fitgerald dealt Blake Coleman to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Sunday and defenseman Andy Greene to the New York Islanders.
The Penguins have a third, fourth, fifth and sixth-round pick for the 2020 NHL draft. They are currently in first place in the Metro Division.
Editors note: The original draft stated Simmonds was a three-time winner of the Messier award.