The Pittsburgh Penguins have played exactly two periods with a full and healthy roster. They couldn’t even make it through an entire game with a healthy roster. It’s been a star crossed year for the Penguins, and yet it’s been stars who have led the brigade to a respectable 17-9-4 record and a Wild Card position in the Eastern Conference. But slow your roll on expecting or hoping for a Penguins trade to include marquee names.
The Penguins trade market will be very different this season than in years past. The Penguins decided to move from a top-heavy team which relied on scoring talent and instead used that money on a deep lineup. Enter Brandon Tanev.
The first impediment to the Penguins chasing a star like Taylor Hall is salary cap space. When fully healthy, the Penguins don’t have it. However, let us assume the Penguins trade Alex Galchenyuk and most of his $4.9 million salary, the Penguins will have temporary room to acquire a player.
NBCsn recently included the Penguins as a top-five team in the Taylor Hall sweepstakes, which ignited fan interest. However, NBCsn included the Penguins based on past events and reputation, not current realities.
Temporary because a few players are due a few raises next season. Penguins GM Jim Rutherford was blunt when they Penguins acquired Galchenyuk for Phil Kessel in June. Rutherford pointedly admitted Galchenyuk’s expiring contract was an attractive option and the Penguins have already earmarked that money for 2020-21.
To further chase the rabbit down the hole, that means the Penguins would need to give up a ransom for a rental player. Such a trade may have happened in 2018, but it will not happen in 2020. The Penguins organization led by Rutherford realizes the future will arrive sooner than later, and the Penguins are planning for it now. They could have traded their first round pick in June. Instead, they hung on to not only draft Sam Poulin, but they added a third-rounder for Nathan Legare, too.
Based on current beliefs around the league, the New Jersey Devils could want as many as four pieces, including top prospects. In real-world terms, New Jersey would force the Penguins to part with Poulin and a first-round pick, at least.
That’s just a no-go.
The Penguins probably need another offensive threat. Probably.
Until the Penguins ice something akin to a full roster, they really don’t know what they need. Is Bryan Rust now a 30-goal scorer? Will Jared McCann begin to light up the scoreboard when he gets back to the wing? Once healthy, will Nick Bjugstad be able to produce at an adequate rate? Will he and Patric Hornqvist be able to tilt the ice again?
The Penguins may need a scoring threat or a third-line center. Perhaps they could also add a middle lines scorer.
Until the Penguins get somewhere close to healthy, it’s a guessing game who could jell and what the Penguins genuinely need. Before Penguins fans chase white wales like Hall, factor in the Penguins team-game and mindset. They’re a speedy, honest team that is now playing within head coach Mike Sullivan’s system. The Penguins won’t acquire a talented player to do his own thing.
Teams to Watch
Sportsnet tied Buffalo to the Penguins, though Buffalo’s surplus is defensemen. Buffalo hasn’t scouted the Penguins since early in the season, either. Since former Penguins assistant-GM Jason Botterill is admittedly looking for a forward, Alex Galchenyuk does make sense. However, according to Capfriendly.com, Buffalo is not projected to have enough salary-cap space to take on a multi-million dollar salary.
Which means they’ll have to send a salary out, in return. LHD Jake McCabe has been the rumored odd-man-out, but he makes $2.85 million this season AND next season.
One team to keep an eye on are the Carolina Hurricanes. They have scouted the last several Penguins home games. Carolina’s biggest need is in the net, so it does make sense they’re watching the Penguins, which have one to give if the price is right.
Chicago has also been popping in to watch the Penguins. Rutherford and Chicago GM Stan Bowman have some history which began in 2015 when the Penguins acquired defenseman Trevor Daley for d-man Rob Scuderi. Last summer, the Penguins plucked Dominik Kahun from Chicago for defenseman Olli Maatta.
Chicago is currently four points out of a Wild Card spot and six points from the Western Conference basement.
The holiday roster freeze begins on Dec. 19 and ends on Dec. 27. Unfortunately, PHN predicted several times Galchenyuk would be a name mentioned in the quasi-deadline trade talk.
While there is usually more smoke than fire to the holiday freeze deadline, a Galchenyuk deal would make sense if the Penguins can find temporary help, which fits short term goals, team concept, and salary cap structure.
It won’t be easy.