The Pittsburgh Penguins haven’t been the same team in January without top-line winger Jake Guentzel. Five of the last seven Penguins wins have been in comeback fashion, and scoring goals has been a chore, including just one regulation tally against lowly Detroit last Friday and their shutout loss to Philadelphia on Tuesday. A Penguins trade for a Guentzel substitute might do the Penguins a world of good.
The Penguins will soon have their full complement of centers in the lineup, so the lineup construction or reconstruction can begin.
The names Tyler Toffoli and Chris Kreider have been out there for a month or more. And the UFA rentals are known. Now, more wingers are popping up on the NHL trade market, which can only be a good thing for the Penguins. Supply and demand. Penguins GM Jim Rutherford isn’t prone to mistakes, but the Penguins may be kicking themselves just a little for missing out on the first name on the list.
1. Ilya Kovalchuk, 36, $700,000. UFA
Montreal snagged the winger who bolted LA and left more than $4 million behind as a free agent. Everyone else passed. Kovalchuk signed a prorated league minimum deal with Montreal for $700,000, however, his elevated play has not translated to wins for the Montreal Canadiens.
Montreal is 13th in the Eastern Conference, and they’re more than a few kilometers behind the second Wild-Card spot. They trail the Carolina Hurricanes by 10 points for the final playoff position, and Carolina has already added Mr. Game 7, Justin Williams for the stretch run. In other words, the sell-off in Montreal is about to begin.
In eight games, Kovalchuk has eight points (4g, 4a) and has five points in his last five games. The 36-year-old winger is playing about 20 minutes per game.
The expected ask for Kovalchuk is a third-round pick. Would the Penguins trade their third-rounder for a short term replacement? Kovalchuk could play with Evgeni Malkin and the Penguins could return Bryan Rust to Sidney Crosby’s line.
2. Andreas Athanasiou, 25, $3 Million. RFA
Detroit is in a bad way. Like, historically bad. Like so bad, it’s not even worth firing their coach, Jeff Blashill. Detroit is 13 points behind the next-to-last team in the NHL. They’re tanking so hard, Eddie Johnston should be their GM. Ok, enough.
Detroit GM Steve Yzerman does have a few pearls, however. Athanasiou has been a favorite target of Penguins fans for two years since the trade talks with Detroit, which eventually yielded Riley Sheahan to be the Penguins third-line center.
Athanasiou is the closest thing to a Guentzel replacement, rather than a substitute on the market. The swift skating winger has a complete game, and his offensive skills pop, except for this season. Last season, on the struggling Detroit team he marked 30 goals.
The 25-year-old has been swarmed in Detroit. In 35 games, he has just five goals and 19 points. He’s also a whopping minus-35. One can only imagine the surge which may occur if he were transported from Detroit and dropped onto Sidney Crosby’s line. He may be the only winger on the market worth the Penguins first-round draft choice.
He is an RFA with arbitration rights, so his cost for next season is an unknown, but Penguins fans might be correct to salivate at the possibilities. The Penguins GM, too.
3. Mikael Granlund, 27, $5.7 million. UFA
Granlund made less than a splashy entry in Nashville after being acquired near the trade deadline last season. After posting 15 goals and 49 points in 63 games for Minnesota, Granlund popped for just five points in 16 games with Nashville and only two points in six playoff games.
Granlund is fast, creative, and has good hockey sense, but a tad undersized (just like most Penguins wingers). The pending UFA doesn’t fit in Nashville, but more than a few GMs should be kicking tires on the winger who can score pretty goals.
His salary may work to the Penguins’ favor since it may price him out of other contenders’ reach. With a little salary cap wizardry, the Penguins should be able to fit Granlund with some ease because the team can exceed the salary cap by close to Guentzel’s full $6 million salary.
4. Ryan Donato, 23, $1.9 million.
Donato will not be anyone’s first choice. The formerly rising Boston Bruins prospect has stumbled this season in Minnesota. Last season, after Minnesota acquired Donato as part of the Charlie Coyle deal, he had 16 points (4g, 12a) in 22 games. However, this season Donato has regressed to just 15 points, with nine goals in 45 goals.
Donata is not a slick skater. He’s a methodical playmaking sort. His fit with the Penguins may be closer to Alex Galchenyuk, but he’s out there nonetheless. At 23, a new team may see potential.
5. Mathieu Perrault, 32, $4.125
Winnipeg has reportedly been trying to move Perrault, but the small forward’s $4.1 million salary, which runs through next season, has been an issue. So too is his production. This season, the 32-year-old has only 14 points, including six goals.
What Perrault could offer a team like the Penguins in addition to playmaking ability and defensive awareness, is versatility. He can play wing or center like seemingly most of the Penguins roster. He is a zippy skater but not fast, but his offensive game could fit well.
He’s predominantly been a third liner in Winnipeg.
Perrault has averaged 15 goals per season over the last three campaigns and has been a consistent 40-point scorer. He could be a budget get for Rutherford is the price proves to be too steep on the more prominent names.