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PHN Blog: Penguins vs. East Division and the NHL Trade Deadline



Pittsburgh Penguins game Bryan Rust, Philadelphia Flyers

The Pittsburgh Penguins might tinker with their roster by the April 12 NHL trade deadline. At this moment, don’t make special plans to celebrate a raucous trade deadline, but several of the Penguins’ biggest East Division rivals are indeed chasing big fish on the NHL trade market.

The Penguins are currently in third place in the East Division. However, if you factor winning percentage and games in hand, the Penguins are essentially in fourth, just a smidge ahead of the Philadelphia Flyers but behind the Boston Bruins.

The Penguins’ closest competitors, Boston, Philadelphia, and the New York Islanders are big game hunting on the NHL trade market. Boston has been pushing for a big trade since the offseason but has been dry so far. As Penguins fans saw last week, even without secondary scoring or blueline help, Boston is still a tough team to beat.

Evgeni Malkin and Teddy Blueger are out for weeks as a result of the physical hockey against Boston, too.

On the trade market, be careful what you wish for, too. Penguins fans will groan when we reference Derick Brassard. Jason Zucker was the big Penguins “get” last season. The trade didn’t improve the Penguins’ fate, either.

So big names don’t necessarily equal results, especially with such little time to jell.

Boston Bruins

After getting a good look at all five East Division teams over the past few weeks, the PHN Blog can safely report if Boston lands secondary scoring, they will be the toughest out of the East Division. By a wide margin.

But that trade acquisition or three has to work out, too.

Boston has been credibly linked to every big name over the past four months. Circle Anaheim’s Rickard Rakell as the type of secondary scoring they want. And Boston is monitoring Mattias Ekholm in Nashville and Vince Dunn in St. Louis on the NHL trade market.

New York Islanders

The New York Islanders promised to be aggressive on the trade market to replace captain Anders Lee, whose season-ending injury leaves a large hole on the top-line LW.

Islanders GM Lou Lamoriello, who is notoriously secretive, admitted New York would be “aggressive” trying to fill that spot. It certainly helps that New York has at least a four-point cushion for a playoff spot and the second-best winning percentage in the East Division.

Philadelphia Flyers

Philadelphia is hunting forward and defensive help. The big target on their radar is Nashville defenseman, Mattias Ekholm. Philadelphia is treading water and wearing ankle weights at the moment. If there is one team at risk of dropping out of the playoff race, more so than the Penguins without Blueger and Malkin, it is Philadelphia.

As our boys in Philadelphia are reporting, things are getting bleak. Lifeless losses are piling up, and nothing is working. The Flyers haven’t won back-to-back games in nearly one month.

Philadelphia charged on the outside rail in the Metro Division last season. Over a 23 game span to conclude the pandemic shortened regular season, they had 18 wins. Philadelphia also had a respectable NHL Bubble run.

They took the Islanders to the mat in a seven-game series in Round Two.

Now, they might hit the bottom instead of the top. GM Chuck Fletcher doesn’t yet have a “reputation” for big or small deals. Philadelphia needs a shakeup, which is good news for the Penguins.

Pittsburgh Penguins

Overall, it’s hard not to like the Pittsburgh Penguins’ chances if Malkin can return within a couple of weeks. The Penguins can grit by New Jersey and Buffalo in that time and tread water until their lineup is intact.

Of course, if week-to-week means closer to one month, the Penguins will also have hit the vending machine known as the NHL trade block. Without Malkin in the middle, the Penguins won’t win many games against good teams. They’re not strong enough to play a grimy game, and the situation will likely call upon GM Ron Hextall.

The Penguins have shown they can beat the New York Islanders and division-leading Washington Capitals. They zoomed past Philadelphia for 2.5 games, with the lone exception coming when they gained a commanding three-goal lead and relaxed.

Boston remains the team in which the Penguins would be a heavy underdog in a seven-game series.

The situation is still better than the Penguins’ hole of a few weeks ago. Philadelphia’s struggles may safeguard the Penguins for a moment, but they don’t want to waste that cushion too quickly.

The trade market could be interesting in the East Division. Perhaps the Penguins’ biggest foes don’t control their own fate as much as a healthy Penguins roster does.

That’s not a bad spot.

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Pittsburgh Hockey Now Editor-in-Chief, formerly 93.7 The Fan, Sportsnet Hockey Tonight, NHL Home Ice. Catch Dan tweeting @theDanKingerski and the official @pghhockeynow account.

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