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NHL Trade Rumors

Predicting Penguins Trade Deadline; Devils Could Jump Pens



Pittsburgh Penguins game, Jake Guentzel, Sidney Crosby

CALGARY, Alberta — The NHL trade deadline is just one week away, and perhaps it’s fitting the Pittsburgh Penguins are in Calgary because this is the city that could flip the balance of power in the Metro Division and the Eastern Conference wild-card race.

The Calgary Flames traded sandpaper defenseman Chris Tanev to Dallas, keeping him out of the East. However, goalie Jacob Markstrom has been dangled in front of the New Jersey Devils like a piece of perfectly cooked Alberta beef.

Last week, the Devils almost bit, but subsequent reports indicate salary holdback was the final hurdle that could not be cleared. Markstrom remains the Flames goalie and will likely face the Penguins tonight.

New Jersey lost Friday night to the Anaheim Ducks, 4-3. New Jersey trailed 3-1 after two periods, despite allowing just 12 shots on goal. Nico Daws is one of the three goaltenders who have rotated, cycled, and failed to keep the Devil’s net started but allowed a couple of soft goals. Akira Schmid replaced him in the third and allowed another quick goal.

Goaltending can lift a team. It can also deflate it.

New Jersey fans are irate with coach Lindy Ruff over perceived system flaws, but it’s hard to criticize 18 skaters and the coach when they nearly triple the opponent’s shot clock, allowing 12 shots in 40 minutes, but are losing.

Putting it bluntly, if the New Jersey Devils get Jacob Markstrom for less than a lineup-shattering deal, they will indeed make the playoffs ahead of the Penguins, Flyers, and Capitals. There’s little question of that.

Why GM Tom Fitzgerald hasn’t found a goalie sooner is the more perplexing question.

As such, New Jersey and the Penguins remain the enigmas of the Eastern Conference Race. The Penguins control their fate, but it won’t be easy. They still trail the Philadelphia Flyers for third place in the Metro Division by seven points with four games in hand. They trail the Tampa Bay Lightning for the second wild card by eight points with five games in hand.

A 3-0-1 run would put the Penguins in third place. A 3-1-1 run would put them in a tie for the wild card, one regulation win behind.

It seems quite doable, but each game represents a chance to lose ground, lose faith, and lose players to the scattering NHL trade deadline wins.

Predicting Penguins, NHL Trade Deadline

Needs: Scoring. Depth defense.

Jake Guentzel.

The decision probably has not been made to a final certainty. In the Ross-Rachel-like “will they or won’t they” debate, this Pittsburgh Hockey Now scribe remains convinced that the president of hockey operations/GM Kyle Dubas will keep Guentzel for a playoff run if nothing else out of respect for Sidney Crosby.

Cost: First-round pick. Top Prospect. NHL Player or good prospect.

Of course, Guentzel is on the block, but ESPN’s Emily Kaplan cited a rival GM who scoffed at the price tag. Perhaps that’s the play? Set a high price tag and let fate decide. If Dubas gets his exorbitant price, then he wins. If he keeps Guentzel, he just rented the best player on the market for Sidney Crosby to have another run at the Cup. Dubas can’t lose unless he makes a bad trade.

Reilly Smith.

I feel awkward writing about Smith one day after a direct interview with the player. However, I don’t think it’s overly critical to opine that things haven’t worked out well with the Penguins. Smith has skills. He has a track record and, as coach Mike Sullivan pointed out Friday, Smith wore a letter in Vegas.

Cost: Salary holdback. Second or third-round pick.

It would not substantially hurt the Penguins’ lineup if Dubas used Smith as his primary trade chip to get younger or shed salary in anticipation of the coming free-agent frenzy on July 1.

Alex Nedeljkovic.

If the Penguins choose to live dangerously, Nedeljkovic could fetch a healthy return; the biggest problem dealing the goalie is that the teams looking for a netminder are in the Metro Division.

If the Edmonton Oilers or LA Kings want to pony up for a goalie who would improve their team and chances in the playoffs, Nedelkkovic might be the most affordable and attainable option.

Cost: A second-rounder and prospect?

Of course, the Penguins needed extra goaltending in each of their last two playoff appearances. It would be a gamble, but if they can snag a late first-rounder or a prospect with an NHL future, then yes. Magnus Hellberg and Joel Blomqvist aren’t a nightmare scenario as a backup and third goalie.

Surprise Trade

Sure, there are other players with talent and, thus, trade value. Marcus Pettersson and Rickard Rakell are big-ticket items. Noel Acciari and Lars Eller could be low-salary, high-reward trades. Nearly five years from his draft day, could Sam Poulin benefit from a fresh start, and the Penguins acquire immediate help on defense?

We don’t see Pettersson going anywhere. He’s still in his mid-20s. He’s the best defensive defenseman the Penguins have, and Ryan Graves has not shown an ability to fill a top-four role.

Rakell is statistically having a rough year, but he’s been playing very well beside Sidney Crosby in Guentzel’s absence. In the long term, Rakell probably takes that spot beside Crosby if/when Guentzel doesn’t re-sign.

Ryan Graves. To further criticize the defenseman would feel like piling on. He’s a good guy. Doesn’t lack effort. But he’s been a bad fit for the Penguins salary cap structure and on their blue line. Perhaps this year is a punt, and he will return next year, renewed and better. Or, Dubas can move along from his $4.5 million cap hit, acquire a steady third-pair type defenseman, and try again.

Cost: The Penguins gave up this year’s third-round pick for Dmitri Kulikov at the 2023 NHL trade deadline. Defensemen can bring more value than forwards, and perhaps someone sees the same things in Graves that Dubas did last July.