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The Time to Bolster Penguins is Now; Trades at NHL Draft are Best Chance

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Bryan Rust: Photo By Michael Miller [CC BY-SA 4.0

The time to strengthen the Pittsburgh Penguins roster is now. The team has a lack of prospects and areas to improve on the NHL roster, including defense and a desperate need for size or physicality on the wings. The NHL draft this week will be a prime opportunity to address those needs but the Penguins have only two picks in the first four rounds and none in the first round or fourth round.

The 2018 NHL Draft will not likely be known for the Penguins’ selections. If it is remembered, it will be for the players they acquire or the players they deal.

For the Penguins to be active in the July 1 free agent market, GM Jim Rutherford must shed salary. The 2018-19 salary cap is projected to be approximately $80 million, which gives the Penguins about $10 million to re-sign RFA’s Bryan Rust, Jamie Oleksiak, Riley Sheahan, Tom Kuhnhackl and Dominik Simon (not necessarily in that order).

In other words, the Penguins paycheck is spent by payday.

Pittsburgh Hockey Now reported the Penguins made a strong trade offer for Arizona Coyotes winger Max Domi. Per the report, Rutherford offered Rust or Conor Sheary. Sheary has two more years on his contract which pays $3 million annually. Rust figures to be in line for a similar deal, so moving either will create space but likely limit the Penguins to recoup a player of same value.

Blame Montreal GM Marc Bergevin for going all-in on Domi. Canadiens fans haven’t been shy in doing so.

The gathering of 31 GM’s at the draft is always sure to produce trades. The Penguins could opt to replenish their barren cupboard of prospects by making smaller moves to acquire picks. Or, recall the 2015 Penguins draft table which was crowded long after the draft ended. Then assistant GM Tom Fitzgerald pounded on the table, and more than one management type was red in the face.

The result of that 2015 draft table battle royal was the trade for Phil Kessel, several days later. And therein lies the potential for the Penguins. Trades move quickly at the hotel bar, or with a quick conversation started in the hallway. And no one is better at it than Rutherford.

The Penguins no longer have to pay the trade market luxury tax on back-to-back championships and Rutherford believes he has legitimate trade chips. From Sheary and Rust on the low end to Kris Letang and Kessel on the top shelf, out of reach for most. Perhaps a west coast GM will realize he badly needs offense.

And, add this name to the list: Derick Brassard. Brassard had a rocky road with his new team, as he struggled to fit in and with injury, Though there are many more reasons to keep the newly acquired center than deal him, at least until a general manager known for going all-in comes calling with a big offer after a blockbuster fizzles.

The Penguins’ championship window is still open, though it will not remain so for long. Their core skaters are now exclusively over 30-years-old. The aging nucleus places additional importance on each of the next two, or perhaps three seasons. The Penguins probably can’t afford to punt another off-season, as they did last year. The time is now.

Whether the moves are to clear space or directly improve their chances at the Stanley Cup, it should be an important weekend in Dallas.

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