The rumblings and the speculation are ramping up and will soon reach a fever pitch. The Pittsburgh Penguins, who have perhaps been a winger short of a truly stacked roster, now feel they need a winger to maintain the impressive gains of the first-half, and to make another great chase of the Stanley Cup. The Penguins could fill lineup holes, but who makes the list of the Penguins trade bait?
The Penguins team has earned Penguins GM Jim Rutherford’s best effort to complete the roster for a Cup run. Through remarkable adversity born of a never-ending string of injuries, the Penguins surged to a 31-14-5 record, which is the fourth-best in the NHL and third-best in the Eastern Conference.
Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang have three rings. Another handful of players, coaches, and GM Jim Rutherford have two Penguins Stanley Cup championships. A fourth for the Penguins core would put them among the pantheon of great teams, as if Rutherford needed additional motivation to go for it.
Recent Stanley Cup winners have not made big splashes at the trade deadline, but recent Cup winners haven’t experienced the loss of their top-line winger and leading goal scorer, as the Penguins did with Jake Guentzel.
Penguins Trade Bait:
Bjugstad wasn’t on the list until injuries decimated the Penguins, and Jared McCann filled in as the second or third-line center. McCann wasn’t an immediate hit as a center, but as he acclimated back to the middle, the Penguins’ belief that he was more than capable was confirmed.
Bjugstad is a quietly effective third-line center. He’s a swift skater with a long wingspan. He can work the wall and pressures the puck well on both the forecheck and backcheck, but he’s a painfully low percentage shooter. Bjugstad is a reliable, 40-point center who could be a 50+ point producer if his shooting percentage rose above 8%.
Bjugstad has value. He won’t net a top-six winger, but he could help the Penguins avoid giving up a first-round pick for a winger who isn’t a rental. A team with a need for a pivot with contract-term could do well to snag the big Minnesota native. Ahem.
Conversely, the Penguins could also do well to keep Bjugstad, which would allow McCann to stay on the left-wing.
First Round Pick
Take a deep breath. Swallow hard. Big gulp. And the Penguins could deal away part of the future if Rutherford feels the Penguins trade would get them a winger able to score goals.
The Penguins currently would pick within the last five picks of the first round, which adds some salve to the wound of giving up another first-rounder. Last year, Sam Poulin was the first first-rounder in Jim Rutherford’s five-year Penguins tenure. The pick is unlikely to be swapped for a rental player, but we’re about to learn how much Rutherford values this season against the future.
DeSmith, 28, thought he earned an NHL spot with the Penguins after his second stellar season and a three-year contract worth over $1 million per season. He put down roots in Pittsburgh, but this season has been a lesson on the business side of the game. The Penguins salary cap issues and DeSmith’s higher likelihood to pass through waivers meant the Penguins kept Tristan Jarry as the backup goalie.
Then Jarry planted a flag with an All-Star first half. There are a handful of teams who need a backup goalie. DeSmith may not be a front-burner candidate, but he could provide precisely what a team needs. In 50 NHL games, DeSmith has a respectable .917 save percentage.
Behind a lesser defense with the WBS Penguins, DeSmith’s numbers don’t equal the reports of his play. He has a .903 save percentage in the AHL this season.
Joseph, 20, is arguably the Penguins top defenseman prospect, though Calen Addison made a splash at the World Junior Championships. Joseph was part of the return of the Phil Kessel Penguins trade. He’s a slick skater and puck mover. He earned mixed reviews coming from juniors, but rave reviews from WBS coach Mike Vellucci during training camp.
A 20-year-old defenseman with wheels and potential, who was a recent first-round pick could be an attractive part of a deal.
Also, Addison could be on the list, and other teams will undoubtedly ask, but Addison is a valuable commodity. It may be an easier decision for Rutherford to trade a late first-round pick than Addison.
The Finnish Elite League champion goalie has struggled in his first North American season. Smaller rinks and the AHL competition were a chore. After a rough seven-game start in the AHL, Larmi was sent to Wheeling of the ECHL to get his feet wet. In seven ECHL games, Larmi posted a .941 save percentage.
PHN has learned Larmi, 23, is on the radar of other teams around the league. His value is not great, but he is an intriguing prospect who could be an NHL goalie in a couple of years. Read PHN’s breakdown of Larmi from the Rookie Challenge.
His value is at an all-time low. The Penguins need to deal Galchenyuk for the salary cap space and should trade the player for the betterment of both. It just hasn’t worked in Pittsburgh. The Penguins will get a mid-round pick for the winger with four goals this season.
Galchenyuk isn’t Penguins trade bait as much as extra weight.
Wildcard: Justin Schultz
The Penguins top-four defenseman, who will be a UFA, will be a sought after rental who could bring a solid return. It doesn’t seem likely that Schultz could be dealt, but rookie John Marino has been just a dandy in Schultz’s spot on the second pair.
After a 51-point season in 2016-17, Schultz has just 50 points over the last three seasons and just 119 games played.
It must be a little bit tempting if the Penguins need an additional asset to flip, or another team, say the Winnipeg Jets who have forward depth but desperately need a D-man, calls with a solid offer.