The Pittsburgh Penguins suddenly have money to spend. Based on GM Ron Hextall’s press conference on Friday and the shock on Saturday when the St. Louis Blues claimed Kasperi Kapanen on waivers, we can redraw the Penguins trade landscape ahead of the March 3 NHL trade deadline.
But they are not chasing expensive rental players. Probably.
The new parameters are clear. GM Ron Hextall reiterated on Friday that the Penguins would not overpay for loan players and the question of whether they should add significant assets to existing unwanted salaries seems moot after Saturday.
Kapanen’s surprising claim of waivers and the newfound $2 million in cap space should change Hextall’s calculus. The claim removed Kapanen and his $3.2 million AAV from the Penguins’ reels.
And this is where it gets fun. According to PuckPedia.com, the Penguins’ new salary cap is $1.8 million today, and it will rise to the equivalent of a full season salary of $2.1 million at the NHL trade deadline.
If the Penguins send eighth defenseman Mark Friedman to the WBS Penguins, that number will jump to $2.9 million (we’ll discuss Friedman’s status as the eighth d-man another day).
Penguins Trade Deadline Math:
We use the full season equivalents rather than the smaller prorated numbers to facilitate discussion. For example, if the Penguins traded Teddy Blueger ($2.1 million) or Brock McGinn ($2.75 million), the $2.9 million number would be increased by the exported salary.
Suddenly the Pittsburgh Penguins can start talking about players in the $5-$5.5 million range without withholding a salary.
Penguins Trade Deadline Parameters
Based on GM Ron Hextall’s words at two press conferences in the past month, we can begin to narrow our focus and circle new Penguins trade targets.
Hextall has narrowed the field, and if we parse his words correctly, the Penguins are chasing players for time.
And now that Noel Accairi is off the NHL trading board, there probably isn’t a player under $1.4 million who can significantly change the Penguins’ bottom six, so we need to set our sights higher.
That means we’re hunting for salaried veterans.
We should note that the Penguins are most often associated with defenders during trading season. The team ranks 31st in the NHL with 21 goals by defensemen, including Marcus Pettersson’s snipe against St. Louis. PHN recently reported that Jeff Petry and his $6.25 million salary have been made available. The newfound cap space is likely to reduce the need to use Petry, though we’re not closing the door just yet.
As we shop for tertiary care centers, a finite reality becomes apparent. There are very few options, and most options are rentals.
Also, thanks to the Penguins’ recent losses and inconsistency, the group of would-be sellers in the Eastern Conference wild-card race narrowed the pool. Buffalo, Detroit, Florida and the New York Islanders are fair game playoff contenders.
For example, Jean-Gabriel Pageau would be an ideal target, but New York GM Lou Lamoriello will not sell a center to the team, which could knock his team out of a playoff spot.
Pittsburgh Penguins trading options:
Max Dom / Jason Dickinson
Domi, 27, isn’t high on my whiteboard, but I trust Penguin’s radio analyst Phil Bourque. On 11 on the Ice Saturday night, Bourque said he likes Chicago’s middle six center as a fast, tenacious linchpin that would fit Mike Sullivan’s system.
I tend to his negatives as being inconsistent and able to play softly. It is thought that Chicago will keep Domi as he has 46 points (17-29-46) in 57 games this season. It’s his best season in four years (he had 72 points in 2018/19) and should be the second best season of his career.
We also know that the Penguins have sent scouts, sometimes two, to Chicago.
If Domi is too expensive or not readily available, Jason Dickinson is my preferred choice here. He made it to our original list because he was extremely impressed with the few times we saw him in person. He was able to keep up with the Penguins’ skaters and responded with an aggressive and tenacious play. He has another year on a contract that pays $2.65 million annually.
Dickinson, 27, has 21 points (8-13-21) in 54 games. This is our choice.
Domi is a UFA pending so his matchup for the Penguins is going to be a hit unless the team knows his salary requirements or he isn’t expensive.
Salary: $3 million, due.
A shrewd center with a high IQ, a goalscorer but with decent playing skills. It appeared on our original list, and the increased cap space only makes this more plausible. He’s not tall (six feet, 188 pounds), but he’s a big player who could act as a second-line center if needed.
This season, he is a 0.5 points per game player with 33 points (19-14-33) in 57 games. The cost to acquire Henrique is probably in the region of a second-rounder and a prospect.
Salary: $5.8 million AAV continues next season.
The Penguins and Capitals are looking for a tough center? Dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria! At 33, Eller is closer to the end and is no longer the sandpaper center he once was. However, since Washington is selling their UFAs, they may even accept an offer from their closest rival.
Eller has only 16 points (7-9-16) in 58 games. He’s probably more of a 4C right now, but you and I have seen him rise to the occasion and be an opponent’s thorn in his side over a seven match run.
After former Penguins Brooks Orpik, Matt Niskanen, Justin Schultz, Conor Sheary and Daniel Sprong rolled through Washington, it may be time for a player to go the other way.
Salary: $3.5 million, expires.
The Arizona Coyotes forward has been solid this year. With a bigger role, Bjugstad has 23 points (7-16-23) in 58 games and is a fantastic plus-7 on a terrible team. He didn’t fit right into Mike Sullivan’s system the first time around, but he would significantly upgrade the Penguins’ current crater.
He’s a cheap mercenary, and he’s a claimant, which makes this plausible. Part of Bjugstad’s downside is that he doesn’t play a speed game, even though he has surprisingly good feet, and he’s only won 47% of his face-offs this season.
Last season he won 55% of his draws, but 49% is a career man and face-offs are essential for the Penguins 3C.
Salary: $900,000 expires.
He had a resurgence with the Montreal Canadiens, but he’s injured. His foot injury is rumored to limit his effectiveness for a long run or playoff drive.
He would have been a solid target. If medical reports are available and his prognosis is good, he could be a wanted target again. On their recent road trip, Monahan traveled with the team and practiced in a contactless jersey.
In 25 games this season, the 28-year-old striker scored 17 points (6-11-17).
Salary: $6.375 million, expires.