A Look At Trade Deadline Possibilities For the Penguins

Friday, February 27, 2015
John Hynes stopped the team mid-drill on the practice before a trip to Hartford today displeased with the team's intensity in the corners and net front.
A day after Jagr Watch seemingly comes to an end, the Pittsburgh Penguins organization doesn't seem content on standing pat through Monday's trade deadline and if a deal presents itself, why not?

Truth be told, however, the Penguins are in a bit of a tricky spot both close to the salary cap (estimated $349,167 in space, my math being what it is) and thin on draft picks in upcoming years - with no 1st, 3rd, or 4th round picks in this summer's 2015 NHL Draft and no 2nd round pick next season.

Any further trades by the Penguins will almost have to include NHL roster players being moved and possibly even salary retained by their trading partner, unless the Penguins use some of the prospects in their system to sweeten the pot. They're only in possession of two top-60 draft picks in the next two NHL Entry Drafts combined.

A quick AHL Penguins practice update from Toyota SportsPlex today - Bobby Farnham participated in a regular practice jersey today and rotated with recently recalled Josh Archibald on a line with Scott Wilson on the left and Jayson Megna in the middle.

The only players missing from the skate were injured forwards Nick Drazenovic (upper body) and Bryan Rust (lower body).

Lines/D-Pairings at Friday's Practice

Conor Sheary - Andrew Ebbett - Tom Kostopoulos
Dominik Uher - Carter Rowney - Tom Kuhnhackl
Scott Wilson - Jayson Megna - Bobby Farnham/Josh Archibald
Pierre-Luc Leblond - Matia Marcantuoni - Adam Payerl

Brian Dumoulin - Taylor Chorney
Reid McNeill - Scott Harrington
Nick D'Agostino - Barry Goers
Alex Boak

Matt Murray - Jeff Zatkoff

After the jump, a look at the organization's players, contracts & basics as well as some moves to consider heading into the weekend and Monday's trading deadline. For my readers who are fans of the AHL Penguins who aren't traveling to either of the team's games in Connecticut this weekend, you might have very well seen some players currently on the team for the last time.

Penguins' Situation

Estimated current salary cap space (using math & a chart from HockeyBuzz): $349, 167

Expiring Contracts at end of 2014-15 season: 23

Unrestricted free agents (UFA) this summer: Craig Adams, Taylor Chorney, Blake Comeau, Steve Downie, Nick Drazenovic, Andrew Ebbett, Christian Ehrhoff, Thomas Greiss, Maxim Lapierre, Pierre-Luc Leblond, Paul Martin and Daniel Winnik.

Restricted free agents this summer: Beau Bennett, Robert Bortuzzo, Nick D'Agostino, Brian Dumoulin, Bobby Farnham, Eric Hartzell, Tom Kuhnhackl, Reid McNeill, Jayson Megna, Adam Payerl and Dominik Uher.
When the Penguins acquired Daniel Winnik in exchange for forward Zach Sill, the Pens also sent the Toronto Maple Leafs two draft picks (2015 - 4th round & 2016 - 2nd round) in a trade which saw Toronto retain half of Winnik's $1.3 million cap hit, or $650,000. The Pens needed to move salary in order to make the deal, hence Sill and his affordable $550,000 cap hit going the other way.

It's no secret that GM Jim Rutherford likes to make his moves before deadline day - he's made several this season in recent weeks - but he hasn't closed the door on any further moves before 5 p.m. Monday.

There were two Penguins scouts on hand for the Arizona Coyotes vs. New York Rangers game and while the Pens have games upcoming against both opponents, it's no secret that the Coyotes are open trading players away in return for prospects/picks that will help them continue to build for the future.

Guys like Antoine Vermette, former Penguin Zbynek Michalek, and even top-tier defensemen Keith Yandle and Oliver Ekman-Larsson have had their names floating around in trade talks but the bottom line is that the Penguins would need to send some salary in the form of an NHL roster player and have the Coyotes retain some of the cap hit of pending UFA's like Michalek ($4 million) or Vermette ($3.75 million). The only way the Coyotes would retain some salary is obviously the same way Toronto did - sweeten the pot with draft picks or prospects.

Calgary's Curtis Glencross is another name among pending UFA forwards getting air time lately. His cap hit of $2.55 million isn't astronomical but it still creates a salary cap issue for a team like the Penguins so close to the cap ceiling to make room.

It's no surprise that the Penguins wouldn't mind adding a defenseman to boost their NHL pairings heading down the stretch, and Edmonton's Jordan Petry is a pending UFA a name gaining a lot of attention. Petry's cap hit of $3.075 million is a little less than those names mentioned on the Coyotes roster and the Oilers are another team that has cap space and can financially afford to retain part of the salary if the trade terms were to their liking.

Salary Cap Saving Possible Moves

So how can the Penguins find the right balance of moving salary and prospects/picks to make a trade work for what could be a rental-type player for a Stanley Cup Playoff run while also not damaging the future too much? Again, no insider info here but some ideas that can save some extra salary cap space below.

1. Trade Thomas Griess

Nothing against the Penguins backup goaltender, but rookie Matt Murray in the AHL has proven himself more than capable to handle the load in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton down the stretch. Here's a spot where perhaps the Penguins can move Greiss' pending UFA contract with a low $1 million cap and get back one of the mid-to-late round draft picks recently traded away, and call up goaltender Jeff Zatkoff - signed through this season and next year at a $600,000 annual cap hit. The move only saves $400,000 in cap space, but it would double their current cap space and pieced together with other moves could be the difference in having to give up more prospects to a team to have them retain more salary.

I'm not sure if there are any teams looking for goaltending depth the rest of this season, but there are goaltender injuries in places like Detroit, New York, Philadelphia, Tampa Bay and Vancouver. Griess' salary cap hit is low and the asking price shouldn't be too high for a contending team to give up.

Summary: Trade Griess for mid/late round draft pick, call up Zatkoff. Saves $400,000 in cap space.

2. Re-Assign Derrick Pouliot to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton
Again, nothing against the play of Derrick Pouliot but if the Penguins are to acquire a defenseman before the deadline it would be wise to stow Pouliot in the minors and have a guy like Robert Bortuzzo or Scott Harrington (if he's not included in any such trade) sitting in the NHL press box with a lower cap hit and Pouliot playing big minutes in the AHL.

It's another roster move that saves a little cap space (a swap of Pouliot for Harrington saves $274,166) but like the suggested Greiss trade doesn't damage the future of the organization either.

Summary: For the sake of estimations and the difference between Bortuzzo/Harrington cap hits (~$11,000), Pouliot to the minors and Harrington or Bortuzzo as the team's 7th defenseman saves at least $263,333 in cap space.

3. Trade Bait

The two above moves, if made, would give the Penguins roughly $1 million in wiggle room to correspond with a trade to acquire either more NHL forward depth or a top-six NHL defenseman.

Again, guys with expiring contracts are easier to move and the Penguins have to send salary the other way and possibly even have their trading partner retain some salary.  Here's a list of the Penguins' NHL roster players and prospects who might be keeping their phones close to them this weekend more than usual:

NHL Roster Players: Beau Bennett (pending RFA at end of season - $900,000 cap hit), Robert Bortuzzo (pending RFA at season's end - $600,000 cap hit)

In the System - all RFA's at season's end: Nick D'Agostino, Brian Dumoulin, Scott Harrington, Eric Hartzell, Tom Kuhnhackl, Reid McNeill, Jayson Megna, Adam Payerl and Dominik Uher.

Summary: Anything can happen, but if a trade is made expect it to include some mix of prospects, pending free agents and salary being moved all to fit under the salary cap.

In the comments, feel free to chirp your trade ideas and what direction you would like to see the Penguins head entering the trade deadline. Which players should the Penguins be pursuing? Which picks/prospects can the Penguins afford/not afford to move?


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