The Pittsburgh Penguins are positioning themselves for another playoff run and they’ll probably be among the most active teams at the trade deadline.
Those are, of course, two obvious statements for anyone who knows Jim Rutherford and Co.
But just what do the Penguins have up their proverbial sleeves?
First, the reality. Pittsburgh is 27-17-6 after defeating the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday. They’re second in the Metropolitan Division, tied with their rivals in Washington and a point ahead of the Blue Jackets. They’re three points back on the leading New York Islanders and have split their last 10 games.
While it may have seemed immaterial at the time, Rutherford traded Jamie Oleksiak to the Dallas Stars on Monday. It was a comical swap because it was the exact reverse of the trade that brought the defenceman to the Steel City in the first place. The Penguins got back their fourth round pick. Job done.
And not for nothing, but Oleksiak had fallen out of favour with head coach Mike Sullivan. With Justin Schultz on the way back, the cap space was required.
The Penguins don’t have much green on the table, which means they’ll have to get creative if they want to be active at the deadline. And believe me, Rutherford wants to be active at the deadline.
There are some pieces up for UFA status this summer, like Derick Brassard, Riley Sheahan and 42-year-old Matt Cullen.
Brassard is the big ticket, obviously. He’s seen his name revolving through the rumour mill, too.
“I don’t read much. I don’t read the papers or anything that’s going on but I follow sports like ESPN and the main stuff like that,” said Brassard. “It is hard mentally sometimes to hear your name out there and not know what is going to happen.”
Remember that Brassard took one of the most complicated routes to Pittsburgh possible.
First, he was picked up from Ottawa in February of last year for Ian Cole, a prospect and a pick. The league vetoed the deal on account of its “improper use of salary retention” and it was back to basics for Rutherford, who somehow worked in a deal with the Golden Knights that used all the same pieces but also sent Ryan Reaves to Vegas.
Rutherford may not be game to run something as intricate this season, but you can bet he’ll be looking to top up the Penguins. At the top of the list is that sought-after second-line centre, a part that’s been missing from the Pittsburgh lineup since the exodus of Nick Bonino. Brassard was supposed to do the job, but he hasn’t panned out. That’s meant a heavier dependence on Malkin and Crosby.
Complicating matters is the fact that it looks like Brassard has been listed as day-to-day by the club, a step they took before the contest against Tampa on Wednesday.
There are possibilities, like Minnesota’s Eric Staal or St. Louis’ Brayden Schenn or Minnesota’s Charlie Coyle. A long shot: Matt Duchene from Ottawa, if a contract can’t get done in time.
Rutherford likes to deal and he’s got some pieces on the board. He’ll make things interesting at the deadline, especially as the Penguins look for that extra punch-up prior to the playoffs.