It’s still the beginning of the season, but it’s been a little too quiet on the Pittsburgh’ home front.
When it comes to making a deal in the National Hockey League (NHL), the Pittsburgh Penguins are without a doubt one of the top organizations that come to mind.
Dealing for forwards’ Jarome Iginla, Jussi Jokinen, Brenden Morrow, and defenseman Douglas Murray last season at the trade deadline, they also shipped away former number-two overall pick Jordan Staal a couple drafts’ ago and have made significant noise in the front office in recent years.
Realizing it’s hard to imagine the team making some sort of move this season due to their available cap room, it’s also hard to believe they won’t brainstorm a deal down the line.
Recognizing they’ve got an plethora of young defensemen in the system and they have a number of unrestricted free agents at seasons’ end, you can almost feel it’s a forgone conclusion that the organization is plotting something.
They may not necessarily have to include any of their top prospects — or at least I wouldn’t think they’d want to — but if another team was willing to take some of Pittsburgh’s impending free agents, a deal could be plausible.
Forwards Chris Conner, Matt D’Agostini, Tanner Glass, Jussi Jokinen, Chuck Kobasew, Joe Vitale, and defensemen Deryk Engelland, Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen will all become unrestricted free agents after the season. While none of them are overly attractive pieces to lure other general managers’ into pursuing a trade option, Orpik and Niskanen possess the talent to potentially commence a deal.
Orpik has been in the system his whole NHL career, and despite him becoming a free agent after this year, he’s too valuable for Pittsburgh on the back-end. On top of that, his physicality is a quality they’ll need for a playoff run.
Niskanen is the more intriguing play here.
Starting the season on a tear offensively and improving his puck management drastically from a year ago, his credentials are something a lot of other organizations’ are seeking. And because the Pens’ have decided to keep prospect blueliner Olli Maatta on the active roster, Niskanen’s departure won’t be a huge loss.
Not only could Pittsburgh deal an unrestricted free agent, but they possibly could move a player signed under contract for past this season.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, forward James Neal and defenseman Paul Martin are making too much money. With the right trade in place, the team could get significant talent, as well as clear up cap space in return.
The organization keeps reiterating that Martin is their best defensemen, but I just don’t buy it. Pittsburgh has stated comments like these in the past and then dealt that player the following year. Martin is no exception.
The 32-year-old is making $5 million for this season and next season. After signing forward Evgeni Malkin and defenseman Kris Letang to big contracts this past summer, chances are Martin will be gone anyway following next season — so why not look into dealing him at least?
Unrealistic as it seems, the Penguins’ are a spontaneously run franchise, and nothing is out of the picture — even the possibility of shipping Neal.
Riddled with injuries this past year, Neal hasn’t been able to stay on the ice and he is an incredibly streaky player. Yes he possesses a wicked shot, but the emergance of Beau Bennett and Jayson Megna means they could be just fine without him and his $5 million per-year contract.
Not saying that these players should be dealt — I’m just looking into the organization’s best interest for future endeavors. And because they’ll eventually need payroll space to eventually sign players like Bennett and Maatta down the road, they may want to explore the idea of departing with one of their high-paid stars.
With that being said, I anticipate the Pens’ making a trade sometime this season — the question still remains when.
Pittsburgh is heavily involved with the 2014 Winter Olympics, so they could end up being too distracted, but don’t count on that getting in the way of general manager Ray Shero.