It may not seem close just yet, but before we know it, the trade deadline will be here.
Extremely active over recent years, the Pittsburgh Penguins have not been shy when it comes to making a deal. And understanding defensemen Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik will hit free agency after the season, are they inevitably going to be dealt?
Pittsburgh has little to no salary cap space available, and while they’ll have roughly $5 million come off the books due to other impending unrestricted free agents, the likelihood of the team signing both of them is relatively doubtful.
Orpik’s contract is $1,450,000 more than Niskanen’s, and given Orpik’s history with the team, one would assume the team would make him a higher priority to re-sign at the end of the season. Despite Niskanen’s improved play so far, because the team has top prospect Derrick Pouliot waiting in the wings, it’s reasonable to speculate he’d be the one moved at some point.
Niskanen’s plus-13 rating has him tied for sixth in the league under that category, and he leads all Pens’ players as well. Although he’s playing exceptional thus far, it might be wise to sell-high on Niskanen. The longer the team waits, it’ll only decrease the profit they could potentially get in return for Niskanen, should his production start to slip.
Niskanen is a fantastic two-way defenseman, and a player the Pens’ would love to keep for the entirety of the season; however, the reality is, the team could lose him next year and gain nothing. And it’s not like they don’t have another defenseman to step in his place.
When their roster is healthy, if they were to move Niskanen, their defense would look like this:
- Kris Letang – Rob Scuderi
- Paul Martin – Brooks Orpik
- Deryk Engelland – Olli Maatta – Robert Bortuzzo
So if he’s traded, it would actually let Bortuzzo and Engelland see more ice-time – which I think makes Pittsburgh a bigger, more physical team. Niskanen is a tough guy, but Bortuzzo and Engelland are difference makers when it comes to dishing out the pain. Having those two out there is nearly imperative in trying to size up with opponents.
Not to mention defenseman Simon Despres has been performing well since his call-up.
Orpik could still be dealt, however, I think it’s irrational. The 33-year-old leads the team with 55 blocked shots, minutes on the penalty-kill (2:58), and all Pens’ blueliners in hits (87). He’s one of those players that gets into the dirty areas and is an asset to the Pens’ defense – so a trade involving him would be illogical.
Of course, both defensemen could remain on the roster for the entire season – but I feel it’s in the team’s best interest that they pursue secondary scoring help. The bottom two-lines have been wildly inconsistent, and adding a sufficient goal-scorer would help balance out the lineup.
We’ll have to wait and see how the situation plays out, however, I think one of them ultimately gets moved.