The Pittsburgh Penguins Have a Jake Guentzel Problem

The Pittsburgh Penguins find themselves at a crossroads with Jake Guentzel ahead of the NHL Trade deadline.
Pittsburgh Penguins v Ottawa Senators
Pittsburgh Penguins v Ottawa Senators / Minas Panagiotakis/GettyImages

Jake Guentzel has been nothing but phenomenal throughout his eight-year career. However, the Penguins have a tough decision to make regarding his future. Guenztel has been crucial to this team, as he has been Sidney Crosby's best linemate for the last seven seasons or so. Also, he was crucial to the Penguins Stanley Cup in 2017.

This season, Guenztel has been on a tear as he is an over point per game player with 35 points in 32 games this season. Guentzel has been a solid goal scorer, but this season, he has taken the next step in his playmaking. With 21 assists on the year, he is on pace to shatter his career high in assists at 44 in the 2021-22 season.

As good of a player as Guentzel is, the Pittsburgh Penguins have a difficult problem with him. He is a pending unrestricted free agent. Currently, he is making six million dollars, which equates to 7.2% of the Penguins' salary cap. The Penguins have to look at this problem in one of two ways: re-sign him or trade him.

The Penguins are currently outside of a playoff spot, but they are not far away. Guentzel is an important part of this team, and he has to be on it if they want to push for a playoff spot. However, the Penguins have some glaring needs in the bottom six and currently only have $17,351 dollars in cap space.

Jake Guentzel
Pittsburgh Penguins v Ottawa Senators / Minas Panagiotakis/GettyImages

The Penguins re-signing him or trading him is a must. Preferably, the Penguins re-sign him and avoid this whole scenario, but it seems to be trading him is a possibility solely due to salary cap issues. In the worst-case scenario, the Penguins do nothing and lose him in free agency for nothing. They simply cannot lose him for nothing due to his caliber as a borderline star player.

The Penguins can and should re-sign him. They have other pending free agents at the end of this season in addition to Guentzel. However, the most notable is Jeff Carter. Whether he retires or continues to keep playing, this has to be his last season in Pittsburgh. Dumping Carter frees up a roster spot and $3.1 million dollars.

That money saved can be used to bring in a cheaper, younger, and better bottom-six forward and/or given to Guentzel. Preferably, due to the Penguins aging roster, both would be extremely beneficial. Also, the salary cap is projected to raise $4.2 million dollars, which is crucial for the league but especially money needing teams like the Penguins, who need it now more than ever.

On the other hand, the Penguins can start the retool/rebuild early and if they drop in the standings early and choose to improve the roster all-around, they could trade Guentzel at the deadline to a Stanley Cup Contender. The four likely contenders are the Colorado Avalanche, Boston Bruins, Vegas Golden Knights, and Dallas Stars.

If the Penguins choose to trade Guentzel, it is important to get a top-notch return that sets them up for a bright future. Guenztel is only 29 years old and is a star player, so the Penguins should receive the proper trade package. Bare minimum, the Penguins should recieve a first-round pick and a top prospect.

With the trade deadline looming in a few months, Kyle Dubas and the front office need to make the decision of re-signing him or trading him.

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