5 Penguins That Must Be Dealt By The Trade Deadline

Currently the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference, and with other Metropolitan Division foes getting better roster-wise, the Pittsburgh Penguins have done nothing to date. With the trade deadline quickly approaching on Friday, March 3, they find themselves treading water, holding a 25-16-9 record (63 points). The New York Islanders (65) Florida Panthers (64), Washington Capitals (62), Detroit Red Wings (60), Buffalo Sabres (60), and Ottawa Senators (58) aren’t too far behind while also competing for the last two playoff wildcard spots.

If general manager (GM) Ron Hextall is truly committed to maximizing the championship window of the Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang era, then roster turnover is needed. As a result, letting go of locker-room favorites might be required for Hextall’s rather patient approach. There’s no one else to shoulder the blame than Hextall himself, who quickly tanked the legitimacy of this team ever since taking over in 2021.

Examining the current starting lineup, one has to like a top-six composed of Crosby, Jake Guenztel, Rickard Rakell, Bryan Rust, Malkin, and Jason Zucker. Despite a strong top two lines, it’s hard to say the same thing about the bottom six, which has become a liability in recent memory. If there’s one thing we know about great hockey teams, they boast four scoring lines with depth. The Penguins? Well, at least they have Jeff Carter (although he’s dropped off quite a bit from last season).

Defensively, Letang, Marcus Pettersson, Jan Rutta (when healthy), Jeff Petry, and Pierre Olivier-Joseph are fine options on the blue line, but Brian Dumoulin has been nothing short of atrocious all season long. Winning the Stanley Cup is never accomplished through a reckless and out-of-position group of defensemen, so they must find a better replacement, or they will continue to be haunted by tough play.

Related: Penguins Dangerously Close to Ending Playoff Streak

Who should the Penguins look to trade, and why do they have to get rid of these players? It’s pretty simple: they are a good team, but nothing more. They are nowhere near capable of making a legitimate Stanley Cup run without reinforcements brought in as a result of shaking up the depth chart, which has become quite stagnant and lagging behind the likes of the Boston Bruins, Carolina Hurricanes, Toronto Maple Leafs, New York Rangers, and New Jersey Devils.

Why should they look to sell? Well, when a team has several players in the bottom six and defensive corps that are deadweights dragging the lineup down each game and not consistently contributing, how does it expect to compete with the likes of the Eastern Conference heavyweights in the postseason with this lack of quality depth? In order to get better, the Penguins have to sell off assets first, although Hextall is not one to act quickly on the trade market.

Here are five players the Penguins need to trade to get the most out of their best players.

Trade Candidate No. 1: Forward Kasperi Kapanen

Perhaps one of former GM Jim Rutherford’s favorite trigger-happy moves was Kasperi Kapanen coming back in 2020 to the team that initially drafted and traded him away in 2015 as part of the Phil Kessel blockbuster trade. Kapanen has seven goals, 12 assists, and 19 points this season. Once acquired to be a top-six producing forward, he has settled into a bottom-six role.

Kasperi Kapanen Pittsburgh Penguins
Kasperi Kapanen, Pittsburgh Penguins (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Simply put, he isn’t delivering at an expected level, and one can expect his tenure in Pittsburgh might not last much longer. However, it should’ve ended well before opening night, except Hextall gave him a two-year contract extension during the offseason.

Trade Candidate No. 2: Defenseman Brian Dumoulin

Previously a first-pairing blueliner alongside Letang, Dumoulin has fallen off considerably. As of this season, his minutes have diminished under a reduced role. He will be 32 years old heading into next season. The Penguins’ defensive corps is not getting any younger, and part of that blame is allowing older yet declining defensemen such as Dumoulin to stick around even when it is at the detriment of the team’s postseason success.

Brian Dumoulin, Pittsburgh Penguins
Brian Dumoulin, Pittsburgh Penguins (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

12 points may seem decent for a player like Dumoulin at this stage of his career, but the statistics and analytics reflect otherwise. They would really benefit from ridding themselves of him for the long term in hopes of regaining the stability the defensive corps once had with its Stanley Cup-winning rosters.

Trade Candidate No. 3: Forward Jeff Carter

“Big Jeff” Carter quickly came out of the gates hot, compiling 56 points in his first 90 games in Pittsburgh. However, Father Time has started to pick up the phone more. He’s no longer a true third-line center, and he’d greatly benefit from being demoted to the fourth line, as this team has needed a true third-line center ever since Nick Bonino left in 2017.

Jeff Carter, Pittsburgh Penguins
Jeff Carter, Pittsburgh Penguins (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Otherwise, they would be better off shipping him to a team willing to take on his lowered production and contract. There is no doubt teams would be interested in Carter while Pittsburgh looks to add more youth in return via picks or NHL-ready prospects. He has become a liability on almost every shift, and this team desperately needs to find a more reliable anchorman for the third line.

Trade Candidate No. 4: Forward Brock McGinn

Hextall’s prized free agent acquisition of the 2021 offseason, Brock McGinn contributed early at a steady rate in the Penguins’ bottom six. As time went on, his production started to taper off, and at times, has got caught underneath on a backcheck or neutral zone turnover. With zero points scored in his last 12 games, I’m almost certain that the Penguins can find a much more consistent scorer as a third-line winger than McGinn.

Brock McGinn Pittsburgh Penguins
Brock McGinn, Pittsburgh Penguins (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

While the idea of a trade is well desired, taking on a cap hit of $2.75 million is not. The likelihood that McGinn is dealt through a normal hockey trade (no salary retention) is unlikely. If Pittsburgh feels inclined enough to get his contract off the books, it may have to package him with another pick or player in the deal. However you draw it up, his production and contribution are an overall disappointment.

Trade Candidate No. 5: Forward Teddy Blueger

Soon to be an unrestricted free agent after this season, Teddy Blueger is likely looking forward to a payday from another NHL franchise that isn’t dressed in black and gold. Putting together a 2021-22 season with nine goals, 19 assists, and 28 points, his 2022-23 performance has been a rather different story. One goal, seven assists, and eight total points are subpar for someone who has once been deemed a great fourth-line center.

Teddy Blueger Pittsburgh Penguins
Teddy Blueger, Pittsburgh Penguins (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

It’s unknown at this time what trade interest Blueger could generate. Still, he is only 28 years old and just coming off a good season, so someone may take a flier on him in hopes of bolstering their bottom six for a late playoff push or Stanley Cup run. The Penguins would be wise to get what they can now before it’s too late.

The Penguins’ streak of 16 consecutive seasons with a playoff berth is starting to grow cold. If the front office doesn’t act quickly to fix at least some of the issues by the trade deadline, then the fanbase can kiss all hope goodbye and start placing Ron Hextall and head coach Mike Sullivan on the hot seat. Having last won a playoff series in 2018, things are not looking up in the Steel City with an aging roster and depleted lineup that is insufficient of playmakers and long-term solutions.