Even before the devastating injury to Jake Guentzel, the Pittsburgh Penguins were likely going to be buyers before the trade deadline. Now, that seems like a guarantee.
General manager Jim Rutherford has always been trigger-happy when it comes to making trades and this season should be no exception. The Penguins have found a way to stay in the Metropolitan race despite a myriad of injuries. Now, he’ll need to find a way to replace his 40-goal, top-line winger.
Most of the rumors over the last few weeks have centered around Los Angeles Kings forward Tyler Toffoli, who Bob McKenzie believes may be acquired for as little as a second-round pick. At that price, it would be hard to turn down the former 30-goal scorer. However, Toffoli isn’t exactly the best scheme fit for the Penguins forward group. Which other names on the market could work better for Pittsburgh?
Ondrej Kase – Anaheim Ducks
Ondrej Kase is somewhat of a weird case for the Anaheim Ducks as the trade deadline approaches. He scored 20 goals in 66 games during the 2017-18 season, his second NHL campaign. Last season, Kase was on pace for roughly 30 goals but missed over 50 games due to injury. Now that he’s healthy, the 24-year-old winger has just five goals in 39 contests.
Part of that can be chalked up to him playing for a sputtering Ducks offense that ranks 30th in goals per game. Kase is also shooting under five percent after recording a shooting percentage of 12.9 over the previous two seasons combined. The Penguins may not want to gamble on Kase finding his scoring touch as they’re already dealing with Alex Galchenyuk’s 6.8 shooting percentage this season.
On the bright side, Kase is under contract next season with a very reasonable $2.6 million cap hit before becoming a restricted free agent in 2021. While the Ducks should certainly look to sell at the deadline, Kase’s contract may give them reason to hang on to him for at least another season.
Kyle Palmieri/Blake Coleman – New Jersey Devils
For what it’s worth, Kyle Palmieri is #1 on my “realistic” wishlist for the Penguins right now. Since joining the New Jersey Devils prior to the 2015-16 campaign, Palmieri has averaged roughly 27 goals per season. He has 16 in 44 games this season, putting him right around a 30-goal pace. There’s no doubt the soon-to-be 29-year-old would reach that milestone next to Crosby or Malkin.
Meanwhile, Blake Coleman has tallied 15 goals in 45 games after his 20-goal performance last season. Like Palmieri, he would immediately add some scoring touch as a top-nine winger. One of Coleman’s biggest benefits is his team-friendly deal; the Texas native has another year remaining on his deal at just $1.8 million. This would allow the Penguins to make another acquisition with their remaining cap space if necessary.
Palmieri is also under contract next season with a $4.65 million cap hit. While that wouldn’t be as easy to work with as Coleman’s contract, it’s just a bit less than what Galchenyuk is making this season. When Galchenyuk is traded or leaves as a free agent this offseason, Palmieri’s cap hit would simply replace that.
Like the Ducks’ dilemma with Kase, the Devils may not want to sell their pieces that are under contract next season. If they do, Palmieri is sure to have several suitors and the Penguins can’t afford to get in a bidding war with the limited trade assets they currently possess. If that’s the case, snagging Coleman as a consolation prize would be a good first step before the trade deadline.
Andreas Athanasiou – Detroit Red Wings
Andreas Athanasiou is in a similar situation that Kase finds himself in. The 25-year-old Detroit Red Wings forward showed potential with 30 goals last season but has just five in 36 games during the 2019-20 campaign. The Red Wings are obviously in full-blown tank mode and they average just 2.15 goals per game, worst in the NHL.
A fourth-round pick in the 2012 NHL Draft, Athanasiou is shooting just 5.7 percent after shooting just under 14 percent last season. Again, any potential suitor is hoping that he can turn on the jets in a better offensive system down the stretch. Thrusting him in the Penguins lineup would be a good start.
Athanasiou is on an expiring contract but does have restricted free agent rights for the upcoming offseason. Because he’s young and can be retained, it’s possible that Detroit doesn’t want to sell while his value is so low. Then again, the Red Wings should be taking anything they can get at this point.
Mike Hoffman/Evgenii Dadonov – Florida Panthers
While the Devils, Ducks, and Red Wings are all basically guaranteed to sell before the deadline, the Florida Panthers are still on the bubble. As of Monday, the Panthers own the Eastern Conference’s second wild-card spot with the Philadelphia Flyers and Columbus Blue Jackets breathing down their neck. Should they slip up and hit a skid after the All-Star break, they may look to retool the roster.
Both Mike Hoffman and Evgenii Dadonov are unrestricted free agents this offseason and they each have trade clauses that could potentially hold up a deal with the Penguins. However, they’re two proven goal-scorers that could put Pittsburgh over the top in the Eastern Conference.
Hoffman and Dadonov have scored 18 and 19 goals, respectively, this season. While the 30-year-old Dadonov scored 28 goals in each of the previous two seasons, the 30-year-old Hoffman notched a career-high 36 goals during the 2018-19 season.
With the rumors that Galchenyuk could be on the trading block, it could make sense to send him to Florida. Packaging him with picks and/or prospects will allow the Panthers to retool for a potential playoff push, give them extra assets to use at the deadline, or flip Galchenyuk — similar to the Derick Brassard situation last season — and call up one of their highly-regarded young forwards.
There haven’t been many big trades around the league aside from the Taylor Hall sweepstakes, but the market is sure to start heating up with just about six weeks until the trade deadline. The Penguins were already going to be heavily involved in rumors, but with Guentzel on the shelf for at least the rest of the regular season, Pittsburgh may need to make a splash sooner than anticipated.
Tyler Bowen is a University of South Florida graduate and lifelong hockey fan. Tyler covers the Pittsburgh Penguins for thehockeywriters.com. You can usually find him obsessing over his fantasy teams and looking for his next gambling tip.