Welcome to The Hockey Writers’ 2023 Offseason Trade Targets series for the Pittsburgh Penguins. During the course of the summer months, I will be showcasing players from around the league who the Penguins should have on their trade radar.
The first stop heads north to circle the Winnipeg Jets. A team that is going to look much different next season as the Jets struggled in 2022-23 and major changes are on the way. It’s very likely one or two core players are moved by general manager (GM) Kevin Cheveldayoff and the Penguins should be paying close attention.
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If the Penguins and Jets were to do business together during the 2023 offseason, here’s who Pittsburgh should be focusing on in trade talks:
The Penguins need more speed and production from the wing and Jets speedster Nikolaj Ehlers should be one of the team’s targets this offseason. Ehlers spoke recently regarding the outlook in Winnipeg and mentioned he’s fully expecting to see major changes to the team’s roster.
Ehlers has blazing speed and has been a productive player since arriving on the scene in 2015-16. The Danish forward was a former ninth overall selection in 2014 and ever since has put up 396 points in 523 games with the franchise. Last season was injury riddled and even with some adversity, Ehlers was able to produce 38 points in 45 games.
Related: 3 Penguins Trade Options to Replace Goaltender Tristan Jarry
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The Penguins would be able to afford the $6 million cap hit through 2024-25 and at 27 years old, Pittsburgh would be buying into what’s expected to be Ehlers prime of his career. He holds a modified no-trade clause that covers 10 teams, however playing alongside Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin usually is enough to entice players to be open to a move.
Winnipeg will have a tough time moving some of their older players. I’d expect they will gauge the market on some of the younger members of their core and if Ehlers’ name hits the trade market, the Pens should be all ears.
One Jet who wanted out during last season, towering defenseman Logan Stanley is a prime candidate to get dealt this summer. Stanley wasn’t happy with his playing time in 2022-23 and asked the team to move him before the trade deadline. No deal transpired and now the attention turns to an offseason move.
Stanley is a 6-foot-6 24-year-old blueliner who loves to muck it up in the dirty areas of the ice. He isn’t afraid of contact and loves to use his long reach and strong hockey IQ to be in the right positions on the ice. Stanley was a former first-round pick who unfortunately has been a victim of the coaching changes in Winnipeg. Paul Maurice was a big fan, but that’s currently not the case with Rick Bowness in town.
The Jets defenseman appeared in 19 games in 2022-23, recording three points. Stanley heads into the offseason as a pending restricted free agent who is in need of a new contract. Winnipeg has six defensemen under contract for 2023-24 and with just under $13 million in cap space, and some moves expected, Stanley’s a prime trade candidate.
The Penguins would really benefit from adding the towering presence on the back end as they didn’t have enough push back last season. While this was mostly from their forward group, adding Stanley to the defense core would help create more sandpaper on the hockey club. He’s not afraid to use his big frame and lay out opponents and he’s also not afraid to drop the gloves when needed. Brian Dumoulin and Dmitry Kulikov are unrestricted free agents and this could open up a spot to add Stanley to the back end.
There is currently more questions than answers in Pittsburgh as the front office recruitment continues. Penguins starter Tristan Jarry is a pending unrestricted free agent and if he does indeed walk, the Penguins need to dive in hard on the availability of Connor Hellebuyck.
The Penguins would benefit tremendously from adding a Vezina caliber netminder to their group. There was too many times where Jarry’s injury troubles poked their ugly head, or he was inconsistent when it mattered most. While Jarry’s numbers are pretty solid in the regular season throughout his career, his Stanley Cup Playoff record is 2-6 with a 3.00 goals against average (GAA) and a .891 save percentage (Sv.%). Frankly, not good enough.
Hellebuyck has loads of playoff experience and while the Jets haven’t won a Cup, their goalie hasn’t been the issue in their faulters. He’s posted a career 2.58 GAA and a .916 Sv.% in 40 playoff games.
The 30-year-old netminder is entering the final season of his contract, paying him $6.1 million against the cap. Hellebuyck does not hold any trade protection and can be moved at will. He’d be a massive upgrade over Jarry and would give the Penguins a huge boost heading into next season.
Penguins Still Searching for President and GM
There’s been a ton of talk about the recruitment process for the Penguins new president of hockey operations and GM. With some massive changes happening around the league, it’s put a bit of a delay on the decision making as the Pens ownership group is trying to ensure they are meeting with the best available candidates.
Yes, it does sound like Kyle Dubas, former GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs is someone the team wants to hire. To me, the team 100% should hire Dubas and they should give him the president title and full autonomy. He’s one of the best minds in hockey and he’s been doing most of the heavy lifting for the Maple Leafs these past five seasons. With his experience in a major market and his willingness to make drastic changes, the Penguins would be very wise to bring him on board.
This wraps up the first installment of Penguins’ 2023 offseason trade targets. The Jets are a team to watch this summer as changes are brewing for the franchise. Once a new executive team is named in Pittsburgh, I’d expect to see some trade chatter between these two hockey clubs.