The summer of wheeling and dealing continues for the Pittsburgh Penguins as general manager (GM) Ron Hextall has put his fingerprints all over the roster. It was only a matter of time before changes were after a few seasons of disappointment. With a revamped blue line and some legendary pieces locked up long-term, look for the Penguins to continue to tinker throughout the summer.
Here are three Penguins who are prime trade candidates as Hextall continues to try to upgrade his roster heading into next season:
It’s surprising Jason Zucker hasn’t been traded yet. However, the market isn’t necessarily scorching hot for the 30-year-old winger. The California native has battled injuries in each of the last three seasons, and we’ll see how much patience the Penguins have left.
Zucker appeared in 41 games last season and only scored eight goals. This comes after a season of nine goals, and considering he’s likely to start the season playing alongside Evgeni Malkin and Rickard Rakell on the team’s second line, Pittsburgh will want more for their money.
Zucker is making $5.5 million against the cap, and he’s entering the final season of his contract. His no-trade protection allows him to block a deal to 10 teams, and at this point, it’s hard to say who should be considered a landing spot. Don’t expect the Penguins to be interested in retaining salary in a trade, and one including Zucker may be hard to come by. If he’s dealt, expect to see a prospect or draft pick included as a sweetener.
While he was one of the only Penguins to receive a qualifying offer, it doesn’t mean Kasperi Kapanen is in the club’s long-term plans. He’s been inconsistent since he was traded from the Toronto Maple Leafs two years ago, and I still have no idea how the Penguins don’t play him on the penalty kill considering his history down a man and his blazing speed.
Last season, Kapanen finished with 11 goals and 32 points in 79 games and failed to score in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He went from being a lock on the team’s second line to start the season to watching management send out a trade package to acquire Rakell from the Anaheim Ducks before the trade deadline.
The soon-to-be 26-year-old could find himself moved this summer if Hextall is not done dealing. We saw with the acquisition of Ryan Poehling that the team would like to refresh their forward depth, and there could be some more tinkering to the team’s bottom six.
Ideally, Pittsburgh will look to replace Kapanen with a forward who is more versatile and can play center, as the aging Jeff Carter may be better suited as a third-line winger instead of down the middle. Kapanen doesn’t have the skill set or experience to jump into the center position, which increases the chances of him being moved this summer.
Earlier this month, I had a feeling the Penguins would make a move, and I was a bit shocked to see Michael Matheson and John Marino dealt. It always seemed like Marcus Pettersson would be the first to go from the team’s blue line.
Matheson and Marino go. Pettersson stays…for now. The 6-foot-3 defenseman is under contract for another three seasons at $4.02 million, and as we’ve seen from Hextall’s recent deals, he wasn’t a fan of some of the contracts Jim Rutherford had on the books.
Pettersson is slightly overpaid and will need to be either involved in a ‘salary dump’ deal or packaged with another piece to entice teams to pull the trigger. He’s 26, more physical than he’s given credit for, and is coming off a season where he posted 19 points in 72 games. Paying over $4 million for a bottom-pair defenseman isn’t ideal.
With $2.7 million left in salary cap space and one forward to sign, the Penguins are in decent shape at the moment. The core is back, the legends get to retire together, and at this point, everyone is happy. Hextall made a couple of big trades to refresh the blue line, and there’s more wheeling and dealing to come. If there’s another trade this summer out of Pittsburgh, expect to see one of these three included.