All season long the Pittsburgh Penguins management duo of Brian Burke and Ron Hextall have preached how much they loved their team and weren’t interested in moving out a boatload of assets for short-term help. From there, the team traded four pieces to the Anaheim Ducks for rental forward Rickard Rakell, in a move that apparently wasn’t on the table as an option until the early morning hours of deadline day.
Sure, the team didn’t move a top prospect or first-round pick, but it was a bit surprising to see them be open to moving a goalie prospect in Calle Clang and a second-round pick for a pending free agent. What else was surprising, you ask? The trades that never materialized as rumors were running rampant before the deadline. Let’s take a look at three Penguins who surprisingly stayed with the hockey club past the trade deadline:
When the Rakell news dropped and everyone was waiting on the return heading to southern California, my first thought was that Kasperi Kapanen makes a ton of sense here. Turns out that wasn’t the case at all and ‘Kappy’ stays in Pittsburgh as the pending restricted free agent has been inconsistent this season and has found himself pushed further and further down the lineup. He currently sits with one goal in his last 23 games.
The 25-year-old speedy forward is making $3.2 million against the salary cap and so far in 63 games this season, the Finnish winger has recorded 10 goals and 28 points. At the start of the season, there were multiple nights where Kapanen played over 20 minutes a game, however, he’s gone through some horrible stretches in 2021-22 and lately has seen his minutes reduced; sometimes barely seeing more than 10 minutes of ice a game.
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After the Rakell addition, Kapanen should find himself cemented into the third-line right-wing role and could continue to see some time on the second power-play unit. For some reason the team doesn’t play him on the penalty kill, even though his resume shows he can be elite in that regard. We’ll see if that changes coming down the stretch, now that his role is starting to change with the team.
While Pittsburgh was in talks with the Vancouver Canucks, Detroit Red Wings and others, no deal involving Kapanen took place. Considering all the business coming in the offseason for management given the likes of Kris Letang, Evgeni Malkin, Bryan Rust, Evan Rodrigues, and Rakell all being unrestricted free agents, perhaps we will see a draft-day deal involving Kapanen go down this summer.
One of the biggest hurdles Penguins management faced as the trade deadline approached was cap space. With minimal resources and a lot upcoming on their plate, many felt Marcus Pettersson would become a prime trade candidate. He recently was healthy scratched and even though he’s had a decent season to this point, it made sense for the team to try and move him. No trade transpired and all that did worked out in the Swedish defenseman’s favor as the team acquired one of his close friends and ex-teammates in Rakell from the Ducks. Pettersson’s wife and the newest Penguin are from the same hometown in Sweden and the two families have become extremely close. This should bode well for management’s chances of keeping Rakell around this offseason.
As for Pettersson’s season, the 25-year-old has recorded one goal and 15 points in 59 games. He’s signed through the 2024-25 season at $4.02 million annually, money perhaps management wants to consider using in other places. Not often do you see a seventh defenseman making this type of coin.
With the amount of high-profile players in need of contracts from Hextall this upcoming offseason, expect to see the trade winds start blowing again in Pettersson’s direction. The Canucks were interested as executive Jim Rutherford is the one who acquired the defenseman in Pittsburgh and quickly signed him to his current contract. There were some rumblings about a Conor Garland for Pettersson package, but obviously, the deal never materialized. For now he stays put, however this summer could bring a much different result.
With the postseason struggles of Tristan Jarry last season against the New York Islanders, some felt the Penguins would go out and acquire a veteran netminder with Stanley Cup playoff experience. Turns out they have nothing but faith in Casey DeSmith.
It’s also worth pointing out that management feels Jarry has developed and moved on from his struggles and they have full faith in their starter that he’s going to get the job done. Still, the Marc-Andre Fleury rumors wouldn’t go away but the Chicago Blackhawks wanted a first-round pick, and Hextall wanted nothing to do with parting with so much just for goaltending depth.
As for DeSmith, he’s been given a reasonable look this season, appearing in 17 games and posting a .904 save percentage and 2.997 goals-against average. He has only won one of his last five appearances and has looked shaky of late. The team does have Louis Dominque as their third goalie, so there’s still some incentive for DeSmith to perform as he could certainly be overtaken as the backup down the stretch.
The 30-year-old netminder is making $1.25 million against the cap this season, the final year of his contract. Some wondered if the Edmonton Oilers would be interested at the deadline but they decided not to upgrade in goal. While no deal transpired for DeSmith before the trade deadline, he’ll be in tough to stick around this summer.
Hextall and Burke have a ton of work to do in the offseason to try and keep this Penguins team together. It’s not going to be easy as there won’t be enough money to go around. They had a chance to create cap space at the trade deadline but decided against any salary dumps and kept their group together. A group management loves and feels stacks up well against the rest of the league. It could very well be a long playoff run in Pittsburgh, so enjoy it Penguins fans while it lasts, because this team may look very different in 2022-23.