The Pittsburgh Penguins continued their winning ways against the Anaheim Ducks on Tuesday, and with Evgeni Malkin back in the lineup, the sky is the limit. The team is sitting pretty in a playoff spot, and both general manager Ron Hextall and president of hockey operations Brian Burke recently mentioned that the team is pushing for the Stanley Cup this season. While Penguins fans shouldn’t expect a boatload of assets to be moved at the trade deadline for rental players, management will still be actively looking for creative ways to upgrade the roster, not only for the short term but the long term, if possible.
I recently wrote about who the Penguins should target on the Seattle Kraken. Today, I’ll turn to Buffalo and dive into three Sabres the Penguins should be calling about.
The Penguins know the 6-foot-4 Jankowski pretty well as he played 45 games in Pittsburgh last season, tallying 11 points. This season hasn’t gone as planned for the 27-year-old, who has played most of 2021-22 in the American Hockey League, where he’s posted 12 points in 13 games. In six games with the Sabres this season, the Calgary Flames’ first-round pick in 2012 received just over 13 minutes of ice time and was used mostly on the penalty kill.
Considering the reinstated taxi squad, the COVID absences, and the Penguins’ injury troubles, adding a player they are already familiar with as a depth option is a great idea and worth considering. Jankowski would cost almost nothing to acquire and has the versatility to play either down the middle or on the wing. While he’s nothing to write home about, he’s also an under-the-radar type of addition who could have a bigger impact than we think.
The Penguins would love to add some toughness to their defense in time for the postseason and that’s what Hagg offers. He plays a ton of minutes on the penalty kill and loves to play in-your-face, hard-nosed hockey.
Although Hagg has played 10 fewer games than some of his fellow Sabres defensemen, he leads the team in hits and blocked shots. The 26-year-old is under contract for the rest of this season – at $1.6 million against the salary cap – and while he’s a pending unrestricted free agent, he knows the Penguins very well from his days with the Philadelphia Flyers and could easily sign an extension in Pittsburgh.
Ideally, management would add at least one more defenseman, and Hagg’s style of play is their focus. The Penguins have enough firepower upfront, their power play will work itself out, and the defense has chipped in on offense. All the team needs are some glue players, who play hard every shift, don’t make simple costly mistakes, and be healthy enough to stay on the ice. Hagg checks a lot of those boxes, and if he can stay healthy, he might be the perfect addition to the Penguins’ blue line.
The 29-year-old defenseman does everything. He plays both sides of the puck very well, he plays in all situations, and he’s battled tested with almost 400 NHL games under his belt. Is he the perfect addition for the Penguins this trade deadline? He might be.
Miller would be a rental, but he also might be interested in sticking around in Pittsburgh for another few seasons. It seems the only way Penguins management will take on a rental is if they talk extension, which is what Hextall mentioned he is open to doing during the season.
Miller’s game would complement the second power play, and he could easily slide in as that fifth defender or move up the lineup in case of injury or further COVID absences. He’s not shy when it comes to being physical, and the mobile defenseman is three seasons removed from putting up 41 points. At $3.85 million, his contract is a bit tougher to fit under the cap, but it’s not an astronomical number, especially since the Penguins would pay just under half of the remaining salary. He’s a good option as he could make an impact at both ends of the ice, and sometimes the best defense is more offense. He provides that.
These three Sabres all bring different assets to the table, and the Penguins will likely check in on their asking price. If the price is right, perhaps we will see a deal finalized before the March 21 trade deadline. The Penguins are open to adding talent; however, Burke and Hextall have made it clear that any move has to make sense for the franchise not only for the rest of this season but beyond.
Shane’s been a part of The Hockey Writers team since 2020, covering the Toronto Maple Leafs & Pittsburgh Penguins. A constant contributor, his versatile perspective on game results and everything off the ice produces diverse content. You can also find him on the Maple Leafs Lounge podcast with Peter Baracchini and Alex Hobson. Follow along on Twitter @ShugMcSween