Although the Pittsburgh Penguins now own the most impressive playoff streak in North American professional sports, their first-round exit at the hands of the eventual Eastern Conference Finalist New York Rangers started a wave of rumours regarding players from up and down the lineup. Individual struggles have taken the spotlight, as the time has come for general manager (GM) Ron Hextall and company to begin constructing the team for next season and beyond. Given the questions surrounding forward Evgeni Malkin and the trials and tribulations of players like Kasperi Kapanen, it may be time for Hextall to get on the horn with other GMs around the league and take stock of what the Penguins’ options are.
Now, Hextall would be wise to cultivate a positive working relationship with new Montréal Canadiens’ GM Kent Hughes, as the Habs may be holding the key to resolving — or at the very least, relieving — some of the uncertainty that has emerged this offseason. Hughes is currently in possession of a huge trade chip that Hextall would be wise to acquire. Forward Josh Anderson could serve as an excellent addition to a lineup currently in moderate disarray.
Canadiens Are Already a Great Potential Trade Partner
When the Canadiens fired Marc Bergevin and brought on Hughes as GM, it was both implicit and explicit that they were beginning a rebuild. While this was largely considered a disappointment for the team that just last season went all the way to the Stanley Cup Final, it now means their management is open to moving various pieces for the right price. The Penguins are attempting to transition in their own regard, as many of their top prospects, including defenceman Pierre-Olivier Joseph, have developed and are now ready for a legitimate opportunity in black-and-gold. The 2021-22 Canadiens have already demonstrated a lack of stability on defence, and have already attempted to alleviate some of that pressure by unloading Shea Weber’s contract in a trade with the Vegas Golden Knights.
Thus, the Canadiens’ defence core can now be considered the weakest part of the team, which the Penguins’ management can use as leverage in a deal for Anderson. If the Penguins plan to revamp their team for a post-core future, they could reasonably trade an NHL-ready defenceman (as the Canadiens so desperately need) for Anderson.
Who Could the Penguins Send for Anderson?
Of course, in order for the deal to work out in the Penguins’ favour, they’d have to offer up a player, or players, attractive enough for Kent Hughes to agree. Luckily, the Penguins may look to offload some defencemen who haven’t quite found their footing in Pittsburgh.
Matheson emerged last season as Brian Dumoulin’s replacement when the latter was sidelined with a knee injury sustained in Game 1 of the first round. Paired with Kris Letang, the resulting play was highly chaotic, and led to some unfortunate bounces that turned the tide of the series and led to the Penguins’ seven-game elimination. Offensively-minded, his play at times was detrimental to the Penguins’ success.
While still an excellent all-around defenceman, his contract also remains a problem for a team trying to clear cap space – as both the Canadiens and Penguins are – but his play as a left-handed defenceman should attract Hughes’ attention. Not only that, but Matheson is a Québec boy, which would always go over well in Montréal.
Pettersson arrived in Pittsburgh after a trade with the Anaheim Ducks, and was considered one of outgoing GM Jim Rutherford’s last big moves. Acquired in exchange for forward Daniel Sprong, Pettersson was signed, again by Rutherford, to a long-term contract with an average annual value (AAV) of just over $4 million. Since inking that extension, he hasn’t exactly turned into the player the Penguins expected.
Pettersson didn’t really fit the Penguins’ system, as he wasn’t the same player after returning from injury and even spent some time as a healthy scratch down the stretch. Trading Pettersson would clear the way for Joseph, and clear cap space which the Penguins could use to re-sign Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, and any other players of higher priority. (from ‘Analysis: It’s time for the Penguins to clear a path for Pierre-Olivier Joseph, their top defense prospect,’ Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 23/06/2022) Another left-handed defenceman, the Canadiens could slot him as a replacement for someone like Jeff Petry, who may be on his way out soon.
What Would Anderson Bring to the Penguins?
Anderson is exactly the kind of consistent wing scorer the Penguins seemed to be searching for all season, as he finished fifth on the Canadiens in scoring with 19 goals and 13 assists in 62 games. Anderson’s status as a 6-foot-3, 227 pound power forward is a rare sight in today’s NHL, and he has the potential to turn the tide in any game, especially in the rough-and-tumble postseason. Additionally, he could serve as a more-than-adequate replacement for someone like Kapanen, who’s struggles last season have been well and truly noted.
In two seasons with the Penguins since arriving in a trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Kapanen has underperformed, to say the least. Scoring 22 goals and 40 points in that span, he hasn’t nearly lived up to what anybody thought he could be. Anderson, by contrast, has ignited the Canadiens and earned the alternate captaincy, proving to be one of the lone bright spots in an otherwise low point in team history.
Acquiring Josh Anderson from the Canadiens in exchange for a defenceman like Matheson or Pettersson would be incredibly mutually beneficial for both teams. Cap issues aside, it would provide the Canadiens with a sorely-needed left-hand shot blueliner, and it would add both a high-scoring physical forward to the Penguins’ ranks as well as pave the way for some of their top prospects.
Covering the Pittsburgh Penguins and other topics for The Hockey Writers. Also a big fan of the Chicago Cubs and progressive rock music.