The Pittsburgh Penguins sit comfortably in a playoff position as we hover around the half-way mark of the season. While their management duo of Brian Burke and Ron Hextall won’t be shipping out a boatload of assets for a rental at this season’s trade deadline, they are interested in making hockey deals. Insert right-winger Kasperi Kapanen, who is becoming prime trade bait considering how he continues to fall out of favor with head coach Mike Sullivan.
If you’re wondering how Kapanen finds himself in the trade rumor mill, look no further than his ice-time the last five games. It’s a small snap shot but it’s an accurate one of the current pulse check on the Penguins forward:
- Jan. 23 vs Winnipeg Jets = 18:07 of ice-time
- Jan. 25 vs Arizona Coyotes = 15:56 of ice-time
- Jan. 27 vs Seattle Kraken = 13:31 of ice-time
- Jan. 28 vs Detroit Red Wings = 11:01 of ice-time
- Jan. 30 vs Los Angeles Kings = 8:03 of ice-time
After some nights earlier on in the season where the speedster was receiving close to 20 minutes of ice-time, now things have gone south in a big way. After being removed from the second line and demoted to the fourth unit during the Red Wings matchup, Kapanen found himself once again on the fourth line versus the Kings, playing a season-low 8:03.
Despite no points in his past four games, the 25-year-old has recorded 24 points in 44 games. The Penguins forward is a pending restricted free agent at the end of the season and will be coming off a contract where he’s been making $3.2 million per season. Certainly overpaid at this point if he’s just going to play under 10 minutes on the team’s fourth line. The Penguins have a ton of contract extensions to worry about next offseason, so moving Kapanen before the March 21 trade deadline could go a long way to creating some financial flexibility to keep the likes of Evan Rodrigues, Bryan Rust, Kris Letang and Evgeni Malkin around town.
Penguins Will Have Options Before Trade Deadline
There is certainly going to be a trade market should management decide to move Kapanen. Considering the message being sent from the coaching staff at the moment by demoting Kapanen three times in the past eight games, the sense is a move is coming. He’s become too inconsistent on the score sheet and if you’re going to make the money he makes, production needs to be there in a top-nine role, and right now it’s far from it.
Related: Penguins’ 2022 Trade Targets on the Chicago Blackhawks
The Vancouver Canucks are one team to watch as president of hockey operations Jim Rutherford absolute loves the player. So much so that when Rutherford was general manager in Pittsburgh he drafted him, traded him, and traded for him back, all within six years. The Canucks are open for business before late March so expect a move or two from Rutherford and his new management team. The likes of Conor Garland, Brock Boeser and J.T Miller are all available for the right price.
Another team to watch out for would be the Colorado Avalanche. They are in high-demand for a right-handed forward who can play on their second line. It just so happens Nazem Kadri centers that line for the Avalanche and he and Kapanen have some history together from their days with the Toronto Maple Leafs. The two spent parts of four seasons playing together and could soon find themselves on a line together in Denver.
Penguins Will Be Active With Limited Trade Assets
While Rutherford was in town he would frequently ship out prospects and high draft picks and that’s going to change with Burke and Hextall running the show. However, hockey deals are something Pittsburgh will be in on and this potential deal involving a 25-year-old forward would certainly fall under that category. Backup netminder Casey DeSmith is someone who has also been a player discussed about upgrading, as well as adding a bruising defenseman.
The Penguins don’t have a ton of trade pieces to dangle at other team’s before the trade deadline, making Kapanen an even bigger focal point in my books. His wildly inconsistent play, his contract status, and the Penguins’ right-wing depth with Rust, Rodrigues and Jeff Carter, make him expendable this season.
Keep an eye on Kapanen’s name over these next few weeks as the Penguins could use him in a deal to help fill some other holes on their roster and create flexibility on the salary cap moving forward. Given where the Penguins are in the standings and their future financials, the dog house occupancy of the player and expected interest from other teams, sounds like a recipe for a mid-season trade to me.