Penguins Management Set Clear Objective For Next Trade

Pittsburgh Penguins general manager (GM) Ron Hextall has been a busy executive these last few weeks, and the volume of work won’t go down any time soon. With several pending free agents, including Evgeni Malkin, the Penguins are on a mission before the opening of free agency on July 13. The team wants to strike a deal to free up cap space and will do everything in their power to make that happen in the next couple of days.

The good news for Hextall is that the trade market is as hot as ever right now, and several teams are open to transactions. Salary dumps, on the other hand, might be a little harder to come by, so the Penguins GM may need to get creative to create some financial flexibility.

While Kris Letang has signed on to finish his career in Pittsburgh, here’s a look at the players who could be on their way out before next Wednesday:

Jason Zucker

The Penguins would love to have $5.5 million more to work with in free agency because not only does Hextall want to add some external options come, but he also has a couple of pending free agents that he wants to sign. Pittsburgh is interested in bringing back Evgeni Malkin, Rickard Rakell, and Evan Rodrigues; however, Jason Zucker will need to go in order to have the resources to complete the extensions.

Jason Zucker Pittsburgh Penguins
Jason Zucker, Pittsburgh Penguins (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Zucker hasn’t quite worked out as hoped since he arrived via trade with the Minnesota Wild. He’s often injured and has caught some bad breaks along the way. The 30-year-old appeared in 41 games last season for the Penguins, posting eight goals and 17 points. He went scoreless in five Stanley Cup Playoff games.

Related: Penguins Have 3 Interesting Options to Replace Evgeni Malkin

The California native holds a no-trade clause, protecting him from 10 teams of his choice. The Los Angeles Kings are looking for help on the wing, as are the Seattle Kraken, New Jersey Devils, and Carolina Hurricanes. The Kings and Kraken should be in play for a possible deal.

Marcus Pettersson

Marcus Pettersson is the most likely Penguins defenseman to be traded as he’s signed long-term, he’s only 26 years old, and he’s grasping onto his potential to develop his game. Pettersson enjoyed a solid season in 2021-22, recording 19 points in 72 games in Pittsburgh.

Marcus Pettersson, Pittsburgh Penguins
Marcus Pettersson, Pittsburgh Penguins (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Pettersson is a depth option for the Penguins and plays almost the least among regulars, only ahead of Chad Ruhwedel. For someone making $4.02 million against the cap, this isn’t the best setup for team success. Expect Hextall to try and move on from the lanky defender before July 13, and there have been some rumblings that the Kings could be interested.

For a player listed at 177 lbs, Pettersson isn’t afraid to throw his body around, finishing last season with 122 hits. However, with Letang, John Marino, Michael Matheson, Ruhwedel, and Brian Dumoulin all returning to the Penguins next season, he’s quickly becoming the odd man out.

Penguins Options Limited Outside Pettersson & Zucker

It doesn’t feel like Hextall will walk away from Kasperi Kapanen or Danton Heinen at this point, and Brock McGinn brings an element of sandpaper to a team that desperately needs it, so he likely stays. Besides perhaps Dumoulin as a potential sell-off, it’s likely one of Zucker or Pettersson are traded.

Hextall didn’t sound too optimistic regarding the Malkin talks on day two of the NHL draft. Having some more financial flexibility could go a long way toward keeping the core of the team together, a move that head coach Mike Sullivan would like to see happen.

Sullivan is right. The team is talented enough to get the job done in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Last season should be quickly forgotten, especially considering the injury bug chomped away their championship chances; and if Malkin gets back into the mix and the team can keep Rakell or perhaps take a look at a scoring winger via free agency, the Penguins could quickly find themselves near the top of the Eastern Conference in 2022-23.

Hextall has made his intentions clear as executives across the league blow up each other’s cell phones. The Penguins want to free up some cap space, and any team with some available resources should give the Pittsburgh executive a call. The trade market is hot right now, and Hextall would like to add some fuel to the fire.

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