We’re down to a little over four weeks remaining in the season, and we’re coming up on one of the most exciting parts of the year — the trade deadline.
With the deadline looming on April 12 at 3 p.m. ET, it is a time where teams separate themselves from the rest of the pack or let the rest of the league know that they are playoff ready.
I think the latter applies for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
As other teams around the league have holes to fill in their lineup, I think the Penguins could be better off standing pat come April 12, but a couple of moves could still help the team.
Here’s what they could do when the trade deadline inches closer, including what lies ahead for the Penguins in April.
How Could Standing Pat Help the Penguins?
This is going to be a very tricky trade deadline for general manager Ron Hextall and president of hockey operations Brian Burke.
Why? Simply because the Penguins have a lack of assets to trade away.
In the upcoming 2021 NHL Draft, the Penguins only have a second round, a fifth-round and a handful of seventh-round picks. They still have all of their picks for the drafts that follow, but those picks will be much more valuable moving forward, given the closing window for the Penguins in the coming years.
Let’s be honest, the Penguins don’t have many more years remaining until the Crosby-Malkin era ends, and they have to enter a full rebuild. And a successful rebuild heavily relies on how many draft picks a team possesses. So, holding on to future draft picks is the right move for the Penguins right now.
What Moves Could Pittsburgh Make?
Regardless, I don’t think making a move would be the worst thing as long as it is the right price and the right player.
If Hextall and company do make a move this year, they would most likely want to address one of two things — their lack of center depth or lack of a tough big body. There are two players who fit that mold that the Penguins could look at making a move for — Buffalo Sabres’ Sam Reinhart and Philadelphia Flyers’ Scott Laughton.
While Reinhart doesn’t necessarily bring the gritty edge that Laughton does, Reinhart is a solid third or fourth line center who averages 0.64 points per game while bringing a defensive aspect, which fits this Penguins team considering the defensive prowess head coach Mike Sullivan has taken to.
Reinhart is not cheap, however, as his contract carries a $5.2 million price tag. The Penguins would have to move someone like Marcus Pettersson and another prospect to make it work.
As for Laughton, the 26-year-old is much cheaper at $2.3 million but does not bring as much on the offensive end as Reinhart. Here’s the thing, though: Laughton is much better defensively, will stand up for his teammates, and is by far a better player in the faceoff dot. His faceoff percentage sits at 50.7% in his career, while Reinhart sports a 36.6% clip.
What Lies Ahead in April
Obviously, April is going to be a huge month for the Penguins to lock down a playoff spot and luckily, they don’t have that hard of a schedule in the month. The Penguins will kick off a two-game set with the New York Rangers on Tuesday before heading to Newark for a pair of games against the New Jersey Devils.
They’ll play one game against Philadelphia for the first contest after the trade deadline before they play two against Buffalo, three against New Jersey, a pair against Boston and the first of two against Washington at the end of the month.
So, of the 13 games left in April, just four of them are against teams with a realistic possibility of making the playoffs in the MassMutual East Division (and that’s including Philadelphia, but if you ask me, they are out of the race).
Injuries continue to play a role in the Penguins’ season as Brandon Tanev has been listed as ‘week-to-week’ with an upper-body injury. On the bright side, Tristan Jarry said he’s feeling “back to 100%” after missing a couple of games with an upper-body injury, and Teddy Blueger was a full participant in practice on Monday.
The Penguins will face the Rangers at 7 p.m. tonight at Madison Square Garden.
Jake Deemer covers the Pittsburgh Penguins while previously writing for The Derrick & The News-Herald newspaper in Oil City, Pa. Born in Western Pennsylvania, Deemer graduated from Clarion University in 2018 with a degree in Digital Media Communications and Sports Journalism.