The 2018 NHL trade deadline is looming and the Penguins could possibly be looking to bolster their blue line. As we have seen in the past two runs to the Stanley Cup Championship, a team can never have enough defensemen. During the 2015-16 run to the Stanley Cup Championship, the Penguins used 11 different defensemen, including the long-since forgotten Adam Clendening and David Warsofsky. That season ?s Stanley Cup Final roster featured eight defensemen: Trevor Daley, Ben Lovejoy, Ian Cole, Derrick Pouliot, Brian Dumoulin, Kris Letang, Justin Schultz, and Olli Maatta.
Having such depth on the blue line proved to be pivotal in 2016, as Daley was injured in the Eastern Conference Final and Maatta had to jump back into the lineup after being scratched for games 2 through 4 of the series. He went on to play in all of the Stanley Cup Final games as well.
Last season the Penguins used an astonishing 14 different defensemen during the regular season and playoffs. Do the names Frank Corrado and Cameron Gaunce ring a bell? It appeared the Penguins ? bid at back-to-back championships was completely derailed last season when Letang had to have neck surgery and miss the entire playoffs. However, GM Jim Rutherford acquired Ron Hainsey from Carolina for Danny Kristo and Pittsburgh’s 2nd round pick in the 2017 NHL Draft. Hainsey made his debut at Heinz Field in the Stadium Series game versus the Flyers and went on to play in 16 regular season games and all 25 playoff games, recording eight points during the playoffs. Rutherford also acquired Mark Streit for depth. The former Flyers captain performed admirably in 19 regular season games and three playoff games, recording two assists.
This season the Penguins are in a position of strength on the blue line. The roster currently boasts of eight NHL-caliber defensemen with Letang, Schultz, Cole, Maatta, Dumoulin, Oleksiak, Chad Ruhwedel, and Matt Hunwick. While the team appears to be shopping Hunwick, they could do much worse than having Hunwick and Ruhwedel as their seventh and eighth defensemen on the depth chart. It could also be hard to move Hunwick and his $2.25M per year contract that still has two seasons remaining. That being said, if Rutherford can find a deal to clear Hunwick ?s cap space he won ?t hesitate to make it.
As we have seen in the past, Rutherford is always looking to make better his team and add depth, but don ?t look for him to make a big splash with a blue line acquisition. Detroit ?s Mike Green is this season ?s coveted defenseman available in the trade market, but do not expect Rutherford to be in the conversation for him. Defensemen more along the lines of Luke Schenn of Arizona would be in Rutherford ?s range. The Penguins currently have $1.5M in cap space, so a salary like Schenn ?s $1.25M would fit more into their plans without trading a player from the current roster; remember, the $1.25M would be prorated for only the portion of the season remaining, which would be about $300K in Schenn ?s case.
Another possibility for defensive depth could be Jordie Benn from Montreal. However, unlike Schenn, Benn has another year left on his contract, so he would not strictly be a rental. His $1.1M cap hit is very reasonable and he and Oleksiak were teammates in Dallas, so there would be some familiarity there.
Johnny Oduya is also a defenseman that could fit into the Penguins ? plans. The two-time Stanley Cup champion ?s cap hit of $1M is financially friendly. Additionally, the 36-year old would be a rental player, becoming a free agent at season ?s end.
One last player that might be on the Penguins ? radar is Brad Hunt of the Vegas Golden Knights. He carries a very cap-friendly annual contract of $650K and has another year remaining on it. While he plays on the Golden Knights ? bottom D-pair, he does man their top power play unit and is only 29-years old. His age and cost-effectiveness might make him tough to pry away from Vegas.
To reiterate, the Penguins need at the trade deadline is not on defense. If any of the players mentioned above were acquired they would most likely be a healthy scratch unless one of the Penguins ? top-six defensemen were injured and even then Hunwick or Ruhwedel might be ahead of them on the depth chart. All of these players are the type that could be had for one of the Penguins’ picks in the 4th through 7th round.
Rutherford has been the orchestrator of moves that have produced back-to-back Stanley Cup championships, so you can be sure that each move he makes, if any, will be calculated and fill a need. It just doesn ?t seem likely that Rutherford is going to be too defensive in his moves at this season ?s trade deadline.