Over the weekend, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman relayed the sentiment from Pittsburgh Penguins GM Jim Rutherford that he is “not really that excited” about the names available on the trade market. It’s an echo of comments that the veteran executive made this summer about teams being unwilling to part with value or make a deal that he felt was a fair swap. The Penguins entered the season with a surplus of defensemen and a shortage of cap space, hoping to make a deal from their depth. That need to make a trade has only been exasperated by both injuries to the forward corps as well as the unexpected emergence of John Marino as an affordable NHL option on the blue line. Rutherford remains on the hunt for a trade, but thus far to no avail.
With that said, the equilibrium of the trade market shifted today with the announcement by the Arizona Coyotes that dependable defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson would be missing three months with a broken leg. The timing could not have been better for the Penguins, as Seth Rorabaugh of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review notes that Arizona management was on hand in Winnipeg to watch the Jets host the Pens on Sunday ahead of their own match-up on Tuesday. The ‘Yotes are now another team that could be interested in acquiring a Penguins defenseman, particularly as they need to replace the solid defensive play of Hjalmarsson. Stay-at-home defenseman Erik Gudbranson, who was a healthy scratch for the Penguins last game, is one of the names available and would seemingly be a good fit in the desert. Arizona could also be interested in a cheaper addition like veteran Chad Ruhwedel or young Juuso Riikola. Of course, the player that most Penguins fans would like to be rid of is Jack Johnson – and the four years and $13MM remaining on his contract – but it remains a long shot that Pittsburgh will be able to trade Johnson without giving up another valuable piece of their own, whether they are dealing with Arizona or otherwise.
- Another deviation from Rutherford’s comments comes in the form of a report that he has taken a liking to an available player. Dan Kingerski or Pittsburgh Hockey Now cites a league source that says the Penguins have talked to the New York Islanders about ostracized young forward Josh Ho-Sang. Ho-Sang has struggled to find a role with New York early in his pro career and after once again failing to make the team out of camp, he was instructed by GM Lou Lamoriello not to report to the AHL, but instead to wait for the team to find him a new home via trade. On one hand, the Islanders’ willingness to move Ho-Sang and the fact that he was already available on waivers this season means that the asking price is likely low. On the other hand, this means that Rutherford could solve his need for help up front, but would be unlikely to find a taker of one of his defensemen in the Islanders. Ho-Sang would be a good fit in Pittsburgh as a player with NHL experience and skill who can move back and forth between the AHL. However, it remains to be seen if Rutherford is willing to make a trade where one of his nine NHL defensemen aren’t headed the other way.
- The timeline for Evgeni Malkin’s return from injury remains “uncertain”, according to Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston this weekend. Malkin was injured when he went down awkwardly after a hit earlier this month and the Penguins have not updated his status with any concrete timeline. Johnston expects that Malkin will be out at least a month, dating back to when the injury occurred, which means there is hope he could return in early November. This would be the best-case scenario however and Pittsburgh is unlikely to rush him back, even in light of the three other regular forwards currently shelved by injuries. Malkin was not himself at times last year and his 21 goals in 68 games was far from the expectation. The Penguins would likely rather he take his time with recovery and get back to full strength before the second half and hopeful playoff run.