The injury-ravaged Pittsburgh Penguins recently suffered another blow when Jake Guentzel underwent surgery for an injured shoulder. With the 25-year-old left-winger sidelined four-to-six months, his absence robs the Penguins of one of their leading scorers.
Throughout this season, the Penguins have coped with an unusually high number of injuries. Guentzel joins Sidney Crosby, Brian Dumoulin, Justin Schultz, and Nick Bjugstad already on the shelf. Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, Bryan Rust, and Patric Hornqvist also spent extended time in the infirmary.
Despite their injury-depleted roster, the Penguins remain in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff standings. Apart from shipping Erik Gudbranson to the Anaheim Ducks for minor-league Andreas Martinsen in a cost-cutting move, general manager Jim Rutherford hasn’t made any significant trades this season.
Guentzel’s injury, however, has reportedly prompted Rutherford to shop for a replacement.
The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review‘s Seth Rorabaugh reported Rutherford acknowledged receiving calls from some rivals, but none of them offered up a top-six winger. Given the versatility of his wingers, he could pursue a right winger if an offer made sense.
Rob Rossi of The Athletic reported Rutherford can place Guentzel on long-term injury reserve, freeing up his $6-million annual salary-cap hit to clear space for a potential trade. He could also use his first-round pick in this year’s draft as trade bait.
It’s assumed Rutherford will target a rental player like the New York Rangers’ Chris Kreider or the Los Angeles Kings’ Tyler Toffoli. Both are slated to become unrestricted free agents on July 1. However, TSN’s Bob McKenzie said the Penguins GM could prefer making a hockey trade, shipping out a player from his roster in exchange for one signed beyond this season.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette‘s Jason Mackey suggested Bjugstad ($4 million) or Alex Galchenyuk ($4.9 million) could be trade candidates. In addition to Kreider and Toffoli, he also suggested Ottawa Senators center Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Chicago Blackhawks winger Brandon Saad as trade options.
Like Kreider and Toffoli, Pageau is slated to become a UFA this summer. While center is his primary position, he can also play on the wing. Saad, meanwhile, is signed through next season with an AAV of $6 million.
In a recent mailbag segment, The Athletic’s Michael Russo reported hearing the Penguins could be interested again in the Minnesota Wild’s Jason Zucker. Rutherford attempted to swap Phil Kessel for Zucker last May. The deal was nixed by Kessel, who was subsequently shipped to the Arizona Coyotes.
Zucker can play either wing and is in the second year of a five-year, $27.5-million contract. He also carries a modified no-trade clause that kicked in last July. There’s no certainty, however, Wild GM Bill Guerin intends to move Zucker. It was Guerin’s predecessor who attempted to move the winger last year.
Andreas Athanasiou of the Detroit Red Wings could be another target. A speedy, versatile forward who tallied 30 goals last season, Athanasiou will be a restricted free agent with arbitration rights this summer. The rebuilding Wings could part ways with him if they feel he’ll be difficult to re-sign.
With the Penguins still playing well, and Crosby due to return to action any day now, Rutherford can afford to wait for the trade market to improve. Given his reputation as a wheeler-dealer, it’s expected he’ll make a significant move before the Feb. 24 trade deadline. One of the aforementioned trade targets could be skating in a Penguins jersey by then.