As this season began, some observers wondered if the Pittsburgh Penguins remained a legitimate Stanley Cup contender. Despite a 100-point performance in 2018-19, they barely qualified for the playoffs and were swept in the opening round by the New York Islanders.
GM Jim Rutherford shook things up during the summer, shipping out Phil Kessel and Olli Maatta and adding Alex Galchenyuk, Brandon Tanev and Dominik Kahun. Defenseman Jack Johnson was reportedly being shopped, but Rutherford dismissed that conjecture.
Injuries to Galchenyuk, Evgeni Malkin and Nick Bjugstad forced Rutherford to call up Sam Lafferty and Adam Johnson. Both fit seamlessly into the lineup as the Penguins won four of their first six games. That’s taken pressure off the Penguins GM to swing a trade.
Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported Rutherford hasn’t found a worthwhile deal. He’s also unwilling to part with his 2020 first-round pick. TSN’s Bob McKenzie wondered if a veteran blueliner such as Johnson or Erik Gudbranson could become a trade candidate. But Gudbranson and Johnson could prove difficult to move. Both were recent healthy scratches as they continue to struggle against fleet-footed opponents. Their contracts are also a sticking point. Gudbranson carries a $4-million cap hit through next season while Johnson ($3.25-million annually) is signed through 2022-23.
LeBrun suggested the Anaheim Ducks, Arizona Coyotes, New Jersey Devils and Winnipeg Jets as possible trade partners. The Ducks still seek a right-shot defenseman following their failed attempt to acquire Justin Faulk. Coyotes blueliner Niklas Hjalmarsson is sidelined for three months with a cracked fibula. Meanwhile, the Devils are struggling defensively while the Jets must replenish their depleted blueline.
The Ducks, however, could have an eye on a younger option such as Buffalo’s Rasmus Ristolainen. LeBrun said there’s no indication the Coyotes and Devils are in the trade market, while the Jets still await Dustin Byfuglien’s decision on his future.
PREDATORS SHOPPING TURRIS?
TSN’s Bob McKenzie suggests it’s worth monitoring Kyle Turris’ status with the Nashville Predators. The 30-year-old center is earning $6-million annually through 2023-24 but is seeing fourth-line minutes thus far this season.
The Predators acquired Turris two years ago from the Ottawa Senators as part of a three-way deal with the Colorado Avalanche before signing him to his current deal. Slotted as their second-line center at the time, he tallied 42 points in 65 games in 2017-18. Injuries, however, limited him last season to just 23 points in 55 contests.
A strong effort by Turris with Team Canada at this year’s World Championships sparked talk of a bounce-back performance. With the Predators’ addition of Matt Duchene, however, he’s slid further down their depth chart. McKenzie said it’s no secret Predators GM David Poile tried moving Turris over the summer. His contract, however, remains a stumbling block
Despite his limited minutes, Turris still managed four points in his first six games, putting him on a 55-point pace. Teams seeking experienced depth at center could be interested but might ask Poile to pick up part of Turris’ cap hit.
PULJUJARVI STAYING IN FINLAND?
Jesse Puljujarvi remains a fixture in an otherwise quiet trade-rumor mill. The unsigned 21-year-old winger remains in Finland awaiting a trade by the Edmonton Oilers.
A good performance in Finland could improve Puljujarvi’s trade value. The Athletic’s Allan Mitchell speculated the St. Louis Blues as a destination because of their trade history with the Oilers. He noted recent speculation linked Edmonton to Carolina Hurricanes winger Julien Gauthier. Mitchell also suggested the Anaheim Ducks, Tampa Bay Lightning and Winnipeg Jets as possible trade partners.
The Oilers have until Dec. 1 to get Puljuarvi under contract or ship him to a club willing to sign him. Otherwise, he’ll be ineligible for the remainder of this NHL season. Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston reports the winger is comfortable spending 2019-20 in Finland.
It’s believed several clubs are interested in Puljujarvi, and Oilers GM Ken Holland is said to be seeking a decent draft pick plus a promising prospect or young NHL-ready player in return. If there are no takers, Holland could be content to let Puljujarvi spend this season in Finland and try to sign or trade him next summer.
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