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Rumor Roundup: Who could Penguins target once trade freeze is lifted?

The Penguins made some minor waves before the holiday trade freeze kicked in, but there's speculation Pittsburgh could make a splash once the break is over.

Pittsburgh Penguins GM Jim Rutherford was busy prior to the start of the Dec.19-27 holiday trade freeze period. His acquisitions of defenseman Jamie Oleksiak and goaltender Michael Leighton generated speculation over other possible moves he could make once the freeze is lifted. Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman reports several executives from rival clubs call Rutherford's latest deals “the tip of the iceberg” for his struggling club. 

The Penguins most pressing need remains improving their offensive depth, particularly in the third-line center position. Early-season addition Riley Sheahan has settled into the defensive role but he's not a natural scorer. 

Prior to Rutherford's pre-freeze moves, Sportsnet's Sonny Sachdeva suggested the Vegas Golden Knights, Toronto Maple Leafs, Ottawa Senators, Colorado Avalanche and Minnesota Wild as possible trade partners. 

Sachdeva said the Knights, Leafs and Avs were among three clubs with interest in Ian Cole. The 28-year-old Penguins defenseman was reportedly being shopped in late-November, though that speculation has since cooled. The addition of Oleksiak could make him the odd man out on the Pens blueline. If the Knights are still interested in Cole, Sachdeva suggested Rutherford swap him for Erik Haula or Cody Eakin. But with Vegas on a roll and riding high in the Western Conference standings, they're probably not in any rush to swing a trade. 

Sachdeva noted the Pittsburgh media often mentions Leafs center Tyler Bozak as a player Penguins management holds in “high regard.” That may be, but Cole won't be enough to pry him out of Toronto. Bozak is eligible for unrestricted free agency next summer. While the Leafs risk losing him for nothing, they'll likely hang onto him as they jockey for playoff position in the Eastern Conference.

NBC Sports' James O'Brien also suggested Leafs left winger James van Riemsdyk as a trade option for the Pens. Like Bozak, the 28-year-old van Riemsdyk is slated to become a UFA in July. Unless Toronto tumbles to the bottom of the standings by the trade deadline, he's not going anywhere. 

Should the struggling Senators stage a fire sale before the trade deadline, Sachdeva believes centers Derick Brassard or Jean-Gabriel Pageau could interest the Penguins. Brassard's $5-million salary-cap hit through 2018-19 would be difficult to absorb unless the Sens pick up part of it or the Pens send a salaried player the other way. He also carries a 10-team no-trade list. O'Brien also includes winger Mike Hoffman on his list of Pens' trade options. A streaky scorer, Hoffman also has a cap hit exceeding $5 million and a partial no-trade list. 

If the Senators do ship out some veterans, they'll want younger players, draft picks or prospects in return. That could prove too costly for the Pens. If the Sens' intent is to get younger, they could retain the 25-year-old Pageau.

The Detroit Red Wings could become sellers if they fail to gain ground in the standing by mid-January. O'Brien suggested wingers Gustav Nyquist or Andreas Athanasiou as trade chips. The speedy Athanasiou, 23, would be more enticing to the Pens than Nyquist, but the Wings likely consider him part of their long-term plans. 

Sachdeva also suggested shipping Cole to Colorado for center Carl Soderberg. The 32-year-old center managed just 14 points last season on a horrible Avs team but had three consecutive 40-plus point campaigns before that. Joining a deeper roster in Pittsburgh could help him regain his scoring touch. 

Former Penguins center Matt Cullen is seeing limited playing time this season with the Wild. He'd be an affordable acquisition for Pittsburgh but the 41-year-old is strictly a fourth-liner these days. O'Brien also suggested pending UFAs such as Buffalo's Evander Kane, Florida's Radim Vrbata, Edmonton's Patrick Maroon or Vegas' James Neal or Jonathan Marchessault as trade targets. 

Kane, 26, could be the best player available leading up to this season's trade deadline. He would certainly be tempting for the Penguins but the Sabres' potential asking price could prove too expensive. The 36-year-old Vrbata is now in the twilight of his career. Maroon's 6-foot-3, 230-pound frame and decent offensive numbers could be enticing but consistency and speed could make him a difficult fit for the Pens.

When this season began, Neal and Marchessault were considered the players most likely to be shopped by the expansion Golden Knights. But with Vegas unexpectedly riding high in the standings, GM George McPhee could be unwilling to jeopardize their playoff hopes by trading away one of his top veterans.

Rumor Roundup appears regularly only on Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website,, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and The Guardian (P.E.I.).

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