Pittsburgh has a great roster even if they don’t do anything at the trade deadline. That does not mean they should just sit on their hands and not explore options to get better. Always look to get better.
What do they need? Unfortunately, they need something every team in the league is looking for, a top four NHL ready defenseman. Good luck trying to pay a reasonable price in the trade deadline market for that.
There are a few ways to accomplish this. One is a blockbuster deal for a young player with term like Jacob Trouba, Dougie Hamilton, or Tyson Barrie. This isn’t easy and at the present moment I don’t see the team going this route at the deadline. I view this route is more of an after the season ends task if they entertain it at all.
There is the option of targeting a high end pending UFA to fill the void. Kevin Shattenkirk is the most obvious example of this. He’s a tremendous player and clearly his time is coming to an end with St. Louis. What is the cost to acquire? It won’t be cheap. The only way the Penguins should be in on this is if the Blues consider Marc-Andre Fleury a major piece of the deal. If I’m the Blues I wouldn’t go that route but Doug Armstrong has proven over the years that he isn’t the greatest at evaluating goaltender talent.
He shipped off Jaro Halak to make room for Ryan Miller in 2013-14 despite Halak performing better that season (.923 vs .920). He also had Brian Elliott (.925) on the roster who was better than both Halak and Miller. Armstrong made at best a lateral move to acquire Miller and gave up a first and third round pick to do so. Miller fizzled in the playoffs and left as a free agent immediately thereafter. Giving up first round picks for rentals you do not need is not good business. This year they traded away Brian Elliott who had a great Blues career and they are now 30th in goaltending. The team committed to Jake Allen even though his career sample should be considered below average. Who’s to say that Armstrong wouldn’t be interested in taking the Fleury bait with his goaltending floundering? Fleury's a great team guy. He's certainly not an individual contractor.
If Pittsburgh is looking to find a middle tiered defenseman that won’t drain the organization of assets to acquire there is in option in Detroit. That player is Mike Green.
His actual on-ice production is better than the current perception of him.
He's in the 92nd percentile in offense and the 80th percentile in possession impact. That is a top four defenseman. He is also right handed.
The issue with this idea is his contract. Not so much the term, but the cap hit. Mike Green would not be a rental because he has one year left on his deal. He does however make 6.0 million dollars per year. It is steep, but given the that there is only one more year left on the deal Pittsburgh could make the money work if Marc-Andre Fleury's contract was gone. That is really the only way Pittsburgh could look in this direction. Without Fleury off the books this is a moot point.
Looking at next year Daleys 3.3M, Scuderi's 1.125M buyout, and Kunitz's 3.875M will all technically be off the books. Eric Fehr's 2.0M should definitely be something the team looks to move to create even more space. Other roster items that need to be factored in include potential extensions for Dumoulin, Schultz, Bonino, and Sheary. There are a lot of moving parts heading into next year.
I don't view trading for Mike Green at the trade deadline as a likely option, but when you look around the league for pending UFA defensemen
it isn't great. There really isn't anything out there worth spending assets on that Pittsburgh can't already get from within. Mike Green as a trade target could be something the Penguins could look into in the offseason if the Justin Schultz extension does not materialize.
Another positional need that Pittsburgh should be looking at is the backup goaltender position. The team needs to be ready to make a move for a backup at any moment because they should be open to trading Fleury at any moment. If they get a good offer for Fleury they shouldn't hesitate to pull the trigger on it. In an absolute worst case scenario the Penguins can call up Tristan Jarry who is having a very nice year in the AHL. Here are some other options:
If the Flyers happen to drop out of the playoff picture they might try to deal pending UFA goaltender Michal Neuvirth. They recently had a stretch of only winning twice in 12 games. This has allowed teams like the Maple Leafs, Panthers, and Islanders to all stray within striking distance. It is a situation worth monitoring.
Brian Elliott has been a train wreck in Calgary. He was really good in St. Louis. Maybe the Flames would be happy to get rid of him. I would be willing to take on that contract to back up Murray. Who knows, maybe the Flames could be a Fleury destination.
There really isn't much else for the Penguins to do. I mean there’s always #JagrWatch2017, but the Penguins have great forward depth and they shouldn't be looking to trade futures to improve in the short term.
Every trade the Penguins look at should have a focus for the long term. Maximizing the Crosby/Malkin window is priority number one and paying a premium for rentals is no way to do that.
Outside of a Marc-Andre Fleury trade there really isn't a pressing issue for the Penguins to go out of their way fix.
It might be a boring deadline for Pittsburgh and that would be OK. There are a lot of worse situations for an NHL team to be in.