Two weeks from tomorrow will be the NHL Trade Deadline. The Pittsburgh Penguins will have until then to accomplish their season-long task of trying to solve their problem of a lack of center depth at the NHL level in an effort to make a run at a third straight Stanley Cup.
One name that was popping up a lot last week continues to be near or at the top of the rumor mill. And that’s Matt Cullen. The former Penguin player has been mentioned by journalists Jason Mackey, Elliotte Friedman and Michael Russo in recent days as a possibility to rejoin Pittsburgh. Now you can add arguably the most respected name in hockey news in Bob McKenzie also talking the possibility.
On his recent “Hockey Bobcast” (link here, Pens talk starts at 1 hour, 24 minutes) McKenzie talked about all 31 NHL teams. For Pittsburgh McKenzie said-
- The Pens are “all in” to win another Stanley Cup this spring, due to their core players all being in their primes and Pittsburgh has no reason to save assets “for a rainy day”.
- That said, the Pens are limited by what they can give away, which isn’t much; as well as being near the top of the salary cap. So Pittsburgh can’t and doesn’t want to add 1st or 2nd line players.
- Jim Rutherford was after Ottawa’s Jean-Gabriel Pageau, but Pageau is a “no go” according to McKenzie, who doesn’t believe Ottawa is interested in trading him at this time.
- The Pens have some interest in Edmonton’s Mark Letestu, but McKenzie notes there’s a feeling that Letestu is more or less the same as some of the players Pittsburgh already has on the team and not enough of an upgrade to necessitate adding.
- McKenzie also mentions and speculates that Anaheim’s Antoine Vermette could be a possibility if Anaheim drops out of the playoff race but quickly adds he doubts that would be an open avenue as well.
- Cullen is considered a “fallback” option for the Pens. Cullen is unhappy in Minnesota due to his icetime and role with the Wild. McKenzie “wouldn’t be surprised” if the Pens worked a trade to bring Cullen back.
- Rutherford is also considering adding winger depth and has been scouting the Buffalo Sabres heavily all season long. There was talk the Pens were interested in Evander Kane, but McKenzie doesn’t believe the money will work on the salary cap.
- New York’s Michael Grabner could also be a name to keep in mind as a rental option.
- Draft picks will be used as currency to make rental deals since “the future is now”.
A lot of this jives with what is expected. I’m sure everyone would love to add a splashy and premiere third line center, however the trade market doesn’t have many (if any) actual candidates out there. Also Pittsburgh is tight to the cap and has very limited assets to trade. That all adds up to forgetting about a name like Derrick Brassard or a non-rental type.
The Cullen talk again was very matter of fact and it does seem very possible, if not even likely, that the veteran will return to Pittsburgh. From piecing together reports, it feels like Rutherford is keeping his options open and seeing if he can get a better player, if not Cullen might be the choice.
“Don’t sleep on the Penguins,” McKenzie concluded. “They have a general manager who is not going to sleep until he exhausts every option to do everything and anything he can to make this team a little bit better than it is right now and give his group their best possible chance to win three Cups in a row.”
On the usual Saturday night intermission rumor talk from Canada, Friedman’s Pittsburgh focus included Montreal center Tomas Plekanec. We blogged about this possibility last month and Friedman lists the Pens and Sharks as suitors for Plekanec. One other aspect hinted at is that Plekanec is approaching 1,000 career NHL games, all with the Canadiens, and they may just keep him and try to re-sign him for next year. So unlike most veterans on an expiring contract, Plekanec isn’t automatically on the trading block to be moved no matter what.