Trade Drama has Penguins Implications; 5 Defensemen to Watch

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In the process of scribbling the morning column, the big trade went down, and the question, “Where will Pierre-Luc Dubois play next week” was answered. The Columbus Blue Jackets snagged All-Star sniper Patrik Laine and RFA center Jack Roslovic for Pierre-Luc Dubois, but the trade also has implications for the Pittsburgh Penguins trade targets too.

Columbus coach John Tortorella’s dissatisfaction with Dubois and his play came to a head Friday. Reports flowed out of national Canadian media that a trade was imminent. Saturday morning, it was complete, with a third-rounder also going to Winnipeg, which picked up 26% of Laine’s salary, too.

No, the Penguins and GM Jim Rutherford were not in on Dubois. However, Roslovic was believed to be a Penguins trade target per Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman and secondary corroboration from PHN.

Roslovic in Columbus will likely be the end of Penguins GM Jim Rutherford’s pursuit.

The Penguins can turn their attention to a defenseman as their blueline is decimated and could be improved even when healthy. On Thursday, the TSN Insiders reported he was shopping for more than a spare part, but the NHL trade market availables forced him to review mostly third-pairing defensemen.

Before we get to potential defensemen, let’s review how I’m making the list. This is only a partial list, based on urgent need and low hanging fruit.

An LHD makes sense because circumstance forced head coach Mike Sullivan to put John Marino on his backhand Friday night. Marino struggled with the move. An LHD would allow the right-handed Marino to go back to his natural right side and give the Penguins a choice between Chad Ruhwedel or Cody Ceci on the third pairing.

A player coming from a Canadian team (the North Division) would go through the quarantine procedure and approximately four, six, or eight games. That seemingly tamps down the urgency factor. For now, we’ll remove North Division defensemen.

The Detroit Red Wings assistant-GM Pat Verbeek, has been in the building for two straight games. Verbeek was in the barn for the second game against the Washington Capitals and the first game against the New York Rangers. Since there is no inter-divisional play, let’s assume he’s not doing advance-scouting work for 2021-22.

The Pittsburgh Penguins and Anaheim Ducks are occasional partners on the dance floor. Rutherford and Anaheim GM Bob Murray have hooked up for several trades in the past few years, including David Perron for Carl Hagelin, Daniel Sprong for Marcus Pettersson, and Erik Gudbranson for cap relief.

Also, an Anaheim scout was to have been in attendance at the Penguins vs. New York Rangers on Friday night (though social distancing prevented confirmation).

Vegas, Anaheim, and Minnesota were also supposed to be in the seats last night (You wouldn’t believe how I’m getting the scouts list this year. I enjoy making friends in low places…)

Minnesota dressed seven defensemen on Friday night. Vegas has a pair of scratches hanging around.

Potential Penguins Trade Targets: Defensemen

LHD Nicolas Hague, 22, Vegas Golden Knights

The Pittsburgh Penguins should absolutely want to get their hands on the “Haguer bomb.” Hague is 6-foot-6, 221-pounds, and moves reasonably well for a giant. He has a HEAVY shot from the point and will occasionally throw that weight around. He was the Vegas second-round pick in 2017, so he’s young and has more potential.

Which are also the very reasons Vegas should want to keep him.

Vegas has a stout blueline, though the team can’t afford to dress a sixth defenseman. Hague would be an ideal asset to acquire, perhaps in exchange for taking on a bit of salary and getting Vegas out of the salary cap mess.

LHD Nick Holden, 33, Vegas Golden Knights

Holden’s cap hit is $1.7 million, and his contract expires after this season. Holden is not a prized grab but a serviceable depth defenseman. He cleared waivers to be assigned to the taxi squad, so the Holden market is not robust.

He won’t “wow” anyone, but if the Penguins are in a pinch for a lefty without term on his contract, this may fit. File this under, “if nothing else…”

LHD Carson Soucy, 26, Minnesota Wild

Minnesota has seven D-men in the NHL lineup after acquiring former Penguins stalwart Ian Cole last week. Soucy has two more years remaining on a contract with a $2.75 million AAV. He’s big (6-foot-5, 211 pounds), plays with some jam, and can log big minutes.

He isn’t a bonafide top-four defenseman, but he is an NHL caliber defender who could anchor the second pairing with John Marino. Soucy’s contract isn’t overly burdensome, and he could be Penguins trade bait if the blue line gets healthy, or the Penguins could keep him and shed someone else depending on performance.

We also considered Ryan Suter, to whom Rutherford was linked last season, but the math with four years remaining at over $7.5 million annually is too difficult for us even to attempt.

LHD Danny Dekeyser, 30, Detroit Red Wings

Dekeyser makes $5 million per through the end of next season. He’s also a legit NHL defenseman making $5 million for another season. He missed all but eight games last season after back surgery, so there are real questions about his health, but not his talent.

Detroit would certainly want a legitimate return, though Dekeyser’s age, injury, and salary could make him expendable to the rebuilding Red Wings.

Dekeyser is 6-foot-3, has excellent skates, and can move the puck.

For a Penguins trade to make sense here, Rutherford needs to part with something Detroit wants: youth and talent. Most importantly, the ledger would also have to balance.

Not impossible, but not easy.

LHD Jon Merrill, 28, Detroit Red Wings

Talented but inconsistent. Merrill makes only $925,000 this season. He could be a stopgap for Rutherford to provide Sullivan the tools to keep Marino on the right side.

Merrill’s best season was 2018-19 with Vegas. He scored 15 points (3g, 12a) in 57 games.

Detroit could play hardball. They could wait in hopes of getting top-dollar at the NHL trade deadline. Detroit GM Steve Yzerman is shrewd and a top-notch talent evaluator. Perhaps the Penguins have something Detroit believes could blossom if given more ice time.

We will be putting this story behind the PHN+ paywall for Sunday readers. Subscribe here. 

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