The Pittsburgh Penguins may have some new executives but what they need are new players. Their roster is not deep enough, and after a mediocre start to the season, we should expect to see some deals before the trade deadline. With Ron Hextall and Brian Burke at the helm, the two veteran executives will take the next couple of weeks to examine their talent up close, and then from there, start making adjustments on the fly.
Hextall and Burke have a history of making bold moves, which should bring an element of surprise to their transactions. During Hextall’s time as general manager of the Philadelphia Flyers from 2014-18, he traded Brayden Schenn, Vincent Lecavalier, Chris Pronger, Braydon Coburn and Scott Hartnell. Needless to say, when the right deal presented itself to bring his team what he felt was needed, Hextall pulled the trigger.
Burke is cut from the same cloth. The long-time executive has never been shy to make big or small changes to upgrade his lineup, and we saw that again and again in his time with the Anaheim Ducks, Vancouver Canucks, Toronto Maple Leafs and Calgary Flames. Pronger, Trevor Linden, Alexander Mogilny, Phil Kessel and Dion Phaneuf were all acquired by ‘Burkie’. While Burke’s outlook on the Penguins has changed over the last few months, he’s now on board and ready for another playoff run.
Burke and Hextall’s First Trade
It’s not likely to happen overnight, but there’s no doubt the Penguins will make changes before the deadline. The team lacks secondary scoring and goaltending depth, but Hextall and Burke will not be able to plug all the holes with one move. However, here are a few names to keep an eye on who the Penguins brass might target to bring toughness to the team:
Ryan Hartman, Minnesota Wild
The 26-year-old Hartman plays a tough physical game and is not shy to stick up for his teammates. His 20 points in 69 games last season were solid production from a 4th-line winger, and his $1.9 million contract is affordable.
Hartman has yet to play a full season, so there’s some risk with regards to his health. However, given the Penguins’ lack of forward depth and their need for more toughness, his skill set will be on the new regime’s radar. The Minnesota Wild are struggling and looking to rebuild for their future. Moving Hartman for some future considerations might be ideal for both parties. He’s the type of player who can play for Hextall and Burke’s team any day of the week.
Sam Bennett, Calgary Flames
Burke recently called Bennett ‘grumpy’ and questioned why he asked for a trade out of Calgary when he had one point in 10 games and no fights. These comments were followed by Burke noting that he loves Bennett, a friendly reminder that he was the Flames’ interim general manager and president of hockey operations when the team selected Bennett fourth overall in 2014.
Bennett is a 24-year-old versatile forward who can play anywhere in the lineup. His $2.55 million cap hit is a bit rich for the Penguins, but as Jim Rutherford showed us all, there is always a way to move money.
In the 2020 Playoffs, Bennett recorded eight points in 10 games, and everyone thought this would propel him into a more prominent role with the Flames. That wasn’t the case even after the coaching staff gave him the option to either play wing or center to start the season. While Bennett chose center, that only lasted a couple of games, and more recently, he’s found himself on the Flames’ top line with Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan. Who knows how his trade request will play out, but we do know the Penguins’ new president of hockey operations loves him.
Cedric Paquette, Ottawa Senators
The 27-year-old Paquette is a Stanley Cup champion playing for the dismal Ottawa Senators. This isn’t by choice, as Paquette was dealt to the Sens earlier this season and, so far, it’s are not going well. While he’s never been one to light up the score sheet, Paquette will hit anything that skates by him and is a perfect role player come playoff time.
In seven seasons with the Tampa Bay Lightning, the former fourth-round pick appeared in 91 playoff games. Considering the youth among the Penguins’ bottom-six forwards, a veteran who knows what it takes to win in the playoffs would be a welcome addition to their lineup.
Paquette is also a faceoff specialist who has experience killing penalties, which is even more important to success come playoff time. While he’s not a household name, he’s a valuable piece who is under-appreciated. We’ll have to see if he fits what Burke and Hextall are looking for.
The Penguins will continue to go as far as Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin will take them. Regardless, the superstars need the right combination of depth to win in the playoffs, which the Penguins’ current roster doesn’t have. Look for Burke and Hextall to evaluate, then execute.