In yet another shift of dates this year, the trade deadline falls on April 12. As if the date change and salary cap situation doesn’t make for an interesting enough deadline, COVID-19 border protocols will most certainly play a role in general manager’s minds across the league. With the team playing better, but not much cap space to work with, should we expect any Penguins trade deadline deals?

I’ll set the record straight right now: I don’t expect the Penguins to do much of anything at or before the deadline. They’re pressed up against the cap, making any moves difficult, and the team looks to be putting things together. Any moves could upset this chemistry and send things off-kilter again.

However, the severity of Jason Zucker’s injury could loom large. If he’s out for a significant amount of time, that’s $5.5 million of cap relief, and plenty of room to add a depth forward. I don’t really see them doing much of anything with the defense. Is management happy with it? Not exactly, but I don’t think there’s a trade out there that is going to entice GM Ron Hextall.

Here’s the potential moves the Penguins could make at the April 12 deadline.

Mike Matheson

I know, I know. Calling this a long-shot would be generous, but hear me out. Matheson has shown what he can do in decently sheltered minutes and playing next to the much-maligned Cody Ceci of all people.  If Zucker is out for the rest of the season, it would allow Pittsburgh to take on some cap space that would need to come the other way to make room for that cap number. Teams looking for a puck-moving defenseman who can bring some offensive punch to a Cup contender’s blue line.

Per season, his contract isn’t bad. The fact that it runs for five years after this? That’s a big ouch. Is he moving? No. Can we dream? Yes.

Possible destinations: Montreal has the cap space, Winnipeg has the need.

Marcus Pettersson

On to more realistic possibilities. As this season has worn on, it’s become apparent that Pettersson is not living up to the extension he signed. He showed such potential in his first season in Pittsburgh, he looked to be that diamond in the rough top-pairing defenseman that every franchise dreams of. Last season was rough, but Pens fans brushed it off as growing pains and understanding that d-men take a little more time to develop. This season is showing more likely that last year wasn’t a fluke.

Don’t get me wrong, Pettersson isn’t awful. He’s just not exactly playing up to that $4 million contract on a nightly basis. The good news is, he’s still only 24 and could still develop into that top pairing guy. The only question is if the Pens brass has the patience for that. If they do, great. He’s locked up for another four years. If not, he’s still probably the best trade chip the Pens have this year. Whatever team doesn’t win the Mattias Ekholm sweepstakes, Petterson wouldn’t be a terrible consolation prize.

Possible destinations: Winnipeg, Florida

Addition possibilities get a bit tricky. For one, the team is pressed up pretty hard against the cap. In this case, I’m going to assume Zucker is out for the season, so the team now has roughly $5.5 million to work with. At present, I’m not thrilled with Evan Rodrigues on Malkin’s wing, so let’s see who’s out there that could fill in.

New Jersey Devils right wing Kyle Palmieri skates against the Anaheim Ducks during the second period of an NHL hockey game.

Kyle Palmeri

Yes, it’s within the division, but Pit/NJ trades have been done before, and fairly recently. Yes, Palmeri has a modified no-trade clause, but I’m pretty sure Pittsburgh wouldn’t make his list of 8 teams he says no to. He typically plays on the right, but I don’t think moving to Malkin’s left would be a problem.

Palmeri does all the pesky and physical things that the team loves Brandon Tanev for, he just brings a little more skill and finish to the table. I think he’d fit in great on that second line, and be a big upgrade over Rodrigues. Palmeri’s cap hit would fit in well below the $5.5 million mark. My only concern is what NJ would ask in return. I know Hextall and company are trying to both keep the team in win-now mode, but simultaneously rebuild the farm system. They wouldn’t be as high on spending draft pics as previous general managers have been.

Bobby Ryan

As one of the leading scorers for the Red Wings, he’s showing there is plenty left in the tank. A skilled, veteran presence on Malkin’s wing could do wonders moving forward. Ryan’s game is definitely not all finesse, and he’d be able to help dig pucks out of scrums and distribute to his linemates.

Even if the team had Zucker in the lineup, this trade could still be a possibility. Ryan’s friendly cap hit would allow him to fit onto the roster easily. The only question remaining, as with any addition, is what are the Wings going to ask, and what would the Penguins be willing to pay?

As I said, I don’t think Pittsburgh makes any moves until at least the offseason. The roster is playing much better (coughing up a three-goal lead to Philly aside), and the schedule gets much easier, finally playing the bottom three teams in the division. There have barely been any moves yet, but this trade deadly already promises to be unlike any other.

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Jim Balint

Michigan born and raised. The first hockey game I recall watching was Mario Lemieux scoring five goals five different ways. Much to the chagrin of my friends and family, that was all it took, and I've been a Penguins fan ever since.

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