1.) What do you consider to be the Pens greatest need as the deadline approaches? Do they need to address more than one area for you to consider them a legitimate Cup contender?
The Penguins do have a surplus of bodies and probably are deeper than they were at this point last season, specifically in their bottom six. In eyeballing their roster, it seems that they could use a depth defenseman, specifically to keep them from having to go in to the playoffs with either of Derrick Pouliot or Robert Bortuzzo having to play a large role. Pouliot is a bit green in the defensive zone and Bortuzzo has been up and down throughout the year.
The issue is that those defensemen do not come cheaply.
They could also stand to grab another forward who is capable of playing in their top nine. Maybe a player similar to Blake Comeau, who has the ability to slide up into the top six, but would be just as comfortable adding to the offense on their third line.
If they can’t get a top nine type, they could stand to acquire an upgrade for the fourth line.
2.) Rutherford doesn’t have a lot of cap room to work with. (791,000 as of this writing) If he is to address a perceived need, who do you view as a likely trade chip?
The Penguins really do not have a lot of latitude here. They are not accruing cap space as the season rolls along as most teams do in these situations because they are technically over the cap and relying on long term IR cash at the moment. Any significant move will require roster players to change places. If I were to identify a couple of guys, I’d look to a player like Chris Kunitz and his $4.0 million dollar cap hit or Brandon Sutter and his $3.3 million dollar hit. The risk in moving either player is that your roster could be worse after the deal depending on the return. You would have to be getting an impact player to consider moving either guy at the moment.
The currently stable of defensemen would be off limits, especially with the grey area surrounding Christian Ehrhoff’s health.
Beau Bennett is another popular name in trade speculation, but he doesn’t bring a significant cost savings and would have to be a complimentary piece in any deal, possibly the piece that convinces another general manager to hold or take some salary.
3.) Who are three players likely to be available you'd like to see the Pens go after and why?
Erik Cole – Dallas Stars – Jim Rutherford has made his desire for another depth forward known. His hope is to acquire someone who could chip in a timely goal when the stars are being locked down. Cole has that capability. He may not be the player that he was, but he has 17 goals this season and is thought to be available. He also has a long history with Rutherford, having won the Stanley Cup with him back in 05-06 and being a part of a Carolina team that lost to Detroit back in 01-02. He is a known commodity and I think his mix of grit, skill, and leadership would be enough to have him on a short list of attainable pieces.
Antoine Vermette – Arizona Coyotes – this is probably a pipe dream, but I have talked him up since Pascal Dupuis went down. He is capable of playing on the wing or at center, can kill penalties and can play on the power play. He is one of the best faceoff guys in the league and would be a perfect fit behind or beside Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin. He would be rental, but could be a big part of success down the stretch and in the playoffs. He will be expensive and the Penguins probably don’t have the pieces to get him, but just picture the craziness of a blockbuster featuring he and Keith Yandle!
Andrew Ference – Edmonton Oilers – the former Penguin is in the twilight of his career and things haven’t gone according to plan in Edmonton. He was a part of a winner in Boston, helped the Flames to the Stanley Cup Final in 03-04. He is a leader who is no stranger to playing against the top players on other teams and could be a nice fit on the Penguins’ bottom pairing. He isn’t shy about speaking his mind and might be the type of guy who could replace what was lost in the Penguins’ room when it lost Brooks Orpik.
4.) What current rumor would you NOT like to see happen?
There have been a lot of folks talking about Zbynek Michalek and I just don’t see him being a good fit. He lost his confidence to such a large extent during the 11-12 season that he all but asked out of town. I am not sure that those demons have been exorcised. If you aren’t 65-70 percent sure a player can thrive in your organization, I’m not sure you can make the deal.
5.) Who do you consider “untouchable” (prospect or otherwise) in a trade scenario this year?
Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, Marc-Andre Fleury. I would move any other piece on the team or in the organization in the right deal. Yes, even Derrick Pouliot.
6.) Imagine a scenario where the Penguins had around 10 million in space to play with; which player (or players) would you love to see on this team?
I know that the eyes would roll on this one, but I have always thought that a player like Phil Kessel would thrive playing with centers like Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin. He has the fourth most goals over the past five seasons, trailing only Alex Ovechkin, Steven Stamkos, and Corey Perry. He is a very misunderstood guy, but getting out from under the microscope in a hockey hot bed like Toronto could really do him some good. I am not endorsing this deal, so much as wondering what it would look like. It would certainly be intriguing.
I already mentioned Keith Yandle, but he would be a guy who could make a huge impact on the Penguins’ power play. The only knock on him this season is his plus-minus, but that is mainly a product of his team. He is a gifted playmaker, can shoot the puck and rolls up shots and points at a breakneck pace.