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Penguins interested in Johnson?

Jack Johnson arrived in Columbus as part of the Jeff Carter trade and has nine points in 19 games this season. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/NHLI via Getty Images)

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Jack Johnson arrived in Columbus as part of the Jeff Carter trade and has nine points in 19 games this season. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/NHLI via Getty Images)

The presence of Columbus Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen at Monday's Tampa Bay Lightning-Pittsburgh Penguins game sparked speculation of a trade brewing between the Blue Jackets and Penguins.

Rob Rossi of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported the Penguins are seeking experienced blueline depth and are willing to part with young defenseman Simon Despres.

He claimed the Penguins would prefer to land a defenseman currently on a long-term contract to either serve as a defense partner for Kris Letang or his replacement if he departs via free agency in 2014. Rossi felt Blue Jackets defenseman Jack Johnson would fit that role.

That sparked rumors of a “Johnson-for-Despres” trade, but Kekalainen dismissed the notion as “silly.” He claimed he was old friends with Penguins GM Ray Shero and took advantage of an off-day to attend a game between two clubs he wouldn't otherwise have a chance to watch this season.

Unless Johnson demands a trade, Kekalainen is unlikely to move his most skilled defenseman. The 26-year-old is in the second year of a seven-year, $30.5-million contract and hasn't expressed unhappiness about playing for the Blue Jackets.

Given the Blue Jackets are once again mired in the basement of the Western Conference, changes could be coming to their roster soon. Despite the no-movement clauses of pending free agent veterans such as Vaclav Prospal and Adrian Aucoin, they're more likely to become trade candidates than younger talent like Johnson.

RIBEIRO RENTAL?

Washington Capitals leading scorer Mike Ribeiro is slated to become an unrestricted free agent in July and financial constraints will make it difficult for the Capitals to re-sign him.

The Washington Post's Neil Greenberg believed Ribeiro would seek a raise over the $5 million he's earning this season. With the salary cap dropping to $64.3 million next season, Greenberg suggested the Capitals should shop the 33-year-old for “futures” if they're out of the playoff picture by the trade deadline.

The Capitals have more than $48.2 million committed to 14 players next season. Re-signing Ribeiro would take a huge bite out of their cap space.

The further they fall out of playoff contention, the more likely Ribeiro will end up on the trade block, where he'd be an attractive target for playoff contenders seeking scoring depth.

OIL LOOKING TO BUY OR SELL?

The Edmonton Oilers' acquisition of Mike Brown prompted SI.com's Allan Muir to suggest Magnus Paajarvi could become trade bait.

Despite Brown's arrival, the Oilers still lack depth in skilled toughness on their forward lines, leading Muir to speculate the 21-year-old Paajarvi (who's yet to prove himself as a top-six winger) will be shopped soon.

Paajarvi isn't the only Oiler who could hit the trade block before the April 3 trade deadline.

Responding to a reader's e-mail, the Edmonton Journal's Jim Matheson believed defenseman Ryan Whitney was the most likely to move and that the St. Louis Blues would be interested in him.

St. Louis is in the market for a left-handed blueliner and Whitney seemingly fits the bill, but Blues GM Doug Armstrong lamented how quiet things were in the trade market. That suggests either the Oilers aren't ready to move Whitney yet, or Armstrong isn't interested in him.

Matheson also believed Nikolai Khabibulin would be worthwhile goaltending insurance for a playoff club, provided he's recovered from his groin injury by the deadline.

Other trade options include Sam Gagner and Ales Hemsky, but Matheson felt the Oilers would wait until the off-season to shop one of them.

Pending free agents Ladislav Smid and Ryan Jones could also become trade candidates, but Matheson didn't expect the Oilers would move them.

Though the Oilers are 13th in the Western Conference, they're a mere three points out of a playoff berth. Any move made now could be to bolster their playoff hopes, but if they fail to gain ground in the standings soon, they’ll move strictly into the sellers category.

Rumor Roundup appears weekdays only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and The Guardian (P.E.I.).

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