Evgeni Malkin leads the way for the Penguins. Image by: Getty Images
The Penguins are exploring the trade market in an effort to find some help down the middle; futures of Tavares and Duchene still unclear.
The Pittsburgh Penguins recently avoided salary arbitration with defenseman Brian Dumoulin and forward Conor Sheary by re-signing the duo to long-term contracts. That leaves GM Jim Rutherford with just over $3 million in salary cap room to bring in a third-line center.
Jason Mackey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports Rutherford doesn't anticipate having to ship out much salary to address that need. He also told Mackey that trade talk has picked up compared to earlier this summer.
Rutherford has little choice but to explore the trade market for depth at center. The pickings are very slim now in the free-agent market. He's spoken with veteran Matt Cullen but the 40-year-old center has yet to decide if he'll return for another season with the Penguins. If Cullen returns, it'll be mainly in a fourth-line role.
Earlier this summer, there was talk the Penguins were looking into acquiring Duchene from the Avalanche or Tyler Bozak from the Toronto Maple Leafs. Given their limited cap space and Rutherford's recent comments, don't expect to see either guy sporting a Pens jersey this season.
Detroit Red Wings center Riley Sheahan could be an affordable option. The 25-year-old carries a cap hit of just over $2 million for 2017-18 and the Red Wings need to shed salary.
Sheahan had his problems last season with the retooling Wings. However, a trade to the defending Stanley Cup champions might improve his performance.
It wouldn't be the first time Rutherford took a chance on a struggling player. Defenseman Justin Schultz's career was rejuvenated after the Penguins GM acquired him from the Edmonton Oilers before the 2016 trade deadline.
FUTURES OF TAVARES, DUCHENE STILL UNCLEAR
With the NHL salary arbitration period completed and the offseason now in its dog days, there's renewed interest in the respective futures of New York Islanders center John Tavares and Colorado Avalanche center Matt Duchene.
Tavares, 26, is eligible next July for unrestricted free agency. While he and the Isles are reportedly discussing a contract extension, there's no indication they're any closer to a deal.
In an interview on Tuesday with TSN, Tavares declined to shed any light on the talks. He maintained his desire to remain with the Isles, adding his focus is now on preparing for the upcoming season.
Like Tavares, Duchene is putting his attention on training for 2017-18. The 26-year-old was the subject of considerable trade speculation stretching back to midway through last season. While he remains a trade candidate, he claims he's not bothered by the media chatter.
TSN's Dave Poulin believes Duchene is a very good complimentary player but not a standalone star. Once Avalanche management re-evaluates their asking price, he feels Duchene will be dealt before training camp.
Poulin also thinks the Islanders aren't feeling any pressure to re-sign Tavares. He points out Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos played through the final season of his contract before opting to re-sign with the Lightning days before his UFA eligibility. Given Tavares' value to the Isles, Poulin believes they have to get this done.
The Isles acquired Jordan Eberle from the Edmonton Oilers in June as a scoring winger for the Tavares line. Poulin wonders if they'll also consider pursuing a deal for Duchene.
Tavares' future with the Islanders hasn't yet garnered much media speculation. However, that will change if he's unsigned when training camp opens in September. The addition of someone such as Duchene could provide additional incentive for Tavares to stay put.
Poulin's not the first pundit to link Duchene to the Islanders. That possibility was bandied about in the media several times last season. During the 2017 NHL draft, there was talk Isles GM Garth Snow made a failed bid by offering offered up defenseman Travis Hamonic and a first-round pick. Hamonic was instead dealt to the Calgary Flames.
If Avalanche GM Joe Sakic continues to insist on an established young top-four defenseman as part of the return for Duchene, the Islanders lack sufficient blueline depth to make that swap. Should Sakic reduce his asking price, the New York Post's Brett Cyrgalis observes Snow has depth in high-round picks to offer up as trade bait. The Isles GM carries two picks in each of the first two rounds in the 2018 draft.
Even if Snow offered up a couple of high picks, he still must free up sufficient salary cap space to take on Duchene's $6-million annual average salary. The Isles only have $3.6 million in cap room.
The Islanders, however, aren't the only team that could pursue Duchene. Earlier this summer, the Nashville Predators, Boston Bruins, Columbus Blue Jackets and Pittsburgh Penguins were also rumored as potential suitors. If Sakic seeks a lower return, those clubs could renew their interest.
Rumor Roundup appears regularly 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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