Welcome to the NHL Trade Buzz. There are 25 days remaining until the 2019 NHL Trade Deadline on Feb. 25 at 3 p.m. ET and the buzz is just starting.
Here’s a look around the League at the latest deadline doings:
The Penguins don’t have to make a trade to improve their defense; all they need to do is get Justin Schultz back in the lineup.
Schultz, out since fracturing his left leg Oct. 13, joined the Penguins on the ice Wednesday, albeit in a non-contact jersey, for their morning skate at PPG Paints Arena prior to their 4-2 win against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
When Schultz returns it will be as if the Penguins added a defenseman before the deadline without having to give up anything. It’s a reason general manager Jim Rutherford felt comfortable trading defenseman Jamie Oleksiak to the Dallas Stars for a fourth-round pick in the 2019 NHL Draft on Monday.
One reason Oleksiak was deemed expendable is Pittsburgh is deep on defense with the emergences of Marcus Pettersson and Juuso Riikola. Schultz’s return will give them eight NHL defenseman.
That depth should allow Rutherford to explore options to improve the Penguins up front, perhaps adding a left wing who could play on the second line with center Evgeni Malkin and right wing Phil Kessel.
Rutherford could acquire that player by trading third-line center Derick Brassard, who is in the final season of his contract.
Pittsburgh saw what the lineup could look like without Brassard on Wednesday, when he was out because of an upper-body injury. Matt Cullen moved up to center the third line with left wing Tanner Pearson and right wing Patric Hornqvist. The 42-year-old Cullen played 14:53, the most he’s played since a season-high 15:21 on Oct. 18.
Pittsburgh also could try Riley Sheahan as the third-line center, especially if they acquire another left wing.
Their depth on defense once Schultz returns and their strength down the middle puts the Penguins in a strong position to actively try to improve in other areas before the deadline.
New York Rangers
Right wing Mats Zuccarello is hoping to be in the lineup when the Rangers play the New Jersey Devils at Prudential Center on Thursday (7 p.m. ET; MSG+, MSG, ESPN+, NHL.TV).
Zuccarello missed a 1-0 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday because of a foot infection, and there likely will be plenty of scouts in the building to see him and others play.
The 31-year-old, who can become an unrestricted free agent July 1, has nine points (four goals, five assists) in his past five games, and is one of the key rental forwards who could be traded.
His teammates, though, don’t want to see him go anywhere.
Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist told NHL.com Senior Fantasy Editor Pete Jensen at 2019 Honda NHL All-Star Weekend that he hopes Zuccarello doesn’t get traded.
Rangers center Mika Zibanejad echoed Lundqvist’s thoughts after the game Tuesday.
“It’s unavoidable to know about and hear about, but I don’t want him to leave,” Zibanejad said. “That’s the business of it and you can’t control much of it, but obviously he’s a great leader in this locker room and has been for a long time a great player. Everyone likes him. He’s been really stepping up his game as well. He’s come back after a tough start with an injury. I’m super happy every time I get to play with him and obviously I want to see him stay here.”
Rangers center Kevin Hayes and defenseman Adam McQuaid, each of whom can be an unrestricted free agent after the season, also are potential trade chips. Hayes has been open about his desire to re-sign with the Rangers but said the team has not offered him a new contract.
Wayne Simmonds said his preference was to continue to play for the Flyers and not be traded before the 2019 NHL Trade Deadline, according to the Courier-Post.
“I’ve been here for eight seasons and I’d like to continue on longer, but whatever happens, happens,” the forward told the newspaper Thursday. “All I can do is focus on doing my job. Right now, that’s with the Flyers.”
General manager Chuck Fletcher is doing his job, and it makes sense to talk to teams about what he could get in return for the 30-year-old right wing who is in the final year of a six-year contract that carries a $3.97 million salary-cap charge.
Simmonds is a classic rental forward who could net a favorable return for the Flyers. His power-forward skills and net-front presence are ideally suited for contending teams who need help on the power play. The Montreal Canadiens, New York Islanders, Nashville Predators, Columbus Blue Jackets and Vegas Golden Knights are each ranked 20th or below in power-play percentage.
Simmonds averaged 12.2 power-play goals per season in his first seven seasons in Philadelphia. He had the second most power-play goals in the League (86) behind Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin (131) in that time.
The Flyers power play has struggled this season, a reason why Simmonds’ power-play numbers have dipped to four goals and six points in 50 games.
The other option is for the Flyers to try to re-sign Simmonds, believing his future with the team will return better dividends than a package of assets from a trade partner.
“I can’t really predict how it’s going to play out,” Fletcher said on Monday. “But in the next few weeks we’ll have to resolve it one way or the other.”