Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman talk a little about the Penguins on his latest 32 Thoughts Podcast:
Here’s a transcription of the Penguin related note on Ron Hextall.
Jeff Marek: Is there any quote unquote ‘latest’ around the Penguins?
Elliotte Friedman: Ron Hextall hates trade rumors, I don’t feel like being beaten up by Ron Hextall. But I’ve heard he’s looking into things.
Marek: I don’t think that should surprise anybody.
Friedman: I’m gonna have Felix Potvin live in my house next week in case Hextall hears this and doesn’t like it…I’ve just heard [that] he’s lookin’ into things…Pittsburgh, I think they’re just looking around, I think Hextall is trying to figure out what is out there, and I think he’s looking into some things.
After a seven-game losing streak earlier in the season, as Marek said it makes a lot of sense that Hextall would be sniffing around and seeing what could be out there across the league to help the team. The current 5-1-1 stretch the Penguins have been riding in the previous seven could ease the urgency from Hextall’s position on making a trade. A few weeks ago it looked like an external shake up would be necessary to get the season back on track, but fortunately for the team, they have been able to right their own course lately.
Making a trade in-season could prove to be very difficult. At one point last week, 19 teams across the league were in LTIR and exceeding the upper limit of the salary cap. The Penguins were one of those teams for the first five weeks of the season until Teddy Blueger got healthy and the team became cap compliant, albeit with virtually no space at all.
With so many teams lacking cap room, there haven’t been very many NHL level trades lately — only the desperate Vancouver Canucks with separate deals to add Jack Studnicka and Ethan Bear in relatively minor trades has happened so far. This lack of activity can be traced due to the financial landscape and also early season mindset of teams waiting to see how they start and what position they may find themselves in for attempting to make a run at a playoff spot (or not).
In a sense, Friedman’s report could be seen as typical due diligence. As a general manager, it’s Hextall’s job to stay clued into the happenings around the league and what pieces could be in play from all of the other teams.
But the Penguins do have a lingering situation in need of resolution as well. Kasperi Kapanen has been a consistent healthy scratch in six of the last seven games. Since the November 5th game, he has only been dressed for one game on Nov. 12 where he was needed to play simply due to the injury situation (and just logged 7:19 of icetime in that contest). Kapanen has fallen to the fringes of the lineup after a somewhat encouraging start to the season has given way to the familiar doghouse.
Kapanen is an expensive healthy scratch to carry around at his $3.2 million salary, with a contract running for this season and next. It remains to be seen what — if any — market value he has at the moment, but that certainly is a case where the manager needs to stay proactive and figure out just what he wants to do with that piece of the puzzle moving forward.
Defensively, the Pens might be turning an eye towards what they may need to do in response to the decline and demotion of Brian Dumoulin, though the internal promotions of Marcus Pettersson and PO Joseph have gone pretty well and also helped ease any emergency move to boost the defense due to that situation.
Overall, Hextall and the Pens are in the situation they’re in due to the off-season decisions that they made. Unlike Evan Rodrigues in 2021 or Danton Heinen in 2022, they elected to qualify and pay a premium price to keep Kapanen. It was instantly an extremely questionable move that has soured even further due to a poor start. It remains to be seen what, if anything, Hextall could be capable of doing at this point to change or rectify that situation. But it’s a long way until the trade deadline and at some point an opportunity may arise to make a deal.
Even though the market is not popping right now with activity, it is interesting at the national level with some whispers that the Pens are staying active at least with communication to other NHL teams in order to see what could be out there. Friedman did not explicitly or specifically talk about Kapanen himself, but given how the season has started there’s not many other areas that make sense about what Pittsburgh could be looking to do or attempting to change right now.
Where there is smoke (trade talk) there is not always a fire (an impending trade), but NHL trade negotiations are often a lengthy process that can take several months of time for managers to bat around informal ideas and take the temperatures of what they and other teams are willing or able to do work before a deal culminates. There’s no guarantee a trade happens in the very near future, but at the very least it looks like Hextall is staying busy and doing some legwork for possibilities down the line.