Just a few months ago it seemed like defenseman Ian Cole was on his way out from the Pittsburgh Penguins, with speculation that he could be dealt at any minute after reports revealed that there was friction with head coach Mike Sullivan and his lack of role on the team. Now, according to Jason Mackey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Cole seems to be off the trade block.
It has been reported now that Cole is likely to stay in Pittsburgh through the deadline, especially since his role has increased on the ice as he plays more minutes. Cole has recorded six points in his last ten games while helping the Penguins go 7-2-1 during that stretch.
On Friday, NHL insider Darren Dreger added to this new report by saying Cole's ice-time was on the rise, and another player was on the block.
While we cannot guarantee that Cole will still be in a Pens uniform past Feb. 26, fans have surely notice that Pittsburgh has not been able to rely on fellow blue liner Matt Hunwick after signing him to a three-year deal last summer.
As Dreger pointed out, Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford would beed to free up some cap space to land a scoring forward for the playoff push, and Hunwick might be the new trade bait he places on the block to get what he needs. The Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins and Washington Capitals are amongst clubs looking to bolster their back end. Toronto was once interested in Cole and linked to several trade talks with the Penguins, so Hunwick could still be an options for the Maple Leafs. After all, he spent the past two seasons in Toronto.
However, rival teams are aware that Hunwick suffered a concussion after just six games this season and missed more than a month of game action with the head injury. Since, he has not been able to get back on track, posting just three goals and five points in 33 games. Things have gotten worse as he hasn’t played since January 23rd, after he suffered another injury, but he has also been a healthy scratch for the last couple of games.
So yes, Dreger is correct, the Pens are rightfully looking to spend Hunwick’s $2.25 million annual salary on additional help rather than a healthy scratch...
The Penguins have been said to have interested for veteran forward Tomas Plekanec of the Montreal Canadiens, so we can wonder if they could manage to get rid of Hunwick's contract in this potential transaction?
Rutherford has 10 days to figure out and obviously, none of this guarantees Hunwick will be on the move prior to the trade deadline. After all, Cole remains a pending unrestricted free agent, who is expected to interested several contending teams looking for leadership in their dressing rooms.
Cole is tagged at just a $2.1MM cap hit this season, and Hunwick just above him with $2.25 million. So why not keep the better of the two, Cole who has proven he can step up his game, and move Hunwick instead. The blue liner could surely benefit from a change of scenery.
The clock is tickling and only time will tell what Rutherford will be able to pull off to land extra help up front...