Don’t look now but the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins are surging. With six wins in their last eight games, the inconsistent team has seemingly turned a corner in their season and look poised to ramp things up for the stretch drive and the Stanley Cup playoffs. But… how about a little help?
GM Jim Rutherford has made no bones about the fact that he’s working the trade phones in an attempt to upgrade his team’s depth, particularly at the center ice position. But the veteran GM admits that it’s tough to swing a deal these days.
“It’s a little tighter at this point than other seasons, but there are still players out there that are available,” Rutherford said to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Jason Mackey yesterday. “Are they the right fit? Does that improve our team? Those things all get factored in.”
One such player who seems like the right fit is Edmonton Oilers center Mark Letestu. He’s a quality third line pivot on an expiring contract, making him a nearly perfect trade deadline target for Rutherford and the Penguins. Mackey makes the case for Letestu’s return to Pittsburgh:
Letestu had eight goals and 16 points in 47 games — a 14-goal, 28-point pace. Take Nick Bonino’s regular-season production as a Penguin, and it works out to 16 goals per 82 games. So, we’re in the same zip code, at least.
There are obviously some differences in playoff pedigree and overall skill, but Letestu plays in all situations, can win his share of faceoffs and carries just a $1.8 million cap hit. Plus, he could come cheap.
Another name floating around in trade rumours is Ottawa Senators center Jean-Gabriel Pageau. Sportsnet reporter and NHL insider Elliotte Friedman has connected the dots between the Pens and the Sens on a potential Pageau deal, but it remains to be seen what the interest level is from each team.
For the time being at least, it looks as if the answer to the Pens’ center ice problems will have to come from within their current group. Riley Sheahan, Dominik Simon and Sebastien Dea all have more to give, but who will step up in the season’s second half?