The NHL trade deadline expires in less than a month.
The Penguins may again me be looking to strike before it by moving a young defenseman.
Simon Despres, 21, is available – and the Columbus Blue Jackets’ three senior members of hockey operations attended the Penguins’ 4-3 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning at Consol Energy Center on Monday night.
New general manager Jarmo Kekalainen, his assistant Chris MacFarland, and senior advisor Craig Patrick – who preceded Ray Shero as Penguins general manager – watched the game from the media level.
Patrick, who still lives in suburban Pittsburgh, often attends Penguins games and sits in the stands, but he is rarely in the media area.
The Penguins are seeking to bolster their defense, preferably with a player under contract who could serve as either a long-term partner for Kris Letang or possible insurance if Letang is traded before his contract expires in July 2014.
Shero has said he hopes to reach contract extensions with Letang, 25, and center Evgeni Malkin, 26, this summer. Both will play under the final year of their current deals next season.
Letang, though, is viewed by some team officials as perhaps the more difficult player to sign because he projects to nearly double his current $3.5 million salary-cap hit.
Letang leads all NHL defensemen with 21 points. He has recorded six assists in the last two games, both Penguins’ wins.
This past summer, while pursing free-agent defenseman Ryan Suter, the Penguins envisioned paring Letang with an elite partner.
Jack Johnson, 26, could potentially fit that description.
He was the third overall pick in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft and is a longtime friend of Penguins captain Sidney Crosby.
Johnson was acquired by the Blue Jackets last season.
He is not off to a great start this season, with a goal and eight points to go with a minus-10 rating in 18 games.
Johnson’s cap hit is $4.35 million, and his contract runs through the 2017-18 season.
He is widely viewed as a top power-play quarterback, which the Penguins currently lack.
The Penguins are deepest organizationally on defense, with three first-round picks among their top prospects.
Despres, the 30th overall pick in 2009, has the look of a top-four staple, though he has appeared in only 17 of the Penguins’ 23 games this season.
The Penguins are 13-4-0 in those games, and his plus-7 rating is second among club defensemen. His six points are third behind Letang and Paul Martin, who is injured (lower-body).
Shero has twice traded a promising defensemen, weeks in advance of the NHL deadline, for players that would fit long-term with the Penguins.
He moved Ryan Whitney, who was coming off 59- and 40-point seasons, in February 2009 for left wingers Chris Kunitz and Eric Tangradi.
Kunitz has been a top-line staple to play alongside Crosby.
Tangradi, at the time of that deal, became the Penguins’ top forward prospect.
Alex Goligoski had amassed 31 points in 60 games when he was moved by Shero for right winger James Neal and defenseman Matt Niskanen in February 2011.
The Penguins are also exploring the possibility of adding a veteran winger, and there is reported buzz within the NHL that Shero is intrigued by Calgary right winger Jarome Iginla, who is the Flames’ captain.
Iginla, 35 and a free agent this summer, played on Crosby’s line for Team Canada at the 2010 Winter Olympics.