NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Ray Shero is chasing a few players with the NHL trade deadline fast approaching.
The deadline is 3 p.m. on Wednesday, and these were players on the Penguins’ radar as of Tuesday morning:
>> C Ryan Kesler (Vancouver)
Nothing new here, as the Penguins had identified Kesler as their top target in January, before D Kris Letang’s stroke. Kesler is not a rental player, with two years remaining on his contract after this season; so, essentially, the Penguins are trying to get him for three postseason runs. At 29, he is hitting the end of his prime, but the Penguins believe he would have great value at a $5 million salary-cap hit. His role would look familiar. Kesler would be used as a shutdown third-line center, though he would be the lead penalty-killing forward and play over 20 minutes – maybe more than any forward but captain Sidney Crosby. Basically, Kesler would become the new Jordan Staal, who the Penguins never wanted to trade two years ago, anyway.
The Penguins have offered Vancouver a package that includes C Brandon Sutter, either of Ds Simon Despres or Brian Dumoulin, and their first- and third-round picks at the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. That they are willing now to soften on their stance against including D Derrick Pouliot, a first-round pick from 2012, is an indication of just how badly they want Kesler. Also, the Penguins believe Philadelphia and Chicago will bring big offers for Kesler.
The catch, perhaps, is that the Penguins think Kesler wants to play for them – as did Jarome Iginla last season. Kesler, like Iginla, has a no trade clause.
Shero is said to be as aggressive in this pursuit of Kesler as he has any player at seven previous deadline periods.
Kesler’s player profile from NHL.com: http://www.nhl.com/ice/player.htm?id=8470616#&navid=nhl-search
>> D Marek Zidlicky (New Jersey)
Pro scout Don Waddell, one of GM Ray Shero’s close confidants, had scouted the Devils in person last week – and that was to get a read on Zidlicky. He is a pure rental player, something the Penguins were not interested in before losing Letang and D Paul Martin. Letang is likely out for the season; Martin (broken hand) is out 4-6 weeks, and there are indications that will be closer to the six-week range. Zidlickly, 37, counts $3 million against the cap.
The Penguins are not planning for Letang’s return this season and they view puck-moving defenseman as a big need because of that expectation. There is growing concern that Crosby and LW Chris Kunitz, the top-line duo already dealing with the loss of regular RW Pascal Dupuis, who handled a lot of the dirty duties away from the puck, are chasing too much because neither Letang nor Martin have been in the lineup. Zidlicky is neither Letang nor Martin, but he is an upgrade as a puck mover for a defense corps suddenly lacking in that area aside from Matt Niskanen and Olli Maatta.
Zidlicky’s player profile from NHL.com: http://www.nhl.com/ice/player.htm?id=8469623#&navid=nhl-search
>> RW Ales Hemsky (Edmonton)
The Penguins do not have the second-round choice the Oilers seek for Hemsky, who Shero was able to scout in-person at the Winter Olympics in Russia. Hemsky, 30, is also a rental player with a $5 million cap hit. He is an alternative if the Penguins do not land Kesler – though, Edmonton is asking for a second-round pick that the Penguins do not have unless they acquire one in another trade. (The Penguins’ second-round pick was part of the cost for D Douglas Murray last season.)
Hemsky, if acquired, would play with Crosby and Kunitz. He is more of a playmaker than a sniper, though he conceivably could keep up with those two in the skating department. Also, he is a right-handed shot.
Hemsky’s player profile from NHL.com: http://www.nhl.com/ice/player.htm?id=8469466#&navid=nhl-search
>> These are not the only players the Penguins are considering, but they have emerged as the likely top three targets. Kesler is the clear priority, but the Penguins believe they could have the cap space – because of potential long-term injury designations for possibly several players, including Martin ($5 million), Dupuis ($3.75 million) and Letang ($3.5 million) – to fit all three players.
To go on LTI, a player must miss at least 10 games and 24 days. That will not be a problem for Letang or Martin, and Dupuis is out for the season.
(A player counts against the cap once he returns to the active roster off the LTI list; though teams can exceed the cap during the playoffs.)
All cap hits are prorated at this point, but for simpler purpose, consider:
The Penguins could save $12.25 million in space by placing Martin, Dupuis and Letang on LTI. Kesler, Zidlicky and Hemsky would combine to count $13 million.
By the way, RW Chuck Kobasew was placed on waivers Monday. If he is claimed, his $550,000 cap-hit could help the Penguins in a not-so-small way.
>> As always, things change fast around the trade deadline, so keep clicking.
>> Shero’s history suggests whatever player/prospect he surrenders in a trade might not come back to haunt him: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/5695797-74/round-nhl-penguins
>> Colleague Chris Adamski – not my intern, by the way – looks at the impact Dupuis’ absence is having on Crosby and Kunitz: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/5695788-74/dupuis-crosby-game#axzz2ud8U59IJ
>> Adamski also filed this notebook: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/5695792-74/penguins-players-trade#axzz2ud8U59IJ
Figures to be a busy day and a half on this end.
Still, be EXCELLENT to each other,