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Will the Penguins push their limited chips all-in at the deadline?

·4 min read
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The Pittsburgh Penguins are one of the most fascinating teams to consider ahead of the NHL's trade deadline.

It's not unlike any other situation across the league where record and potential determines the course of action. What's different is that two wild extremes hinged on the Penguins' success to this point.

If things went poorly, there was a distinct possibility that the Penguins would exist as the destination for buyers in the lead-up to the trade deadline in the fire sale to end all fire sales. However, in what's quietly been an outstanding season, the Penguins are nestled comfortably in a postseason position while currently duking it out for home ice in the first round, necessitating that they consider an aggressive approach to adding instead.

That's because one way or the other, things are about to change in Pittsburgh.

You probably already know the situation by now. Key parts of the championship assemblage from the mini dynasty in the mid-to-late 2010s are facing uncertain futures.

Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, and Bryan Rust are stepping into unrestricted free agency this summer and will each have to consider what the next phase of their career looks like.

The door shouldn't be closed on any of them when contemplating potential returns, but it's clear the Penguins will look a little different when they return next fall. It's for that reason the rest of this year represents the final act for one of the most successful cores of the salary cap era.

When facing this sort of situation — and especially after already slotting a few Stanley Cups in the trophy case — the natural reaction is to circle the wagons for one last run at glory.

However, in their many seasons locked into that championship pursuit, the Penguins spent and spent draft and futures capital to the point where it had exhausted its resources.

For Ron Hextall, who was chosen with re-stocking the cupboards and leading the organization out of the era they are clinging to in mind, one last purge would be in some ways counterintuitive.

But the Penguins have operated under one strict condition since Sidney Crosby entered the league and partnered with Malkin and Letang more than a decade ago: if the opportunity was there, the organization would chase it.

There's also this simple aspect of doing right by the individuals that saved the organization from certain extinction. Not to mention the rest of the roster, which pulled through admirably when Crosby and Malkin each missed considerable time at the outset of the season.

The Penguins have earned their chance to compete for a Stanley Cup again, so how will GM Ron Hextall help that along? (Getty)
The Penguins have earned their chance to compete for a Stanley Cup again, so how will GM Ron Hextall help that along? (Getty)

So, what would the Penguins look to bring in for one last ride and a shot at a fourth championship in the last 13 seasons?

Unlike others exploring the market place, one move could suffice for the Penguins. An impact scoring winger could go a long way for this group, which already features a deep defensive corps and quality netminding.

With Crosby, Malkin, and the recently-extended Jeff Carter, the Penguins are still just as strong as any team down the middle of the ice, while Rust and Jake Guentzel round out a legitimate top line.

Where they are lacking is at the wing position in their middle six. Kasperi Kapanen and Jason Zucker have left something to be desired on each side of Mike Sullivan's forward lineup, and each stand to be upgraded on or replaced.

To do so, Hextall can either spend big or aim for a low-risk, medium-reward swing, taking their pick from the large selection of teams looking to part with assets.

There are big names such as J.T. Miller, Tomas Hertl, Filip Forsberg, and Claude Giroux — players who would pair wonderfully on a second line with Malkin, but most certainly each cost the first-round pick Hextall has talked openly about preserving, plus a sweetener or two from the prospect pool.

There are lesser lights scattered across all corners of the league ready to be moved out by desperate teams looking to salvage something from the season which could help out Carter on the third line.

Either way, the move will be there for Hextall.

And whatever it is should tell us just how much he believes in the group that the organization owes it to.

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