Ever since the news of Nick Bonino’s departure to the Nashville Predators, Penguins fans and media have all been buzzing about who the Penguins new third line center would be.
Right off the bat names such as Matt Duchene, Jordan Staal, and Tyler Bozak were thrown out there with dream scenario trade proposals involving those players coming from every angle of the media.
However, after recent news arose that GM Jim Rutherford is not looking for any of those centers the potential options for the Penguins third line center have slimmed down to a few key options. These options are all based on the salary budget of 2-3 million dollars that Jim Rutherford told the media.
William Karlsson, Vegas Golden Knights, $1 Million
The best replacement to fill all of Bonino’s roles would without a doubt be the young center William Karlsson. William carries a very low cap hit of $1 million dollars and has one year left on his contract. He put up 25 points in 82 games which isn’t stellar, but his biggest strength is that he was on the first line penalty kill for the Columbus Blue Jackets this past year. Karlsson could slot in on the first penalty kill line for the Penguins and fill that third line center void.
Erik Haula, Vegas Golden Knights, $2.75 Million
Arguably the second best and most attainable center would be Erik Haula from the Vegas Golden Knights. Haula had an alright 2016-2017 season and put up 28 points in 72 games. He also just got locked into a 3 year deal with an AAV of $2.75 Million dollars. Haula is a two way player, but his skill set leans a little towards the offensive side.
Adam Lowry, Winnipeg Jets, $1.25 Million
The last player that seems to present himself as a real option, is the big bodied Adam Lowry. Lowry comes in with a solid 6’5 frame and was able to put up 29 points in 82 games this past year. Although Lowry did not play penalty kill for the Jets, I can see him developing into someone that can take up penalty kill minutes in Sullivan’s system.
Why would Jim Rutherford Want a Player Only Worth $3 Million or Less?
Penguins fans have been spoiled with the wizardous moves that Jim Rutherford has pulled off during his time in Pittsburgh. He has acquired so many big name players that to the average fan it would only make sense to go after someone such as Bozak, Duchene, or Staal.
However, to take everything in perspective we need to look at what the Penguins have been able to do over the past few years. They have turned players into something from almost nothing.
They turned Ian Cole from a 7th defenseman to a top 4 defenseman, they turned Nick Bonino from mediocre to noteworthy, they took Justin Schultz from a scapegoat to an elite defenseman, and they turned a low-end prospect in Brian Dumoulin into a $4.1 million AAV defenseman.
It would make lots of sense for them to look at someone in Bonino’s price range from the 2016-2017 season, which was $1.9 million, and see how they can better that player in their system.
What Would it Take to Get One of These Players?
The two most often thrown out names in traders are the two most unjustified scapegoats in recent Penguins history. Those two players are Olli Maatta and Derrick Pouliot, and yes I did say unjustified.
Most average fans find it quite easy to place the blame on these two, and most of the time it is undeserved, but that is besides the point. The Penguins most likely will not deal Maatta, but Pouliot is looking like he could be on the move.
Pouliot looked like he could finally get his chance as a sixth defenseman with the departure of Trevor Daley and Ron Hainsey, but then Jim Rutherford signed Hunwick to a deal worth $2.25 AAV…and that kind of contract doesn’t seem like he signed him just to trade him.
So it is looking like the Penguins could deal out Pouliot along with picks for any of these centers. This also means that Haula and Karlsson are much more likely to be the targets, the reason being that Vegas is not a contender and has already made it clear they will move players for young prospects and picks.
Winnipeg on the other hand is a team that can contend for a playoff spot and doesn’t need more defenseman. So the likely trade would be either Karlsson or Haula coming to Pittsburgh and in return they get Pouliot and picks or just picks. But obviously this is all just educated speculation as I am not in Jim Rutherford’s head nor do I know what wizardous move he will pull next.