It seems like a tradition at this point to talk about third line center options for the Penguins.
Yes they acquired Riley Sheahan, but from the looks of it, it doesn’t seem like he is going to be the spark they needed. A spark that is desperately needed. I’ve been a firm believer that there should be no drastic moves or changes made, as it is early, but something has to be done.
It seems that a general consensus is that Carl Hagelin must go. His cap hit and very minimal production are far from adequate. Another consensus, is that Kris Letang is not playing up to par, but I do believe that will change as he gets more ice time. He had an injury that prevented him from even doing any sort of training for the main duration of the injury; however, I would not be too surprised if we somehow see Letang worked into a trade somehow.
Yes I know it seems crazy, but we have seen much bigger moves made that were unexpected, and the Penguins have proved they can win without him, but that is not the topic of this article.
The topic is on the last general consensus of Penguins fans, and that is that the Penguins are in need of a solid third line center. As the season has progressed, the options have greatly changed for the Penguins, so here are my potential options for a third line center.
I still firmly believe that Karlsson is our best option for third line center. Yes the Golden Knights are on a tear, but I do not think they will be able to keep up their pace, and they are already showing signs of slowing down. Karlsson has exploded offensively this year with 20 points in 21 games. I predicted he would have his best year to date in the offseason when I stated he was our best option, but we have yet to make an attempt at him. He will also fill our gap in the penalty kill as he is on Vegas’s first penalty kill line.
However, with Karlsson’s recent offensive explosion, it won’t be easy to get him for cheap. One possible trade idea that might hit some nerves at first, and that is Ian Cole. Cole was an absolute rock on defense last year, and a huge part of our penalty kill. This year he has looked average at best 5v5, and good on the PK. The PK is still struggling though, and it seems to be the forwards that have a tough time on the Penalty kill.
Having Hagelin, Sheahan, and Greg McKegg as some of the PK forwards is far from ideal.
In addition, Cole is looking like he could demand a salary of $4-5 million dollars this offseason, which in my opinion needs to go to Patric Hornqvist more so than Cole. With all that in mind, I think it is worth it to trade Cole for Karlsson, as the Golden Knights weakest link is on defense.
Another option from the Knights which is good, but not as good as Karlsson is Erik Haula. Haula has had 12 points in 21 games played, and would command a cheaper return.
The next option is somewhat of a stretch, as Calgary is doing well currently, and will most likely make the playoffs. Backlund currently has 14 points in 21 games, which is very good for a third line center. He is also in the last year of his contract, with a cap hit of $3.75 million. This is not too bad as he will most likely be a rental center.
The reason that Calgary may want to move Backlund, is to allow Sam Bennett to move up as the second line center, and progress more. However, with a cap hit like Backlund’s, it would require the Penguins to move Hagelin’s $4 million cap hit. Calgary may have some interest, but maybe not with his recent struggles. This is why this trade may not be as likely, because Calgary is in a win now or soon mode, and giving up a solid center may not be a part of that plan.
This last option may come as a bit of a shock, as Vermette’s name hasn’t really been thrown out there; however, the 35 year old only has a cap hit of $1.75 million, is exceptional in the faceoff circle, and is a first line penalty killer in Anaheim. He may only have 7 points in 21 games, but his penalty kill ability and faceoff percentages are comparable to Matt Cullen. A trade will most likely be a low cost and low-medium reward trade, being as Anaheim is looking to be a fringe playoff team that needs some youth. Even if Vermette can’t fill the third line center position as well as Nick Bonino or Cullen did, at least he will be a better fourth line center than McKegg.
All in all, I believe the Penguins shouldn’t pull the trigger too eagerly and get the bad end of a trade, but I do believe a shake up could be coming soon.
The Penguins time to win is also now and after this year they will either lose Cole or Hornqvist, while other teams only get better and the Penguins get older. With this being the case, I think the Penguins should be open to trading prospects or one of their defenseman for some much needed offensive and penalty kill help. The only prospect that shouldn’t move is Daniel Sprong while all others should be open to move in trade negotiations.