With the NHL Trade Deadline about a month way, let the rumors begin to fly about what Pittsburgh Penguins’ general manager will attempt to do in order to improve his team for the stretch run.
While it is always popular opinion that the Penguins need to add another top winger, but judging by the performance of the Penguins blue line, maybe targeting a top flight defenseman makes just as much sense.
That brings me to the Columbus Blue Jackets, who reportedly had three members of their front office taking in last night’s Penguins-Lightning game Monday night, leading to speculation that Jack Johnson could be headed to Pittsburgh.
In addition, the Tribune-Review’s Rob Rossi added that 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.
The Penguins have some young defensemen to deal, making them an ideal partner for the Jackets. Add in Johnson’s friendship with Sidney Crosby and this one makes a lot of sense, if the Pens are willing to part with a guy like Simon Despres, who the Jackets are reportedly interested in.
Despres is only 21 and has the look of a top four defenseman within time, but he could be expendable as the Penguins have three first-round picks on the blue line among their top prospects.
The former No. 3 overall pick Johnson is only 26 with a cap hit of $4.35 million, and his contract runs through the 2017-18 season, so he would fit the description of a guy that could play long-term with Letang.
Johnson isn’t off to a great start in Columbus this season, with a goal and eight points to go with a minus-10 rating in 18 games, but he is widely regarded as a guy who can quarterback a power play, which is something the Penguins currently don’t have.
Then there is the interesting tidbit that Rossi brought up of the fact that there is no guarantee that the Pens will be able to re-sign Letang, as his current $3.5 million salary will likely double when his contract runs out after next season. Shero will also have to sign Evgeni Malkin to a long-term deal as his contract runs out after next season as well.
If Shero moves Despres for Johnson, it wouldn’t be the first time he moved a young defenseman for a major piece of the team. In 2009 he shipped Ryan Whitney to the Anaheim Ducks in a deal that brought winger Chris Kunitz to Pittsburgh. Then in 2011, Shero sent young defenseman Alex Goligoski to the Dallas Stars in exchange for right winger James Neal and defenseman Matt Niskanen.