The Penguins do not have to make a trade to improve their defense; All they need to do is get Justin Schultz back in the lineup
Schultz, since fracturing his left leg Oct. 13, joined the Penguins on the ice Wednesday, although in a non-contact jersey, for their morning skate at PPG Paints Arena prior to their 4-2 win against Tampa Bay Lightning.
When Schultz returns, it will be as if the Penguins added defenseman before the NHL Trade Deadline on Feb. 25 at 3 p.m. ET without having to give up anything. It's a reason general manager Jim Rutherford felt comfortable trading defenseman Jamie Oleksiak to the Dallas Stars on Monday for a fourth-round pick in the 2019 NHL Draft.
One reason Oleksiak was deemed expendable and Pittsburgh is deep at defenseman with the emergences of Marcus Pettersson and Juuso Riikola. Schultz's return will give them eight NHL defensemen.
That depth should allow Rutherford to explore options to improve Penguins up front, perhaps adding left wing who could play on the second line with center Evgeni Malkin and right wing Phil Kessel.
Rutherford could acquire that player by trading third-line center Derick BrassardWho is in the final season of his contract.
Pittsburgh saw what the lineup could look like without Brassard on Wednesday, when he was out because of an upper-body injury. Matt Cullen moved up to center the third line with left wing Tanner Pearson and right wing Patric Hornqvist. The 42-year-old Cullen played 14:53, the most he's played since a season-high 15:21 on Oct. 18
Pittsburgh could also try Riley Sheahan as the third-line center, especially if they acquire another left wing.
Their depth at defenseman once Schultz returns and their strength down the middle puts the Penguins in a strong position to actively try to improve in other areas before the deadline.
Video: Phil Bourque on the Penguins' struggles recently
New York Rangers
Right wing Mats Zuccarello is hoping to be in the lineup when the Rangers play the New Jersey Devils at Prudential Center on Thursday (7 p.m. ET; MSG +, MSG, ESPN +, NHL.TV).
Zuccarello missed a 1-0 loss to Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday due to a foot infection, and there will likely be plenty of scouts in the building to see him and others play.
The 31-year-old, who can become an unrestricted free agent July 1, has nine goals (four goals, five assists) in its past five games and is one of the key rental forwards who could be traded.
His teammates, though, do not want to see him go anywhere.
Goalkeeper Rangers Henrik Lundqvist told NHL.com senior fantasy editor Pete Jensen at 2019 Honda NHL All-Star Weekend that He hopes Zuccarello does not get traded.
Rangers center Mika Zibanejad echoed Lundqvist's thoughts after the game Tuesday.
"It's unavoidable to know about and hear about, but I do not want him to leave," Zibanejad said. "That's the business of it and you can not control much of it, but obviously he's a great leader in this locker room and has been a great player for a long time. Everyone likes him. He has been really stepping up his game too He's come back after a hard start with an injury. I'm super happy every time I get to play with him and obviously I want to see him stay here. "
Rangers center Kevin Hayes and defenseman Adam McQuaid, who can be an unrestricted free agent after the season, also are potential trade chips. Hayes has been open about his desire to re-sign with the Rangers but said the team has not offered him a new contract.
Wayne Simmonds He said his preference is to continue to play for the Flyers and not be traded before the 2019 NHL Trade Deadline on Feb. 25 at 3 p.m. ET, the Courier-Post reported.
"I've been here for eight seasons and I'd like to continue on longer, but whatever happens, it happens," the forward told the newspaper Thursday. "All I can do is focus on doing my job. Right now, that's with the Flyers."
General manager Chuck Fletcher is doing his job, and it makes sense to talk to teams about what he could get in return for the 30-year-old right wing, who is in the final year of a six-year contract that carries a $ 3.97 million salary cap charge.
Simmonds is a classic rental forward who could net a favorable return for the Flyers. His power-forward skills and net-front presence are ideally suited for contending teams that need help on the power play. The Montreal Canadiens, New York Islanders, Nashville Predators, Columbus Blue Jackets and Vegas Golden Knights each are ranked 20th or below in power-play percentage.
Simmonds averaged 12.2 power-play goals for season in its first seven seasons in Philadelphia. He had the second most power-play goals in the NHL (86) behind Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin (131) in that time.
The Flyers power play has struggled this season, a reason Simmonds' power-play numbers have dipped to four goals and six points in 50 games.
The other option is for the Flyers to try to re-sign Simmonds, believing his future with the team will return better dividends than a package of assets from a trade partner.
"I can not really predict how it's going to play out," Fletcher said on Monday. "But in the next few weeks we'll have to solve it one way or the other."
New York Islanders
Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello did not give away any secrets when discussing their approach to the next NHL Trade Deadline when he spoke to reporters Thursday.
New York leads the Metropolitan Division, and Lamoriello said he hopes to keep all of its pending unrestricted free agents, including forwards Jordan Eberle, Anders Lee, Brock Nelson and Valtteri Filppula.
"We know where we're at today; it's sustaining where we're at," Lamoriello said. "But this is when the season cranks up, this is when it gets harder … Right now, we're still going through some stages where we have to see who we are. We'll know a little better in the next couple weeks. "
If the Islanders are to upgrade, one area could be the power play, which is tied for 23rd in the NHL (16.7 percent) but is 5-for-23 (21.7 percent) in the past eight games.
"I think our power play is going to be better than maybe the stats that are there," Lamoriello said. "I'm not concerned about percentages, I'm concerned about when we get a power-play goal or when we kill a penalty, at what time and so on. I think right now we are who we are."
The Islanders return from their mandatory five-day break following the 2019 Honda NHL All-Star Game to play the NHL-leading Tampa Bay Lightning at Nassau Coliseum on Friday and against the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday. They then begin a stretch of seven of 10 on the road, including games at the Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabers, Columbus Blue Jackets and Calgary Flames.
"I have a lot of confidence in this group because they've shown it, they have a lot of confidence in themselves right now, but we also have to respect the schedule that we have come up," Lamoriello said. "We also have to respect that we've been healthy reasonably up to this point. So there are a lot of variables that come into it, but we're a good hockey team right now."
The Florida Panthers are 11 points out of a Stanley Cup Playoff spot but believe they can make a run at the postseason.
"We want to finish this season strongly and make a run for the playoffs," General Manager Dale Tallon said Thursday.
Tallon intimated the Panthers could be a buyer before the NHL Trade Deadline on Feb. 25 at 3 p.m. ET because he thinks the team is good enough to make a run the way it did last season.
The Panthers were 12 points out of a playoff spot coming out of the All-Star break last season and went 25-8-2 in their final 35 games. They missed the postseason by one point.
Florida defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs 3-1 at home (Jan. 18), the Nashville Predators 4-2 on the road (Jan. 19) and the San Jose Sharks 6-2 at home (Jan. 21) prior to All- Star Weekend.
"I think our guys are starting to believe in themselves and what they have to do," Tallon said. "There's a big mountain to climb here, but we know we can do it. We did it last year with basically the same team and we've added some pieces. Now that we're healthy, we're going to give it a go. "
Tallon said that the Panthers are scouring the market for trades that could help them now and in the long-term. He did not go into specifics, but did not rule out some of Florida's current players to achieve his goal.
"We're in a performance-oriented business and I pay for performance," Tallon said. "Expectations are high. We have a good group of players and a lot of ability, but it's about having enough passion and consistency to do the work. These next few weeks will tell you what the future brings to all of these players. re not going to sit still
"We know we have a lot of good players and a lot of good players coming. We have a plan. We're committed to winning. [Owner] Vinny [Viola] You have given us all the tools to be successful and we're going to here in the next month, all the things that are necessary to win championships down the road. "