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Penguins Perspectives: Manipulating the market

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Welcome to Penguins Perspectives, a weekly column by KDKA-TV Digital Producer Patrick Damp. Each Friday, Patrick will talk about the week that was, the week to come, what to watch for, and more.

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) - What a difference two weeks can make, right? 

In this very space we discussed how the Penguins would be wise to keep Jake Guentzel at the trade deadline as, at the time, they sat just two points out of a playoff spot. 

Now, a mere 14 days later, the climb looks extremely more difficult. 

While they now sit seven points out of the second wild card spot, they do have anywhere from two to four games in hand on the teams they are chasing. 

However, in the NHL's never-ending desire to create parity, seven points with less than half the season remaining is a difficult climb to make. 

Especially when you factor in that outside of one five-game winning streak back in early November, the Penguins have only been able to string a three-game winning streak together since. 

This all leads back to talking about Guentzel and the deadline. 

I'm not quite ready to say they should chalk this up as another season without the playoffs and start selling off assets and focusing on the 2024-25 season. 

Now, Kyle Dubas's job gets quite a bit more difficult. 

As it stands, eight teams, including the Penguins, sit seven or fewer points out of a playoff spot. Only about six teams are truly out of playoff contention. 

This shows us that this year's trade deadline will be a seller's market. Prices for rentals will skyrocket as championship and playoff contenders will be bidding on just a handful of players. 

Let's also be very clear here, hard as it may be to admit, this iteration of the Pittsburgh Penguins is not a Stanley Cup contender. 

Does this mean Dubas should start recouping assets for the likes of Guentzel, PO Joseph, and maybe a few others as the sands continue to fall through the hourglass of the 2023-24 season? 

Not quite. 

It does give him a unique opportunity to better this roster for the next couple of seasons, though. 

As I said, it will be a seller's market, and plenty of teams will be paying a call to teams like Buffalo, Columbus, San Jose, Ottawa, and the other basement dwellers that will not see the postseason. 

That is where Dubas can come in and use the market to his advantage. 

Similar to our divisional rival Washington Capitals, who last season didn't tear it down, but cut their losses and made moves to focus on the next season, the Penguins would be wise to do the same. 

Making big changes to get Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, and Erik Karlsson back to contender status will have to come this summer around the draft and free agency when teams will have more time, more assets, and more level heads. 

That's when Dubas will be able to ship out some more popular players for better depth and talent - think Bryan Rust, Marcus Pettersson, and maybe a couple of others. 

Now, at the deadline, Dubas can make himself a player. 

Names like Lars Eller, Matt Nieto, Noel Accicari, Drew O'Connor, and Reilly Smith might be attractive to the teams truly vying for the Stanley Cup. 

As teams flock to the rosters sitting at the bottom of the standings, the price will inevitably go up because there will be more demand for some of those players. 

Not many GMs are probably looking at the Penguins as a place to load up for a potentially deep playoff run. 

No, it's not yet time for the Penguins to start thinking long-term and rebuilding for life after Crosby. 

That said, shipping out some of the productive depth players this season could set this team up to get younger and faster next year because those assets acquired at the deadline could be used to make bigger moves this offseason. 

This offseason, the Penguins are set to have just over $18 million in free cap space, regardless of what happens with Guentzel. 

If Kyle Dubas is a betting man, this trade deadline wouldn't be a bad time to increase the chips he has at his seat to really go all-in next year. 

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