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      Five trade destinations to watch for Pittsburgh Penguins’ Jake Guentzel

      If the Pens pack it in, a Guentzel blockbuster could rock the NHL's power structure.

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      With a little more than two weeks until the March 8 NHL Trade Deadline, we’re delivering at least one deadline-focused story every day at Daily Faceoff.

      Today, we explore possible destinations for what would be the biggest game changer on the market if he’s truly available: Pittsburgh Penguins left winger Jake Guentzel.

      2024 NHL Trade Deadline Countdown: 16 days

      When the Vancouver Canucks jumped the market and snagged Elias Lindholm on Jan. 31, it felt like the biggest piece was off the trade board. But that was before the Penguins swooned and lost five of their first six games coming out of the All-Star break, casting serious doubt on their chances of making the playoffs. When Kyle Dubas arrived on the scene last summer as their new president of hockey ops and, eventually, GM, he did so with the mission to put a competitive team on the ice and give Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang another run at glory. Adding the reigning Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson, a reigning Stanley Cup champ in Reilly Smith, a top-four defenseman in Ryan Graves, and several other pieces was supposed to get Pittsburgh back to the big dance after they missed for the first time in 16 years last spring.

      Instead, by mid-February, the scuffling Pens sit eight points back of the Detroit Red Wings for the final Eastern Conference Wildcard spot. They do have two games in hand on Detroit and three on the Philadelphia Flyers, who sit nine points up and third in the Atlantic Division, but the Pens’ playoff odds have dwindled to 33.5 percent. Hurting their chances more: the upper-body injury top-line left winger Guentzel suffered last week, which will hold him out roughly one month.

      It’s possible Guentzel, a pending UFA, has played his final game as a Penguin. If the Pens aren’t back in the hunt within a couple weeks, Dubas will have to entertain the idea of moving Guentzel, who would return a first-round pick, a high-end prospect and perhaps more. Not only is Guentzel one of the best all-around snipers in the league, ranking 13th in goals over the past six seasons, he’s a proven playoff beast. He has 34 goals, including eight game winners, in 58 career playoff contests. He ranks sixth in NHL history in playoff goals per game among players with at least 50 games played. During Pittsburgh’s run to the 2016-17 Stanley Cup, he led the playoffs in goals with 13 and buried five game winners.

      The return for Guentzel could thus be huge, regardless of whether he immediately signs an extension with his new team. As my colleague Frank Seravalli indicated last week, Guentzel, who carries a $6 million cap hit, could even net a first-round pick for a third party broker – on top of what Pittsburgh would be receiving.

      Factoring in the obvious demand, but also which teams could afford the projected asking price, here are five landing spots to consider for Guentzel.

      Carolina Hurricanes

      Why he makes sense: There’s a reason the Canes (unsuccessfully) pursued Timo Meier a year ago. Year in, year out, it feels like they’re one game breaker short of a team that can make it to the Stanley Cup Final. In the Rod Brind’Amour era, now in its sixth season, they haven’t had a single 40-goal man or a top-15 scorer in the NHL. Seemingly every year, they lose to an opponent with greater star power. Carolina clearly needs that extra piece and is positioned well enough cap wise that it may not require a third-party broker to accommodate Guentzel’s cap hit.

      What it might cost: To land a player like Guentzel, you have to step up. Carolina’s 2024 first-round pick is a good place to start, but GM Don Waddell would have to kick in a legit prospect. Meier was a few years younger and under team control as a pending RFA last year, but if he returned a first-rounder plus prospect Shakir Mukhamadullin and Fabian Zetterlund in the package the San Jose Sharks got from New Jersey last year…do the Canes have to pair a prospect like Scott Morrow with the pick they offer for Guentzel?

      Fly in the ointment: Waddell isn’t typically the most aggressive GM at the trade deadline. Only twice in his 17 completed seasons in the chair has he really gone for it with big-ticket acquisitions, once in Atlanta and once in Carolina, and his team didn’t escape the first round either time. Also, while Pyotr Kochetkov is heating up and Frederik Andersen is on the mend, it’s still possible Carolina pursues a goaltending upgrade. They’re ninth in scoring and third in power play efficiency but 29th in team save percentage. Which is their greater need?

      Colorado Avalanche

      Why he makes sense: The Avs are in the peak win-now window of their contention cycle. They have a 2022 championship, they’re chasing another after last year’s first-round exit and they understand they’re smack in the middle of Nathan MacKinnon’s, Cale Makar’s and Mikko Rantanen’s peak years. Guentzel would cost a lot, but the Avs crave another Cup, period. They need help at center, but the remaining names on the market aren’t needle movers like Guentzel. With wingers Gabriel Landeskog and Valeri Nichushkin no locks for the postseason, Colorado needs another high-end forward at any of the three positions.

      What it might cost: The Avs have their next three first-rounders and, with the market for Guentzel likely to be highly competitive, would have to kick in one of their better prospects, someone from the group including Mikhail Gulyayev, Nikolai Kovalenko and Sean Behrens – ideally not their No. 1 prospect Calum Ritchie unless a Guentzel extension was expected.

      Fly in the ointment: The Avs have already burned through most of their their LTIR relief season through Landeskog and goaltender Pavel Francouz. They have nowhere near enough cap space to fit someone like Guentzel into their budget. There’s a great explanation of their pickle here. It means GM Chris MacFarland would almost certainly have to include a third-party broker and/or send money out to land Guentzel. Would defenseman Sam Girard’s $5 million cap hit have to go? At 25, he’s young enough to be a selling point in a deal. Including him might mean Colorado doesn’t have to kick in a top prospect.

      Edmonton Oilers

      Why he makes sense: It’s no secret the Oilers are all-in. They were last year, too, when they surrendered a first-round pick and one of their better prospects in Reid Schaefer for Mattias Ekholm. Edmonton should be making perennial Cup runs with the talent they have, but their best result of the Connor McDavid/Leon Draisaitl era is a 2022 Western Conference Final appearance in which they were swept. General manager Ken Holland, who isn’t signed beyond this season, needs to leave it all on the ice and load up in what is likely his final voyage in the job.

      What it might cost: The Oiler prospect pool isn’t bursting with blue-chippers. If a Philip Broberg reclamation project doesn’t entice Pittsburgh, do you have to sacrifice Dylan Holloway? It will take a big bid to land Guentzel. The Oilers have their first-round picks, too, plus their second-rounder in 2024 and 2026.

      Fly in the ointment: Even if we set aside that the Oilers are capped out and would need to pull off some gymnastics to fit Guentzel in: are we sure he’s what they should pursue? The law of diminishing returns applies. Edmonton is already one of the league’s elite offensive clubs. Given they could use another top-four blueliner and backup goalie, should they really spend their resources adding Guentzel to a forward group already boasting McDavid, Draisaitl, Zach Hyman, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Evander Kane?

      New York Rangers

      Why he makes sense: The Blueshirts are simultaneously in the Cup hunt and beaten to hell. They recently lost third-line center Filip Chytil for the year, now Blake Wheeler is done, too, and they were already quite thin on the wings. They’re currently playing Jimmy Vesey on the first line. For real.

      What it might cost: One option is to offer a first-round pick along with the chance to redeem Kaapo Kakko. Given the Rangers don’t have the deepest prospect pool, that would probably be preferrable. You don’t want to touch Gabe Perreault, and Will Cuylle has found a permanent place in the lineup, too. Would you have to listen on Brennan Othmann? The Rangers need to keep taking swings now that several of their core stars have reached their 30s, from Artemi Panarin to Chris Kreider to Mika Zibanejad.

      Fly in the ointment: Guentzel is a natural left winger, but it’s the right side where the Blueshirts need help, so he’s not a perfect fit. The Rangers and Pens, bitter divisional rivals, haven’t completed a trade in 11 years.

      Vegas Golden Knights

      Why he makes sense: Um, have you met the Golden Knights? They love to chase shiny objects, Max Pacioretty, Mark Stone, Alex Pietrangelo, Jack Eichel, Ivan Barbashev. The list goes on. By virtue of being the best player on the market, Guentzel becomes interesting to the ruthless Golden Knights. Since their 2017 birth as a franchise, they’ve had nine first-round picks. Two remain in the organization: David Edstrom and Brendan Brisson. The rest were traded in pick form or in prospect form after Vegas drafted them, the most recent being Zach Dean, who went to the St. Louis Blues for Barbashev last year. With Jack Eichel shifting to LTIR, the Golden Knights are theoretically positioned to, ahem, do what they do and use the vacated cap space for big-game hunting.

      What it might cost: “Who cares?” GM Kelly McCrimmon, probably. Would Brisson and Vegas’ 2024 first-rounder get Vegas into the conversation? If they fully weaponized the Eichel LTIR space, they’d be positioned to take on Guentzel with no salary retention required.

      Fly in the ointment: Vancouver is running away with the Pacific Division despite a three game losing streak – still 10 points up on Vegas. The Golden Knights are three points up on Edmonton for second place in the Pacific and home ice advantage in Round 1, but the Oilers have four games in hand. The Golden Knights still have plenty on the line before the playoffs. If Eichel is ready, they’ll want him in the lineup. He was placed on LTIR retroactive to Jan. 11. The initial prognosis for his injury was four to six weeks. There’s been no indication the recovery timeline for his knee injury would drag into April. And once he’s back, the cap space evaporates and Guentzel becomes impossible to fit without major salary retention and third-party help.

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