Mark Madden: The Penguins need a makeover, and trading Jake Guentzel would pay a nice return

With the NHL trade deadline one month away and the Penguins in shambles, the usual strategy suggests: Trade all of our bad players for all of their good players. Something like Jeff Carter, Casperi Kapanen and Danton Heinen to Chicago for Patrick Kane.

This deal will not be discussed by the general manager of either team, but may be discussed by callers on the talk show. It’s where twisted optimism intersects with age-old stupidity.

Almost any other character swap involving penguins would be equally unrealistic. Penguins are pressed tightly against the salary cap.

But GM Ron Heckstall might be able to trade in, say, winger Jake Guentzel.

Hextall should not consider a commercial draft pick.

When dealing with the former, trading Guentzel can bring a good return and will definitely influence change.

I’m not trying to get Guentzel out of town. But it is negotiable. He has talent. He’s 28. Guentzel’s limited immobility clause prevents him from being traded to 12 teams of his designation,

Guentzel is having a decent season, not a great one. Five of his twenty goals were in empty nets. It was inconsistent. His 32 penalty minutes lead the team, but he barely battles Kelly. All Guentzel penalties are shorthand for penguins. They are a dime nickel.

Guentzel is a perfect fit for Sidney Crosby’s wing. He is not afraid to put his slight body at risk. He is good at finishing the competition.

His circulation raises a lot of questions: Who will replace him in Crosby’s line? How does Crosby react? You don’t win by trading good players. But what will be the return?

But, as it stands, the penguins aren’t going anywhere. Change is urgently needed. It’s an old team. Keep it as it is, and all you do is hope.


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But the penguins wouldn’t trade in Guentzel. It may be a legitimate attempt to improve the team, but it won’t improve it enough.

No trade pushes the Penguins into a deep playoff. Heck, the Penguins are going to be lucky even in the postseason.

When the Penguins re-signed Evgeni Malkin, Chris Letang, Rijkaard Raquel and Brian Rust last season, they were thought to be in a “win now” position. The dressing room thinks so. Perhaps the organization did or did.

If the Penguins are indeed in “win now” mode, Hextall must trade draft picks for immediate help in the “win now” bid.

But, since the Penguins lack cover room, such deals could force Hextall’s business partners to reserve big capital hits for anyone they send to Pittsburgh, or take bad players on onerous contracts to give the Penguins a rest.

Under these circumstances, Hextall may have to surrender so much of the future that it will harm the penguins for years.

Hextall should not make a deal like that. It would be even better to introduce the penguins doing their best with what they got, or even to become a salesman. (The latter wouldn’t happen even if he were the best. It would also be hard to do with nine players on the roster who have full or limited immobilization paragraphs. Hextall can’t clean house.)

The Penguins haven’t won a playoff series since 2018. What makes anyone think they can “win now?”

What have we seen on the ice lately that would inspire the belief that the Penguins can “win now?”

The dressing room wouldn’t be happy if Hextall was standing still, or just adjusting. But what players think shouldn’t matter. They didn’t earn it. Not recently.

So if penguins are to get better, it has to happen from within.

Maybe Tristan Jarry could get healthy, or Casey Desmith could hold opponents down by five goals, or Carter could get a point, or Teddy Plougher could score. The Penguins can give up goals in the first and last minutes of the half and immediately after. Or they could hit someone. Or adapt to the enemy, the outcome and the situation.

The Penguins aren’t a great team on paper. But they will be better than they are except for an avalanche of stupidity, bad habits, underachievement, and a lack of self-awareness.

No trade can solve all of that.

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