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Penguins

Breaking down the biggest NHL names most likely to be traded

Jonathan Bombulie
| Tuesday, July 3, 2018, 7:34 p.m.
Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson carries the puck against the Blue Jackets on Saturday, March 17, 2018.
Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson carries the puck against the Blue Jackets on Saturday, March 17, 2018.
Ottawa's Erik Karlsson is considered by many to be the most talented defenseman in the NHL.
Ottawa's Erik Karlsson is considered by many to be the most talented defenseman in the NHL.
The Hurricanes' Jeff Skinner gets a shot off past Penguins defenseman Ian Cole that beats goaltender Matt Murray in the second period Thursday, Jan. 4, 2018 at PPG Paints Arena.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Hurricanes' Jeff Skinner gets a shot off past Penguins defenseman Ian Cole that beats goaltender Matt Murray in the second period Thursday, Jan. 4, 2018 at PPG Paints Arena.

Boston Bruins general manager Don Sweeney has a theory.

He figures his brethren in the NHL GM community — especially the American ones — might take a day or two off for the July 4 holiday, then at some point in the relatively near future, get the league's offseason swap meet going in earnest.

“Whether that is training camp or the first part of the season, everybody is going to kind of look for surpluses or areas that other people have strength that you don't,” Sweeney said. “It was leading up to it.”

A handful of NHL teams were waiting for superstar center John Tavares to decide where he'd take his free-agent talents, slowing the trade market to a crawl during the first part of the offseason.

There were a couple of deals at the draft, when Washington sent goalie Philipp Grubauer to Colorado and Calgary and Carolina swapped defensemen Dougie Hamilton and Noah Hanifin.

There were a couple of deals made to free up cap space, with the Penguins sending Conor Sheary and Matt Hunwick to Buffalo and Winnipeg sending goalie Steve Mason to Montreal.

Then there was a significant move July 1, with St. Louis sending a package of players and picks to Buffalo for top-six center Ryan O'Reilly.

That leaves a handful of high-impact moves still to be made. Most notably, teams like San Jose, Tampa Bay, Boston and Dallas that lost out on Tavares have the cap space to add elite offensive talent.

By adding defenseman Jack Johnson and forward Matt Cullen, Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford has created a balanced roster that could go into next season as a bona fide Stanley Cup contender.

He has little cap space and a shallow prospect pool to work with, but Rutherford is known as an aggressive trader. There's little doubt he'll have multiple conversations about multiple players as the market heats back up.

“That's what's unique about Jim and the Penguins organization,” Cullen said after signing Sunday. “It's about getting as many good, smart hockey players as you can and building your lineup as deep as you can, and it finds a way to work itself out.”

Here's a look at the biggest names that could be on the move.

Erik Karlsson, Ottawa

The most talented defenseman in the game is entering the final season of his contract, and his days stuck in the disarray of Ottawa seem to be numbered. The Senators are believed to be asking any team that wants Karlsson to take on winger Bobby Ryan and his $7.25 million salary as well. Attaching Ryan probably would eliminate teams that are close to the cap. If Karlsson is sold solo, every GM worth his salt would at least consider a bid.

Jeff Skinner, Carolina

New owner Tom Dundon is in the midst of a roster makeover, and Skinner, a three-time 30-goal scorer, is entering the last year of his contract. Rutherford drafted Skinner in 2010, and his skill would be a great fit on the left side in the Penguins' top nine. With Rick Nash gone, Skinner would look good in Boston black as well.

Max Pacioretty, Montreal

Moving their captain might finally help the Habs find the top-line center they've been looking for for years. Pacioretty would be a sensible Penguins target. San Jose and the Islanders have been rumored destinations.

Minnesota forwards

New general manager Paul Fenton has expressed a desire to shake up his roster. Jason Zucker, a 33-goal scorer who has hit restricted free agency, probably would be the biggest-ticket item. Charlie Coyle and Nino Niederreiter would be nice additions for any number of teams.

Artemi Panarin, Columbus

The Russian star has indicated he's not ready to negotiate an extension of his contract, which expires after next season, leaving Columbus no choice but to consider moving him. Given the events of the last week, there are probably 29 cities the Blue Jackets would send Panarin to before the Penguins.

Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jbombulie@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BombulieTrib.

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