When Alex Galchenyuk first landed in Pittsburgh this past off-season, a returning asset to the Penguins in exchange for Phil Kessel going to Arizona, there was a lot of anticipation for the one-time 30-goal scorer to regain that offensive level alongside Evgeni Malkin.
But just 21 games into his season, Galchenyuk has only two goals and 10 points. In an interview with The Athletic last week, Penguins GM Jim Rutherford poured cold water on the idea that Galchenyuk was a good fit alongside Malkin. In fact, when the Penguins get fully healthy, the GM wasn’t even sure the 25-year-old would fit in the lineup.
“The fact of the matter is, when we’re totally healthy, he’s going to have to work very hard just to get in the top 12,” Rutherford told Josh Yohe. “That’s just the way it is, because we have a lot of guys playing well. So, that’s the good news and the bad news.”
On Hockey Night in Canada’s Headlines segment with Elliotte Friedman and Chris Johnston, Galchenyuk was a topic as a potential trade chip when Pittsburgh regains health.
Admittedly, this is a tough trade destinations piece for a few reasons. First, if Galchenyuk hasn’t been able to find his groove alongside either Penguins superstar — Sidney Crosby being the other — what chance is there for him to get back to his career-high totals from four years ago elsewhere? Second, his cap hit is a hefty $4.9 million and not a lot of teams have that kind of space, so the Penguins may be staring at the possibility of retaining salary if they do indeed trade him. And third, Galchenyuk is slated to become a UFA this summer. Given his salary and on-ice play, it would seem unlikely an extension would come unless he was open to cutting his salary back.
We’d assume that, because of all these factors, acquiring Galchenyuk wouldn’t cost a ton in trade. And there are teams out there in need of forward help that may be intrigued at the potential Galchenyuk offers. It’s a wonder if that potential will ever come to fruition, however.
With all this in mind, we’re taking a look at a few teams that — potentially — make sense to take a low-risk bet on Galchenyuk with the hopes there’s some higher pay off at least down the stretch this season.
This is the one team that was discussed on Saturday’s Headlines.
“I do think Buffalo was one of the teams that looked at him,” Friedman said. “I’m sure there’s more. But Galchenyuk is someone who could be finding a new home.”
Friedman added on Monday that “moving him is something that has been discussed I think for a few weeks now.”
The Sabres are one of those teams with a clear need for help up front and some tradable assets on defence, though we wouldn’t expect Galchenyuk would demand a Rasmus Ristolainen or Colin Miller return.
Casey Mittelstadt, a 21-year-old centre taken eighth overall in 2017, has struggled with just nine points this season and was made a healthy scratch for Sunday’s game versus Edmonton. He also wouldn’t likely be used in this trade, but given the circumstances it’s at least possible Mittelstadt could be sent down to the AHL for further development, opening up a spot for a new body.
It’s not clear if Galchenyuk could be used in a centre position here, or even in a top-six role because of his lacklustre defensive play. Buffalo has the 14th-ranked offence in the NHL and, since their fast start, have won just five of their past 18 games.
LOS ANGELES KINGS
Honestly, the Kings are here just because they could use any kind of infusion of youth and natural scoring ability and Galchenyuk would at least tick those boxes. Los Angeles has the lowest shots against rate in the league so the defensive base is at least in place, but their offence ranks 30th so perhaps Galchenyuk could be free to just worry about trying to get some offence going.
The trouble is his contract doesn’t allow the Kings a plan to move forward with at this time and, really, playoffs are out of the question for 2020 anyway. They seem more likely to be trading out NHL players for future assets, but maybe how this gets accomplished. The Kings are one of the few teams that could absorb Galchenyuk’s full cap hit so what if he is used as, more or less, a salary dump, and the Kings can pick up some other longer-term asset to take a chance on?
Things have turned for the Hurricanes. Where they were once an excellent shot-generating offence that couldn’t score, their shot metrics have remained strong (third-most high danger chances at 5-on-5), and they currently have the 11th-best goals per game rate. But they still have tremendous depth on the NHL team and in the organization on the blue line with a need to add some offence to their forward units. Again, we’re not talking about a top prospect having to go to Pittsburgh in return, but perhaps the Canes could find Galchenyuk useful in a bottom-six role.
The other thing to ponder here is how this deal could potentially get bigger between the two teams. Petr Mrazek hasn’t been great (.903 save percentage) but James Reimer has been of late (.918). Still, you’d think Carolina could do better at the position if the opportunity presented itself, and Pittsburgh is sitting with Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith (currently in the AHL) as two excellent netminders. DeSmith may be the more likely of the two to move at this point, and he’s signed for another two seasons. Maybe there’s a way for Carolina to upgrade their net in a Galchenyuk move.
Much like the Kings, Anaheim has virtually no hope at the playoffs this season and have an eye on the future. The Ducks are also one of those few teams that can take on all of Galchenyuk’s cap, so they may be able to use this trade to also acquire another pick or fringe prospect as the real target piece.
And if the Ducks fall further and further from the playoff picture as the season develops, it may get to a similar point as last season where GM Bob Murray decides some of his younger, non-waiver eligible players may be better served in the AHL as opposed to losing regularly at the NHL level. We’re talking Max Comtois or Troy Terry. Maybe Sam Steel. In that instance, if the Ducks also get another asset in the deal, Galchenyuk could come in and play pro minutes down a meaningless stretch and walk to free agency. The Ducks would get more development time for a player they otherwise may have to play in the NHL.