PITTSBURGH (AP) — Ron Hextall doesn’t sound like a man in a hurry to make a deal.
The Pittsburgh Penguins general manager said Friday he is happy with his team’s depth and while he will search for moves that make sense by the NHL’s March 21 trade deadline, he’s not in a rush with the Penguins firmly in playoff position with less than two months to go in the regular season.
“Would we like to add a little bit up front? Yeah, that would be a fair statement,” Hextall said. “But I feel good. I don’t feel like I have to do anything. But if we can get better, we’re certainly going to try.”
Hextall inherited a talented roster but a somewhat depleted prospect pool a year ago when he was hired to replace Jim Rutherford. He’s made an effort to bolster that pool while surrounding stars Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang — all in their mid-30s — with enough talent to keep the franchise’s Stanley Cup window open.
To make any sort of splash by the deadline would likely require parting with the few high-end prospects who are on the cusp of the NHL — such as defenseman P.O. Joseph, or a first-round draft pick, which they’ve had just one of since 2014. It’s not exactly a route Hextall seems particularly willing to go down.
The Penguins are also tight against the salary cap, meaning they may have to give up an expensive asset to get one. That may be easier said than done at the moment. Enigmatic forward Kasperi Kapanen, with a $3.2 million contract, has just nine goals in 57 games this season and was demoted during a loss to Florida on Tuesday night.
Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan demurred when asked if Kapanen would be in the lineup for Friday night’s visit by Vegas, saying only that all players available would be game-time decisions.
Kapanen is hardly alone among a group of supplemental scorers who are struggling at the moment. Evan Rodrigues, who helped carry the Penguins through the team’s injury-marred first half of the season, has just one goal since Jan. 8. Zach Aston-Reese has one goal all year. Dominik Simon only three.
Hextall’s remedy is for those players to do a better job of getting to the net in an effort to make something happen.
“I think when you’re not scoring, you need to dig in a little bit more and get to the net,” he said. “I think we can do a better job with that. That said, we have confidence that if we can’t do something (in a trade) that we do have enough scoring. Would we like to add a little bit, as I’ve said, ‘of course.’”
The problem is the kind of player that Hextall covets — someone who has no issues wreaking havoc near the goal crease — is hard to come by and the market for any available will be fierce.
“I mean you’d love all your players to be 6-2 and 220 pounds, skilled, fast and everything else,” he said. “It’s just not the way it works.”
Hextall also pointed to his team’s play against the bigger, somewhat more physical New York Islanders in last year’s postseason as proof the Penguins can’t be easily pushed around. New York won the series in six games, thanks in large part to shaky play by Pittsburgh goaltender Tristan Jarry and not because they were intimidated or pushed around.
“You can look and say, ‘Well, we probably deserve to win that series,’” Hextall said. “And it’s like we played against a big, heavy, hard team that we played through and played very well. So I like the way we play.”
Hextall added the team has been in talks with Malkin and Letang about contract extensions. Both of the three-time Stanley Cup winners are in the final year of their current deals. Hextall called the franchise fixtures “two of our top priorities.”
“Hopefully at some point, we can make something happen that works for both sides as well as (forward Bryan Rust),” Hextall said. “So we’ll continue those talks, whether we shut them down at the trade deadline or not, I’m not sure yet.”
More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/hub/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
Will Graves, The Associated Press