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Photo Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

A look at how the Edmonton Oilers could make the most of a Pittsburgh Penguins cap crunch

There’s trouble brewing in Pittsburgh.

For the second time in as many years, they’ve had an early dispatch in the playoffs and with that issues have come to the limelight.

Mainly, a club that thrives off revenue is losing one of its most major streams — playoff home games.

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There’s an incredibly detailed report surrounding what’s going on done by The Athletic’s Rob Rossi and Josh Yohe. Here’s what I see as the most important excerpt from their piece:

Revenue is down, in part because of early playoff exits and in part because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and ownership believes cost-cutting measures are reasonable at this time. Rutherford would be permitted to spend to the cap in-season if ownership was convinced the club was a piece or two away from a deep playoff run, team and industry sources said.

“They’re a revenue-based ownership. They spend what they make,” an industry source said. “Maybe it’s not the best thing to count on playoff home games, but they do, so nobody should be surprised if things tighten there.”

The Penguins have 16 players with guaranteed roster spots who count $68.2 million against an $81.5 million cap. But multiple team and league sources said the Penguins will look to spend in the low- to mid-$70 million range to start next season. To get there, the team will seek trades of multiple veterans, especially because ownership favors those moves over buyouts.

Rutherford told reporters this week he prefers to keep Crosby, Malkin and Letang together. But rival executives expect him to explore a Letang trade, for multiple reasons.

“Letang’s market value is better, if you can believe it,” said one executive, who does not believe Rutherford will ultimately move Letang. “Malkin can pick where he wants to go, and do you get him for just two years and he goes back to Russia? With Letang, the only thing you’re worried about is his health. Can he stay healthy? He’s still a top defenseman and you’re probably going to keep him around if you get him, so (the Penguins) would get more for him, I’d think.”

Added another league executive: “I’d take either guy, are you kidding? Malkin was incredible last season. You add that guy, you’re adding a true No. 1 center. But people think he’d only go a couple of places, and I don’t really see Jimmy or Mario breaking up Crosby and Malkin. They’re legends. They’re still great. And who the hell is going to play center behind Crosby?”

Like Crosby, Malkin’s contract contains a full no-movement clause. Letang’s contract has a modified clause, making him easier to move.

As an organization, the Penguins are deeper with defensemen than they are centers. While there is agreement among ownership and management that the Penguins would not “win” a trade of either Malkin or Letang, a return of draft picks, prospects and cap space would not be without value.

While a bit lengthy, it helps to give an idea of where the Penguins’ heads are at and this is where the Oilers may be able to take advantage of the Penguins.

Kris Letang

The first and most obvious acquisition could be that of defenceman Kris Letang.

While he’s not the defenceman he once was, Letang continues to be an offensive threat from the blueline. In the last three years, he’s scored the eighth-most points among defencemen.

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At 33 years old this past season, he’s provided offence at a seven percent rate higher than league average while proving defence four percent below league average, according to hockeyviz.com. Over the last three years, Letang’s possession numbers have remained strong despite a dip in the last season. He continues to be a minute muncher playing over 25 minutes a night.

Letang has two years left on a contract paying him $7.25-million and according to Puckpedia, has a base salary of just as much.

Evgeni Malkin

Malkin might be a little harder to pull out of Pittsburgh and while it’s unlikely he’s going to be traded, we have to put it out there.

Yes, there’s a full no-move clause and the fact the player, and team want him to stay, but who knows what can happen. All signs are pointing to a crazy summer in Pittsburgh.

Nonetheless, he’s continuing to be one of the most dynamic number one centres in the league. Despite missing time each year, Malkin is 11th in scoring among forwards over the last three years and his P/60 ranks fourth in that timeframe.

Malkin is an incredible driver of play and this past year shows how good he remains at 33 years old. Among forwards who played over 500 minutes at 5v5, Malkin’s xGF% of 58.16 ranks eighth in the league.

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On offence, he provides offence at a 22% rate higher than league average while providing league-average defence, according to hockeyviz.com.

All signs point to Malkin staying in Pittsburgh, but his $9.5-million contract that has two years remaining is the highest on the club.

A goalie and some others

There’s a chance that the Penguins could trade one of their goalies this offseason, too. Both Matt Murray and Tristan Jarry are RFA’s this year and due for raises. Murray had a down year this season while Jarry stepped into the limelight in a really solid season.

While it wouldn’t be a cost clearing move for the most part, Edmonton could tap into either of them for help as a goaltender to compliment Mikko Koskinen.

The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun reported that the Penguins are looking to trade one of Murray or Jarry this offseason.

There’s always the potential for the Penguins to look at trading Jason Zucker ($5.5-million), Patric Hornqvist ($5.3-million), Nick Bjugstad ($4.1-million), or a longshot in Jake Guentzel ($6-million).

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The cost of acquisition

It’s going to be tough to make a trade for either Letang or Malkin. For the reasons of salary, Letang makes more sense than Malkin.

Edmonton has options when it comes to making a trade. As mentioned in The Athletic piece, “a return of draft picks, prospects and cap space would not be without value.”

Kris Russell comes to mind as a player the Oilers could flip to Pittsburgh solely for money reasons in a trade for any of the aforementioned players. While he does have a modified no-trade clause, Russell’s cap hit of $4-million is much higher than his base salary of $1.5-million for next season. He has a $1-million signing bonus so a trade could be made following that.

Beyond that, Edmonton has a group of young forwards and defencemen that they could look to trade. Tyler Benson, Kailer Yamamoto, Cooper Marody, Caleb Jones, Philip Broberg, Dimirtri Samorukov and William Lagesson are all players the Edmonton could part with if the price is right. Stuart Skinner or Dylan Wells could be moved for a goaltender

While I feel Edmonton should be keeping Yamamoto and Jones unless it’s for Malkin, I would be comfortable moving any amount of the others. Edmonton could also weaponize future draft pick assets in a trade, as well. I think Edmonton should hold onto their 2020 first-rounder in thanks to a deep draft, but if the price is right you should pull the trigger.

Edmonton is in a bit of a cap crunch in their own right, I don’t think the Oilers have any fear of spending as tight to the cap as needed.

At the end of the day, if the Penguins are looking to trade either Letang or Malkin Edmonton should absolutely be calling. Despite some health concerns, Letang is still showing his ability to contribute on a consistent basis and should be able to do so for the remainder of his contract.

Edmonton is in need of some more major impact players and if they could acquire Letang for cheap they should be all over it. He would undoubtedly make the Oilers a better team.

On Twitter: @zjlaing