The Penguins do not have to trade to improve their defense; All they need to do is get Justin Schultz back in the lineup.
Schultz, out since fracturing his left leg Oct. 13, joined the Penguins on the ice Wednesday, though in a non-contact jersey, for their morning skate at PPG Paints Arena before their 4-2 win against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
When Schultz returns, it will be as if the Penguins added a defenseman before the NHL Trade Deadline on Feb. 25 at 3 pm ET without having to give up anything. It's a reason that Jim Rutherford felt a comfortable trading defenseman Jamie Oleksiak to the Dallas Stars on Monday for a fourth round pick in the 2019 NHL Draft.
One reason Oleksiak was deemed expendable is Pittsburgh is deep at defenseman with the emergences of Marcus Pettersson and Juuso Riikola. Schultz's return will give them eight NHL defensemen.
That depth should allow Rutherford to explore options to improve the Penguins up front, perhaps adding a left wing that could play on the second line with a center Evgeni Malkin and right wing Phil Kessel.
Rutherford could acquire that player by trading a third-line center Derick Brassard, who is in the final season of his contract.
Pittsburgh saw what the lineup could look like without Brassard on Wednesday, when he was out because of a top-body injury. Matt Cullen moved up to center the third line with the left wing Tanner Pearson and right wing Patric Hornqvist. The 42-year-old Cullen played 14:53, the most he played since the season-high 15:21 on Oct. 18.
Pittsburgh could also try Riley Sheahan as a third-line center, especially if they acquire another left wing.
Their depth at defenseman once Schultz returns and their strength down the middle places the Penguins in a strong position to actively try to improve in other areas before the deadline.
Video: Phil Bourque on the Penguins' battles recently
New York Rangers
Right wing Mats Zuccarello is hoping to be in the lineup when the Rangers play the New Jersey Devils at Prudential Center on Thursday (7pm ET; MSG +, MSG, ESPN +, NHL.TV).
Zuccarello missed a 1-0 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday because of a foot infection, and there will likely be plenty of scouts in the building to see him and others play.
The 31-year-old, who can become an unrestricted free agent July 1, has nine points (four goals, five assists) in his last five games and is one of the key forwards forwards who could be traded.
His teammates, however, do not want to see him go anywhere.
Rangers Goalie Henrik Lundqvist told NHL.com senior fantasy editor Pete Jensen at 2019 Honda NHL All-Star Weekend that he hopes Zuccarello does not get traded.
Rangers Center Mika Zibanejad echoed Lundqvist's thoughts after the game Tuesday.
"It's unavoidable to know about and hear about, but I do not want him to leave," Zibanejad said. "It's the business of it and you can not control that much of it, but obviously he's a great leader in this locker room and has been a long time great player. Everyone likes him. He's back after a tough start with an injury. I'm super happy every time I get to play with him and obviously I want to see him stay here. "
Rangers Center Kevin Hayes and defenseman Adam McQuaid, which each can be an unrestricted free agent after the season, also are potential trade chips. Hayes was open about his desire to re-sign with the Rangers but said the team has not offered him a new contract.
Wayne Simmonds said his preference is to continue playing for the Flyers and not be traded before the 2019 NHL Trade Deadline on Feb. 25 at 3 pm ET, the Courier-Post reported.
"I've been here for eight seasons and I'd like to continue on longer, but whatever happens, happens," the forward told the newspaper Thursday. "All I can do is focus on doing my job. Right now, that's with the Flyers."
Chief manager Chuck Fletcher is doing his job, and it's okay to talk to teams about what he could get in return for the 30-year-old right wing, who is in the final year of a six-year contract that carries $ 3.97 million salary cap charge.
Simmonds is a classic forward forward who could net a favorable return for the Flyers. His power-forward skills and net-front presence are ideally suited for contending teams that need help on power play. The Montreal Canadiens, New York Islanders, Nashville Predators, Columbus Blue Jackets and Vegas Golden Knights are ranked 20th or lower in power-play percentage.
Simmonds average 12.2 power-play goals per season in his first seven seasons in Philadelphia. He had the second most power-play goals in the NHL (86) behind Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin (131) in that time.
The Flyers power play has struggled this season, and Simmonds's power-play numbers have dipped to four goals and six points in 50 games.
The other option is for Flyers to try to re-sign Simmonds, believing that its future with the team will return better dividends than a package of assets from a trade partner.
"I can not really predict how it's going to play out," Fletcher said on Monday. "But in the next few weeks we'll have to solve it one way or the other."
New York Islanders
Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello did not give away any secrets when discussing their approach to the upcoming NHL Trade Deadline when he spoke to reporters Thursday.
New York leads the Metropolitan Division, and Lamoriello said he hopes to keep all of his pending unrestricted free agents, including forwards Jordan Eberle, Anders Lee, Brock Nelson and Valtteri Filppula.
"We know where we are today; it's sustaining where we're at," Lamoriello said. "But this is when the season cranks up, it's when it gets harder … Right now, we're still going through some stages where we have to see who we are. We'll know a little better in the next couple weeks. "
If the Islanders are upgraded, then one area could be power play, which is tied for 23rd in the NHL (16.7 percent), but is 5-for-23 (21.7 percent) in the past eight games.
"I think our power play will be better than perhaps the stats that are there," Lamoriello said. "I'm not concerned about percentages, I'm concerned about when we get a power-play goal or when we kill a penalty, at what time and so forth. I think right now we are who we are."
The Islanders return from their mandatory five-day break following the 2019 Honda NHL All-Star Game to play the NHL-leading Tampa Bay Lightning at Nassau Coliseum on Friday and against Los Angeles Kings on Saturday. They then start a stretch of seven out of 10 on the road, including games at Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabers, Columbus Blue Jackets and Calgary Flames.
"I have a lot of confidence in this group because they've shown it, they have a lot of confidence in themselves right now, but we also have to respect the schedule that we are coming up," Lamoriello said. "We also have to respect that we have been reasonably well up to this point. So there are many variables that come in it, but we are a good hockey team right now."
The Florida Panthers have 11 points out of the Stanley Cup Playoff spot but believe they can run a run at the postseason.
"We want to finish this season strongly and make a run for the playoffs," general manager Dale Tallon said Thursday.
Tallon intimated the Panthers could be a buyer before the NHL Trade Deadline on Feb. 25 at 3 pm ET because he thinks the team is good enough to make a run the way it did last season.
The Panthers had 12 points out of a playoff spot coming out of the All-Star break last year and went 25-8-2 in their final 35 games. They missed the postseason by one point.
Florida defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs 3-1 at home (Jan. 18), the Nashville Predators 4-2 on the road (Jan. 19) and the San Jose Sharks 6-2 at home (Jan. 21) before the All- Star Weekend.
"I think our guys are starting to believe in themselves and what they have to do," Tallon said. "There's a big mountain to climb here, but we know we can do it. We did it last year with basically the same team and we added some pieces. Now that we're healthy, we'll give it a go. "
Tallon said that the Panthers are scouring the market for trades that could help them now and in the long-term. He did not go into the specifics, but did not rule out trading some of Florida's current players to achieve his goal.
"We're in a performance-oriented business and so I pay for performance," said Tallon. "Expectations are high We have a good group of players and a lot of ability, but it's enough to have enough passion and consistency to do the job .The next few weeks will tell what the future brings to all of these players. I'm not going to sit still.
"We know a lot of good players and a lot of good players coming in. We have a plan. We are committed to winning. [Owner] Vinny [Viola] has given us all the tools to be successful and we will go here in the next month all the things that are necessary to win championships down the road. "