Often lost in the narrative chronicling the Penguins’ need for a third-line center is the fact that money will almost certainly head the other direction in any trade. Currently, Pittsburgh is a respectable $3.82 MM under the cap ceiling, but a few factors should be considered. Firstly, GM Jim Rutherford will almost surely allot at least $1 MM in space to acquire necessary rentals at the trade deadline. Second, his defensive and center depth is rather weak overall, so any move would likely not be the last before a post-season pursuit. Third, and perhaps most important, multiple contracts on the horizon will force uncomfortable decisions on wing and top-four defense.

With Matt Cullen departing for Minnesota, the Penguins’ third best center is Carter Rowney, just one season removed from AHL plug duty. Zach Aston-Reese could fill in temporarily, but it’s not ideal for his first professional season. The teams needs an upper-echelon third center option, and available options are supremely limited league-wide. Rutherford claimed to have half a dozen options in July, but with the summer expiring the options are far fewer. Although Rutherford is playing his cards close to his chest, it’s nearly inconceivable that the Penguins go into the new year without greater certainty at that position. A move needs to be made.

On defense, the team will need to determine the future of multiple players. It’s a fair assumption that the team will bank on the improved health of Norris-capable Kris Letang, for better or worse. Justin Schultz is also safe, as is the dependable Brian Dumoulin.