Penguins trade deadline plans take a hit due to Jake Guentzel injury

Jake Guentzel's injury is another big blow in what's looking more like a lost season for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Jan 13, 2024; Raleigh, North Carolina, USA;  Pittsburgh Penguins left wing Jake Guentzel (59) looks
Jan 13, 2024; Raleigh, North Carolina, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins left wing Jake Guentzel (59) looks / James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

After missing the playoffs last season, the Pittsburgh Penguins had a big offseason attempting to ensure that would not happen again in the 2023-24 campaign. They swung a trade for Stanley Cup Champion Reilly Smith. They signed Ryan Graves to a big six-year deal. They acquired the best player available and reigning Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson as they improved their defensemen dramatically.

Things have not gone to plan at all for the Penguins thus far. Smith has just nine goals in 44 games after scoring 26 last season. Graves has been dreadful defensively compared to expectations. Karlsson has seen his scoring take a massive hit, putting up just 37 points in 50 games after setting a career-high with 101 last season.

The new guys struggling has played a role in the Penguins putting up a lackluster 23-20-7 record 50 games into their season. They have just 53 points on the season, good for seventh place in the Metropolitan Division, and are seven points out of a playoff spot beginning play on Thursday.

The Penguins were dealt more frustrating news with forward Jake Guentzel set to miss the next month due to injury. This is a crushing blow not only to Pittsburgh's hopes of getting back in the playoff race, but also impacts what they might be able to do at the NHL Trade Deadline.

Jake Guentzel injury puts major crimp in Penguins' playoff chances and trade deadline plans

The Penguins have struggled to generate enough offense to win games, so losing Guentzel, one of their best forwards, is a huge deal. Guentzel is tied with Sidney Crosby for the team lead, racking up 52 points in 50 games played, and is tied for the team lead with 30 assists. His contributions on the power play will be missed as well, especially with how much that unit has struggled all season long for the Penguins.

Their path to a playoff spot was tough with Guentzel healthy, and is just that much tougher without him. They're seven points back for now, and wound have to jump a handful of teams also fighting for a Wild Card spot.

With a playoff spot unlikely to be reached, the Penguins becoming trade deadline sellers is a very realistic possibility, only enhanced by this Guentzel injury. The problem is, Guentzel would be their most valuable trade candidate, and he's now hurt. Thankfully he's only out for one month so with the Trade Deadline three weeks away he shouldn't lose much value, but it's definitely less than ideal.

What makes Guentzel the prime Penguins trade candidate is he's in the final year of his deal before hitting unrestricted free agency this offseason. With no extension in place, Pittsburgh might decide it's worthwhile for them to get assets back for him rather than risk losing him for nothing. Guentzel even with this injury would fetch a haul, especially after looking at what lesser forwards like Elias Lindholm and Sean Monahan got in trades just weeks ago.

If the Penguins make Guentzel available, there's a good chance he'll be the best forward, if not the best player overall available. Even with this latest injury, there will be plenty of suitors lining up hoping to acquire him, but his value might've taken a hit. While that all remains to be seen, we do know that the Penguins' chances of getting back into the playoff race have gotten just that much tougher.

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