The Hamilton Spectator

Pens send Guentzel to Carolina for Bunting, prospects and picks

Veteran forward gives ’Canes scorer who thrives in the post-season spotlight

- WILL GRAVES

Jake Guentzel is heading to Carolina.

The Pittsburgh Penguins have traded the high-scoring forward to the Hurricanes in exchange for forward Michael Bunting, prospects Ville Koivunen, Vasili Ponomarev and Cruz Lucius and conditiona­l first- and fifth-round picks in this year’s draft.

The first-rounder becomes Philadelph­ia’s second-rounder if the Hurricanes don’t reach the final, and Pittsburgh only gets the fifth if Carolina wins it all for the second time in franchise history.

“The decision to trade Jake Guentzel, with his contract set to expire this off-season, was one of the most difficult decisions that I have had to make in my time in management,” first-year general manager/director of hockey operations Kyle Dubas said, adding Guentzel had become a pillar in the community and a fan favourite. “Jake’s competitiv­eness, tenacity and spirit, combined with his talent have produced some of the greatest moments of this era of Penguins hockey.”

Guentzel, 29, gives the Hurricanes a proven goal scorer who thrives in the post-season spotlight. Guentzel has reached the 40-goal plateau twice in eight seasons and has 58 points (24 goals, 34 assists) in 58 playoff games. His 13 goals during the 2017 playoffs led the league and helped the Penguins become the first team in nearly 20 years to win back-to-back Stanley Cups.

Guentzel has 22 goals in 50 games this season for Pittsburgh. He’s currently on long-term injured reserve with an upper-body injury suffered in a loss to Florida on Feb. 14, though he’s eligible to come off Sunday. Guentzel had been skating with the Penguins in recent days.

He participat­ed in the team’s pregame skate on Thursday wearing a black jersey, indicating he has been cleared for contact.

His departure is the first of what could be several high-profile moves made by Dubas. Pittsburgh is languishin­g near the bottom of the Metropolit­an Division with five weeks left in the regular season, and Dubas stated recently one of his top priorities is to find a way to inject youth into the National Hockey League’s oldest roster.

“He’s a great player, a great teammate,” Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby said. “A friend. I think he did everything he possibly could in his time here. Just a privilege to play with him for the csourse of that time. Great memories and that’s all I can say.”

While a little undersized at fivefoot-11, 180 pounds, Guentzel’s hockey intelligen­ce and knack for finding open ice made him a perfect complement to Crosby almost from the moment Guentzel arrived in the NHL during the 2016-17 season. The duo joined Bryan Rust to form the “Sid and the Kids” line that helped power the Penguins past Nashville in the Stanley Cup finals.

It was hardly a fluke. Guentzel leaves Pittsburgh with 219 goals, eighth-most in the history of a franchise that boasts more than its fair share of talented scorers. Guentzel has for the most part been highly durable despite often playing in high-traffic areas of the ice. He has played in at least 90 per cent of Pittsburgh’s games five times in his seven full seasons, the only exceptions being 2019-20 when a shoulder injury ruined an all-star campaign and this year, when off-season wrist surgery had him miss a handful of games to start the season followed by the upper-body injury on Valentine’s Day in a loss to Florida.

Guenztel is beloved in Pittsburgh and there are typically lines out the door at a local milkshake chain that offers half off Guentzel’s signature flavour the day after he scores. Yet, with his asking price in free agency figuring to be outside Pittsburgh’s budget, Guentzel joins the likes of other franchise fixtures with close ties to their Stanley Cup runs like goaltender Marc-André Fleury, forward Phil Kessel and defenceman Brian Dumoulin that have headed elsewhere in recent years for various reasons.

Bunting, 28, has 13 goals and 23 assists for the Hurricanes and has topped 20 goals in a season twice in his five-year career. Bunting also reunites with Dubas, who signed Bunting as a free agent with Toronto in 2021.

 ?? MATT FREED THE ASSOCIATED PRESS FILE PHOTO ?? The Penguins’ Jake Guentzel reaches for a loose puck in front of the Winnipeg Jets’ Dylan DeMelo in Pittsburgh in early February. Guentzel has reached the 40-goal plateau twice in eight seasons and has 58 points (24 goals, 34 assists) in 58 playoff games.
MATT FREED THE ASSOCIATED PRESS FILE PHOTO The Penguins’ Jake Guentzel reaches for a loose puck in front of the Winnipeg Jets’ Dylan DeMelo in Pittsburgh in early February. Guentzel has reached the 40-goal plateau twice in eight seasons and has 58 points (24 goals, 34 assists) in 58 playoff games.

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