Aaron Portzine of the Columbus Dispatch has paid close attention to the Penguins’ contract negotiations, with a focus on forward Ryan Malone.

In his most recent blog entry, Portzine wrote, “It’s all up to Pittsburgh Penguins winger Marian Hossa now.”

Hossa apparently was offered a seven-year contract in the $50 million range. If he accepts, it’s all but certain Malone will be wearing a new uniform next season.

But how likely is it that he will be traded?

Lyle Richardson of Spector’s Hockey this morning wrote, “As for Malone, he’s definitely about to become a hot commodity if Hossa is re-signed by the Pens and the Jackets apparently could be among the frontrunners.”

In the past, trading for impending free agents wasn’t common practice, but with the new salary cap structure, a shortage of high-end free agents, and the success of a similar type deal between the Flyers and Predators last summer, it would seem we could be witnessing a new trend.

While Malone may not be the most productive player statistically in this summer’s free agency pool, he does bring plenty of intangibles, including toughness and heart, that could make him one of the most sought-after players.

Because of that, it would seem interest from general managers seeking a trade could be significantly higher than what many originally thought.

At this point, there are two types of trades that could be made: one for a draft pick, or one for a player.

Rumors initially had the Blue Jackets willing to trade a first rounder for Malone, but Portzine wrote in his update: “I’ve heard Dan Fritsche, straight up, and I’ve heard a second- or third-round draft pick.”

Fritsche is an interesting player. He’s 22 and just finished his third NHL season. He had 22 points last year and 27 the year before, but apparently has the potential to make some noise in the future.

There also are rumors circulating that the Oilers and Wild are working toward trading for Malone. While no possible returns were mentioned, it is believed the Oilers would be looking to send a roster player to the Penguins.

One player from those teams who would be most appealing is Oilers forward Raffi Torres, who apparently could be available for trade.

Torres played in just 32 games last season after suffering a major injury, but his style of play would seem to be a perfect replacement for Malone, though his point production is slightly lower.

If these teams — and potentially others — are interested, a bidding war could work in the Penguins favor.

Even so, don’t look for the return to be anything spectacular. If the bidding gets too high, teams simply will opt to wait until July 1, when they can have their pick of the litter without giving up any assets.