The tangled web known as the NHL rumor mill has linked Matt Cullen, Michael Grabner, and Evander Kane to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
According to the same combination of factual reports and rumors, Max Domi and Mark Letestu are also potential targets. Unfortunately, the Penguins are the most followed team heading towards the NHL trade deadline Feb. 26, and thus unfounded rumors have sprung forth. There is some truth, but it is time to separate fact and fiction.
The Penguins are chasing a third straight Stanley Cup, and all actions will be in pursuit of that goal. Let’s break down some of the latest reports and rumors …
#4 Matt Cullen: Fact
Matt Cullen has been a healthy scratch and is reportedly unhappy with his diminished role with the Minnesota Wild. Cullen raised a pair of Stanley Cups with the Penguins and is likely still emotionally attached to the team.
In the offseason, Cullen was thought to re-sign to the Penguins or retire. However, family considerations and a desire to play steered him towards Minnesota. Cullen would fit Jim Rutherford’s comments on Jan. 30 to 93.7 the Fan, when the GM suggested the Penguins may abandon their search for a third-line center and choose a depth center instead.
Last week, Bob McKenzie of TSN called Cullen a “fall back” option for the Penguins.
In 2016, Cullen was thought to be done before his old boss Rutherford gave him one more chance. Cullen again appears to be out of gas, but a return to Pittsburgh could add just enough fuel to get to the finish line, again.
Cullen may dictate the timing and potential of this move, too. If he wished to stay in Minnesota, it’s unlikely a deal could occur, just as it would become very likely if he requested this trade. Forty-one-year-old veterans who aren’t fitting in with their current team have enough clout in the hockey world to make those requests.
#3 Max Domi: Fiction
If Max Domi fell into the Penguins’ lap, they would unlikely decline, but it seems highly unlikely the Penguins would spend resources for a player with just three goals this season and nine over the past two years.
In his third professional season, Domi, 22, has hit hard times. He may well rebound into the full potential of his 18-goal, 52-point rookie season but his father Tie‘s connections to the Penguins ownership may only serve to facilitate a future deal if Domi is waived or has a no-risk price tag. Domi has not yet sunk so far.
Personal relationships won’t matter at this trade deadline and a connection between the Penguins ownership and a retired player whose son plays won’t enter into the equation. The Penguins’ ‘country club’ no longer extends to ice level, and hasn’t for a long time. Mario Lemieux’s friends are officially retired and can join him on the golf course. The Penguins no longer sign buddies to hockey contracts, so that Mario has company.
If Domi continues his decline and is unemployed, perhaps the Penguins ‘good-old boy’ network would spring into action, but until then, no.
#2 Michael Grabner: Non-Fiction
Michael Grabner‘s fit and price tag, a first round pick, place him within the Penguins grasp. However, reports out of Boston indicate the Bruins could be interested, as well as many other teams.
Every team should want an elite skater who already has 22 goals and costs only $500,000 for the rest of the season. The confluence of attractive features may make Grabner the hottest trade piece at the GMs’ ball.
The Penguins don’t need to scout Grabner, nor is there a situation. The Rangers are selling. Are the Penguins buying, or not?
Until there is some confirmation or evidence of talks, the rumor rests in ‘fan-driven’ territory, but also entirely logical.
#1 Evander Kane: Fact
The Penguins sent VP of Hockey Operations Jason Karmanos to Buffalo last weekend. The deadline is fast approaching and time is short. It’s improbable Karmanos’ trip north on I-79 (and east on I-90) was a joyride to see an old friend in Sabres GM Jason Botterill.
Kane, 26, is a left winger with offensive skills and an expiring contract. He fits the rental category and, despite a reportedly high price tag, lack of suitors should put Kane’s market value within the Penguins modest range.
The initially reported price tag, about one month ago, per McKenzie, was three to four pieces including a first-round pick, top prospect, player and something else. Sure, the Sabres can ask for that, but no one, repeat — no one — will pay anything close to it for Kane.
After a 13-game goalless drought, Kane has markers in his past two games.
While some fans scream, “No! He’s a cancer,” hockey is a small community. If he was a bad seed, the Penguins would have passed a long time ago.
Don’t let media perceptions and lingering stories color reality. Kane may not be one of the boys or lovable clown, but to think he could disrupt the Penguins locker room is a huge leap.
Shelly Anderson, who has closely covered the Penguins and Sidney Crosby, discussed the locker room dynamic on the No Pucks Given podcast. And, unless anyone who is actually in the Sabres room says differently, it’s silly to tar Kane with third-hand perception.
Money may be an issue, but if the Sabres eat a few dollars or accept an NHL player, the money fits.
If the Penguins determine Kane can help them win a Stanley Cup — and Botterill is willing to deal Kane for market price, not his initial sticker price — this potential deal has legs.