Late Friday night, Pittsburgh Hockey Now reported some in the Penguins organization were surprised they didn’t acquire Arizona Coyotes forward Max Domi, who was instead traded to the Montreal Canadiens for Alex Galchenyuk. The Penguins are believed to have offered Conor Sheary or Bryan Rust, packaged with winger Dominic Simon.
What should fans make of the offer and deal?
Arizona did very well to land a player of Galchenyuk’s pedigree for Domi. The Canadiens offer was superior to the Penguins believed offer, especially based on Arizona’s needs. Galchenyuk was drafted third overall by the Canadiens in 2012. However, he was never the savior they needed. Coaches Michael Therrien and Claude Julien bounced him from wing to center and back, hoping to find his fit but he never arrived.
Despite the turmoil, Galchenyuk, 24, posted more than 50 points in two of the last three years. Last season, he had 19 markers and 32 assists, for a respectable 51 points.
Perhaps Coyotes head coach Rick Tocchet will mesh with Galchenyuk and lead him to be the center everyone believes he is capable. Montreal’s player development has not been successful under GM Marc Bergevin. A list of players including Charles Hudon, Sven Andrighetto and most recently Jonathan Drouin, have underperformed their potential.
For Domi, 23, things had soured in Arizona. Perpetual losing, tepid fan support, an undermanned team and an intense head coach isn’t the best combination. As Tocchet told Pittsburgh Hockey Now last winter, it took a while for the players to buy-in. In his January interview with PHN, Tocchet expressed optimism in his team’s growth but was occasionally frustrated by their progress. Read that story here.
Domi’s statistical slide through that situation isn’t uncommon for a young player.
Domi also suffered through the last couple years of head coach Dave Tippet, in Arizona. Tippet pulled the reigns tightly on his young team, emphasizing defense often at the expense of an aggressive game. As we have seen from other players escaping similar situations across the NHL (*ahem, Ottawa), it can be tough to de-program after becoming a plumber (plumber = hockey term to describe blue-collar grinders).
Sheary or Rust?
Both Sheary and Rust are 26-years-old. We have probably seen the best from each, and we have certainly seen better from Sheary than his 2017-18 season.
If the Penguins did put Rust on the table, it adds a new name to the list. Several teams looking to get faster or grittier would be wise to make that call to Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford. Rust is a versatile player with top-shelf speed, tenacity, big-game chops, and sprinkles in enough offense to be a stopgap top-six winger from either side.
Sheary is an interesting asset. One year ago, he posted 53 points in just 61 games. Based on analytics, he elevated Sidney Crosby’s statistics and was a useful cog in the offensive machine. However, Sheary struggled in the playoffs and even earned a couple healthy scratches.
Montreal came strong to the table for Domi. The Penguins simply couldn’t match that offer. The price tag is now set. The Penguins can deal Sheary or Rust, but their return is looking less promising than their potential value next season.
What if Domi Were a Penguin?
Domi would have presented interesting lineup decisions for the Penguins. Domi plays with abandon but is a play-maker, more than a goal scorer, and that combination
Would they have slotted Domi as the third line center and attempted to deal Derick Brassard?
Would they have cut bait with Riley Sheahan, who is an RFA?
Would Domi have taken Jake Guentzel’s spot on Sidney Crosby’s left wing to add more goals to Crosby’s tally?
A Domi-Brassard combination seems very unlikely given both players’ preference to pass before shooting. And given Guentzel’s late-season heroics, again, beside Crosby, that spot seems to be taken. So that leaves us with two likely scenarios: The Penguins would pair Domi and Sheahan on the fourth line, or the Penguins were also prepared to move Brassard.
The bet from this corner is Brassard would have been moved had the Penguins acquired Domi. Imagine, a young playmaker with Phil Kessel. We’ve seen that movie before, and it had a big box office score. To acquire Domi for fourth line duty doesn’t seem to make sense, even if he plays with a more physical edge than Sheary.
We are left to wonder what the Penguins had in mind. Arizona took a good deal with Montreal and both players are likely better off. But the Penguins thinking on the deal could be clues to general manager Jim Rutherford’s thinking, as the Penguins face their first off-season since 2015 without a Stanley Cup.