Derrick Brassard, Michael Grabner, and Evander Kane are linked to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the tangled web known as the NHL rumor mill. Max Domi and Mark Letestu are also tied to the Penguins, which are the most followed team heading towards the NHL trade deadline, February 26th. There is some truth to the rumors, 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. And, there is a lot of fiction in the rumor mill and
#5 Matt Cullen: Fact
Matt Cullen has been a healthy scratch and is reportedly unhappy with his diminished role with the Minnesota Wild. Cullen was and probably still is emotionally attached to the Penguins with whom he raised a pair of Stanley Cups.
Cullen was thought to return to the Penguins, but family considerations steered him towards Minnesota. Cullen would fit Jim Rutherford’s comments on January 30th to 93.7 the Fan: the Penguins could add center depth.
Yesterday, Bob McKenzie of TSN called Cullen, a “fallback” option for the Penguins.
#4 Max Domi: Fiction
If the player 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’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 that far.
Also, 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 Mario has company.
#3 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 GM’s ball.
A player like Grabner doesn’t need to be monitored, 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.
#2 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.
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.
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.
And, unless anyone actually in the room would like to speak up, it’s silly to tar Kane with third-hand perception.
Money may seem to be an issue, but if the Sabres eat a few dollars and accept an NHL player, the money fits.
If the Penguins determine he can help them win a Stanley Cup, and Sabres General Manager Jason Botterill is willing to deal Kane for market price, this potential deal has legs.
Derrick Brassard: Fiction-ish
Saturday, Bob McKenzie took Senators center Jean-Gabriel Pageau off the table, at least for the Penguins.
That only intensified the Derrick Brassard rumors, but there are too many obstacles and too little actual information to call this “fact”.
This one could change at any moment because it would seem to be the perfect acquisition. Brassard is a big-stage performer and ideal third line center. He has 55 points in 78 playoff games, including four points in five games against the Penguins in the first round of the 2015-16 playoffs. Brassard was obviously one of the best Rangers in that five-game series.
As a member of the Ottawa Senators, Brassard was also troublesome to the Penguins in the 2017 Eastern Conference Final.
Every pundit on every Canadian broadcast mentioned the Penguins being a fit for Brassard. Of course, they did. Brassard is an ideal third line center, and the Penguins are a high profile team looking for a third pivot with his ability.
Ottawa is in the first leg of a re-tooling. They traded Mika Zibanejad for Brassard last season, and without Brassard, the Senators are perilously thin at center. That isn’t the right way to rebuild or retool.
So, the Penguins would have to offer the Senators a real and substantial return for Brassard. Tristan Jarry? No (read here why not, at least until the summer). Brassard has a $5 million AAV, which means the Penguins would also need to send significant salary the other way, or elsewhere to facilitate the move.
Now, more bad news. It’s not a definitive measurement, but no Senators scouts have been seen at Penguins games since Pittsburgh Hockey Now began tracking scouts, last month. Penguins professional scouts have attended Senators games, including Saturday night, but for a big deal, it is reasonable to expect senior staff or management to visit.
Since Brassard is under contract through next season, the Senators have the luxury of waiting until the summer. In June and July, contenders are far more generous because they have time to replace traded assets or time to shed salary to make things work.
If you have a few wooden nickels, bet on a summer deal, unless a team stomps strong to the table. Senators GM Pierre Dorion