Pittsburgh Penguins General Manager Jim Rutherford sounded patient tones last week when asked if he were finished on the trade market. After a little media tour which included stops on radio and a couple of beat news outlets, Rutherford expressed optimism that he could be done dealing. He also wants to see how the newbies Nick Bjugstad and Jared McCann fit into the Penguins and what the picture looked like after Evgeni Malkin and Justin Schultz returned from injury.
All very prudent.
Except the Penguins haven’t turned in a solid effort since the first night of the trade in which Bjugstad and McCann needed a police escort to arrive before the opening faceoff.
They won against Philadelphia but their flaws are still very evident. The Penguins GM could upgrade his team with a scoring winger and the Penguins may breathe easier.
Unfortunately for the Penguins Tanner Pearson has not done the job. Saturday night, Pearson scored his first goal in one month. Pearson has 14 points (9g, 5a) in 40 games with the Penguins. A 28-point pace for a $3.75 million player isn’t good enough. After a hot start in a Penguins sweater, Pearson has not only failed to put ink on the stat sheet, he’s not been a factor on most nights.
The Penguins need an upgrade.
Dominik Simon. While many fans hold him to a top-six, highly paid standard, he is the inexpensive swiss-army knife which teams need to jumpstart lines, get pucks, and can make a difference. Defending him is easy, in that context. The zippy but small forward has 21 points (7g, 14a) in 48 games which is close enough to a 40-point pace for a player who makes only $750,000.
That doesn’t mean the Penguins wouldn’t be much better off with a more productive player side-saddling Sidney Crosby.
However, before we pencil Artemi Panarin or Mark Stone into the Penguins lineup, there are three obstacles to finding the right fit and they are huge.
First, we have to place extra value on the Penguins first round pick. The reality is the Penguins will finish in the mid-pack and this run could be over in Round One, especially if they meet Tampa Bay. The Penguins lack of prospects and the potential for a mid-range first round pick makes that selection more valuable to the Penguins than it does to the market.
We can also cross off Michael Ferland. I’m sure it’s happened before, but two teams which are battling for the final wild-card spot making a deal?
Second, given the increasingly dry trade market as teams which were left for dead and ready to rebuild suddenly find themselves in a peloton of inconsistency racing for the playoffs, the pool of available wingers is smaller than it was just one month ago.
And lastly, the Penguins are cap poor. Even if they could make the perfect offer for a coveted winger, they will need to shed salary. All of the Penguins potential free agents, Carl Hagelin, Derick Brassard, and Riley Sheahan are gone. The Penguins will need to move a player with a commensurate cap hit.
To move a player like Pearson who is signed for two more years beyond this, the Penguins might need to include additional assets, as they did this summer with Buffalo to take Matt Hunwick. However, the Penguins already gave away their second-round pick and two fourth rounders in the Brassard deal.
So, this will be tricky. Rutherford will have to thread the needle but it’s something he must do to solidify a struggling roster and allow Sullivan to set the lines without constant need for juggling.
3 Penguins Trade Potentials
1. Alex Chiasson- RW. Edmonton. $650,000.
Why: 6-foot-4, 208 pounds with some finish.
Edmonton is a raging tire fire and Chiasson is a pending unrestricted free agent. Chiasson is a career lower line grinder with some physicality but with a little love season this seaosn, the 28-year-old has popped 17 goals. Could he do the more beside Sidney Crosby?
The Penguins seem intent on putting Nick Bjugstad and his size on the wing, Chiasson would add even more girth to the Penguins for their Metro Division playoff grind, or be an immovable body against Tampa Bay which has tried to assert physical dominance against the Penguins in their last few tussles.
Chiasson, 28, has 27 points in 46 games (17g, 10a). As an unrestricted free agent, he will be able to walk for nothing but fortunately for the Penguins, he makes only $650,000.
The Penguins wouldn’t need to move a salary in the deal. But who would Rutherford call to make this happen?
2. Kasperi Kapanen – RW. Toronto. $863,333.
Why: Lightning fast with increasingly good hands.
You remember Kasperi, don’t you? The Penguins former first-round pick who was shipped to Toronto in the Phil Kessel trade.
Toronto can’t keep everyone, though it seems they are trying. Kapanen is still on his ELC which expires July 1, so his cap hit is $863, 333 and he will be an RFA. A first round pick for Kapenan? Sure. He is only 22-years-old.
However, the Leafs have resisted dealing him to this point. He has 32 points (16g, 16a) and would immediately be a mainstay beside Crosby. That speed with a touch of grit could be a match made in hockey heaven. And the Penguins would not need to shed salary to acquire him, but it would cost a shiny toonie. And a loonie.
But worth it if possible. If there is a player on the market for whom the Penguins could or should break the bank, this is it.
3. Mats Zuccarello – C/RW. New York. $4.5 million
Why: Gritty little forward who could play with Crosby.
This move would have made a lot more sense if Derick Brassard were still a Penguin. Brassard, Zuccarello, and Carl Hagelin were once the three musketeers in New York. PHN has waffled on his fit with the Penguins. We were the first to advocate for his acquisition but have backed off. Could the Penguins play their low game and hang onto pucks with both Simon and Zuccarello in the lineup, or would that be too many small wingers who absorb punishment?
Zuccarello is a consistent mid-50s point producer who could add some speed and finish to Crosby’s right side.
But the cost.
The Penguins would need to send Tanner Pearson to New York. Would that raise the price or lower it? The Penguins might quickly find themselves spending far more than Zuccarello is worth to make this happen.