Pittsburgh Penguins General Manager Jim Rutherford has officially stuffed his roster to the gills. They have filled the NHL roster with the maximum 23 players, including six centers, and 21 NHL only contracts. The NHL roster is set, at least for the moment.
The Penguins surprised some yesterday by signing Anaheim Ducks fourth-line forward Derek Grant to a one-year contract. Taken only at face value, the move adds center depth, and Grant will compete with Matt Cullen (or Riley Sheahan) and Dominik Simon for a left wing position. At least one will be a healthy scratch. Also, the move blocks Teddy Blueger from making the NHL team, as there simply isn’t room.
It also creates a direct competition between Jimmy Hayes, Zach Aston-Reese, and Daniel Sprong to make the team. Now, only two can stay.
On the surface, it would seem an odd to sign a 28-year old forward who could not lock down steady ice time until injuries beset the 2017-18 Ducks. Last season, Grant finally scored his first NHL goal (in the 93rd game of his career) but had an unsustainable 18.5 percent shooting percentage. While Grant is big (6-foot-3, 215 pounds), he isn’t a physical player. He averages about one hit per game. Also, he’s never had a Corsi rating above 45 percent, either.
If the Penguins are serious about moving center Derick Brassard to left wing, Grant would still be the fifth center on the roster behind Riley Sheahan and Matt Cullen. And, Grant would almost certainly be denied ice time as a left winger, as Brassard fills one of those slots, as well.
Predicting trades is a dangerous business. Wasn’t Erik Karlsson supposed to be a Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman by now? Max Pacioretty should be long gone from Montreal, too. But, neither has happened.
However, it appears the Penguins have prepared themselves to make a trade involving a center. There simply isn’t another good reason to block Blueger’s development, give away remaining salary cap space, or take away ice time from players like Cullen, Sheahan or Simon. The Penguins aren’t yet backed into a corner unless injuries pile-up or they need to make additions to deal with ineffectiveness, but they cannot make any more moves, either.
The Penguins have only $1.02 million of salary cap space left, according to CapFriendly.com.
Every season has it’s unique challenges and sometimes players who were previously good fits just don’t gel. The Penguins have fired all of their bullets now, unless they make a deal to clear more salary cap space. They have the least salary cap space in the NHL; the next closest team, the L.A. Kings have over $2 million of cap space.
Rutherford did reportedly tell The Athletic’s Josh Yohe that a trade isn’t necessarily in the works.
The Penguins now have Crosby, Malkin, Brassard, Sheahan, Cullen and Grant down the middle. That’s a lot of centers. GMJR just told me this doesn’t mean a trade is coming, but it makes the Penguins more flexible in a lot of ways. Will have an article up shortly.
— Josh Yohe (@JoshYohe_PGH) July 19, 2018
A trade or a mistake?
The view here is that the Penguins did not make themselves better or deeper, only fuller. One of the signings, Matt Cullen or Derek Grant, will prove to be unneeded, and thus a mistake. After being overly patient last season, Rutherford has stockpiled extra forwards. If the moves block Teddy Blueger and Zach Aston-Reese, that too will be a mistake.