The hardest part about writing an analysis of the Penguins’ push toward the NHL trade deadline is worrying that general manager Jim Rutherford will swing a move before the thing can get written and published.
That’s the hardest part by only a little, though. It’s not exactly easy to surmise what the Penguins should do, and, even more so, what they will do before 3 p.m. Eastern on Monday.
The team’s performance, its tale of two seasons, has changed the outlook considerably. Before the holidays, the Penguins were mired in inconsistency and sometimes on the cold side of the playoff cutoff. Their performance since the start of the calendar year has pretty much been all that could be expected of a championship team trying to three-peat.
Before this 16-4-1 stretch, there was understandable hand-wringing. At that time, it was about what the Penguins needed before the trade deadline, and it seemed like a lot. Now, it’s better described as what the Penguins want.
And, of course, what they can get at what price that might make them even stronger.
Their surge ought to make Rutherford more comfortable with the idea that his club could be a bona fide contender to win another Stanley Cup as is or with tweaks rather than the type of blockbuster move(s) that might have been expected two or three months ago. Plus, it will be almost like making a one-sided trade when wingers Patric Hornqvist and Tom Kuhnhackl return from injury.
What if JR Has Itchy Fingers?
That doesn’t mean Rutherford will sit on his hands. You get the idea he likes doing some wheeling and dealing. He might be able to make the Penguins even better.
But there are questions that need to be addressed.
First, from a philosophical standpoint, should winning the Cup again in 2018 be the sole driving force? No, it shouldn’t. The Penguins can be all in without heavily mortgaging the future. There is no indication that Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel and Kris Letang are about to hit an age wall. Certainly, Matt Murray is still at the beginning of his career.
That core has more than earned the comfort of having a good enough team around it to compete for a few more Cups. That and going for a three-peat aren’t mutually exclusive. But going all in this year at a large expense to the future could mean fewer Cups in the long run over the Crosby/Malkin era.
That means the Penguins have to be careful not to leave the cupboard too bare by sacrificing multiple prospects (the thought here is that Daniel Sprong should not be dealt), roster players and draft picks for one or two potential impact players. Bringing in rental players, who would be eligible for unrestricted free agency in the summer, becomes a bigger risk.
We’ve All Heard the Names…
It’s easy to get on the Derick Brassard bandwagon. He would give the Penguins a potential embarrassment of riches at center, and his $5 million cap hit next season – he’s signed through 2019 – is doable with the cap expected to go up next season. Imagine, though, the bidding war for Brassard and the hot-to-the-touch price tag.
Plus, there is no ironclad guarantee the Penguins would find the right chemistry in their lines with Brassard centering the third line. They don’t really have time to turn their configurations into a Rubik’s Cube exercise, especially now that Riley Sheahan is looking more and more like a solid third-liner.
Matt Cullen, even as a rental guy, would be a welcome and more affordable option who would be familiar enough not to upset things. Plus, you know, the Dad thing – something that was thrown out as the biggest missing element before things got going in such a strong direction and remains something the Penguins could use. But is the Wild willing?
Michael Grabner? Sure, he’s zippy with a scoring touch. But he’s a rental, and the Rangers aren’t going to just hand him over to a division rival that’s already flush.
A veteran backup goalie? Only if the Penguins opt to give up one of their prospects, particularly Tristan Jarry, which they should not do.
Even if the price makes sense, there is a risk to making a splash. Sometimes the sum of the parts doesn’t always equal the whole that existed before. Chemistry sometimes gets altered. New players, or existing players thrust into different roles, don’t always prosper.
Given all of that, the Penguins don’t necessarily need to make any moves. It would be great if they could make a trade or two they want and like without paying a steep price based on a perceived need. But that’s asking a lot.