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NHL Trade Rumors

Penguins Trade Grade: 2nd-Tier Hurricanes, Pens’ Loss Deeper than Guentzel



Pittsburgh Penguins trade, Michael Bunting, NHL trade, Carolina Hurricanes

The Pittsburgh Penguins did not get the top prospects, nor a top-six NHL player from the Carolina Hurricanes as Penguins president of hockey operations/GM Kyle Dubas zipped Sidney Crosby’s longtime sidecar Jake Guentzel to Carolina for three prospects, a conditional second-rounder that could become a first, and Dubas-acquainted winger Michael Bunting.

Bunting will plug a hole in the NHL lineup, though it might be more like a bathtub stopper on the Titanic.

Dubas managed to make a trade that is neither rebuilding nor retooling. It surely isn’t an improvement.

Poor Michael Bunting is going to bear the brunt of this trade, but he’s a solid contributing NHL winger. He’s just not a consistent top-six player.

With hours to go before the NHL trade deadline, the team lost more than Guentzel and lost more than a trade. They lost the pretense that they’re a team competing in the here and now, and they did so without adding players that would allow them to compete in the future.

The Penguins haven’t fortified their prospect pool, nor have they gotten better on the NHL ice. It’s hard to say what Dubas and the Penguins really accomplished.

Penguins Trade Grade: C-

Bunting, 28, has two more years remaining on his three-year deal that he signed on July 1, which carries an average annual value of $4.5 million. So, the Penguins saved $1.5 million there, but the Penguins are getting a LW with only 36 points and a minus-15 rating on the Hurricanes team with a plus-32 goal differential.

Bunting is a good puck-getter on the walls but inconsistent. He’s solid defensively. To play with Sidney Crosby, one must be excellent away from the puck, and Bunting might find a better home with Evgeni Malkin. But it’s always difficult to predict with which center a new winger finds chemistry.

The biggest negative of acquiring Bunting is the salary cap hit, which is 75% of Guentzel’s current salary, and the Penguins are on the hook for it. Bunting was an expensive third-line winger for Carolina, but he has long-standing ties to Dubas as a player for the Soo Greyhounds, and his breakout year was in 2021-22 with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Prior, Bunting was a depth signing from the Arizona system, where he bounced back and forth between the Coyotes and their AHL affiliate.

Quantity Over Quality

The prospects the Penguins received, Ville Koivunen, Vasili Ponomarev, and Cruz Lucius, are second-tier prospects with some talent but not a guaranteed NHL pedigree.

Koivunen, 20, is tearing up the Finnish Elite League and was part of Finland’s World Juniors team last January. He had two points in five WJC games. This season, he has 21 goals and 55 points in 57 games.

The 51st overall pick in 2021 is a bit raw, and scouting reports indicate he’s a little way away from the NHL. At 5-foot-11, 165 pounds, he needs to fill out to be competitive down low. That sleight frame won’t do it, but he does seem to have some hockey sense, and he knows how to score. His draft profiles noted his intensity.

Vasili Ponomarev, 21, is another undersized forward at 5-foot-10, 180 pounds. Skating is not his forte, but he’s creative and has put up acceptable offensive totals in the AHL. He had 46 points in 64 games, his first full season last year (24-22-46), and has 29 points in 39 games this year.

Ponomarev made his NHL debut this season and had two points (1-1-2) in two games. He, too, was ranked outside the top five in the Carolina system.

The third prospect, Cruz Lucius, was a fourth-rounder in 2022. The 19-year-old is a point-per-game player at Wisconsin and is 6-foot-tall but under 180 pounds.

Quantity over quality. There’s a little bit to get excited over in Koivunen. The Penguins seem to have a sweet tooth for the Finns, but 165 pounds is a long way from the NHL.

The Penguins will NOT be better next season because of this deal, nor is it likely to make them better in anything resembling a retool. The organization, which has wasted a fantastic season from Sidney Crosby with inaction, abandoned Crosby’s need for help. The offseason changes did little to reshape the team or rescue it from its slide to mediocrity.

More changes were needed as the season and results unfolded. None were forthcoming. Nothing changed Thursday.

Sure, in a couple of years,  maybe one of the prospects will pop. Maybe Koivunen.

Unless Carolina wins the Eastern Conference, the Penguins won’t get a first-round pick. They didn’t even get cap space to get better on July 1, and that might be the worst part of the deal.

When one rival GM last week called Dubas’s ask ridiculous, it should have sent warning bells. If Bunting is the best the Penguins get in the deal, perhaps Dubas should have pulled back and looked for a hockey trade.

This one will hurt.