The wound is still fresh. The Pittsburgh Penguins suffered their worst loss of the season on Tuesday morning when All-Star winger Jake Guentzel had shoulder surgery. He will be out four to six months, and the Penguins will be without their best winger for the remainder of the season. The immediate outcry from fans was for a quick Penguins trade to salvage the season.
But is that necessary?
Guentzel isn’t just the Penguins best winger, he is far and away the biggest Penguins scoring threat beyond Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin. His 40 goals last season put him in further rarified air. Guentzel was the first 40-goal scorer not named Malkin or Crosby since James Neal scored 40 in 2011-2012. Before that, it was Alexei Kovalev (44) and Jaromir Jagr (52) in 2000-01.
And so the Penguins are again left to regroup after an injury, but this time it’s for the rest of the season. As GM Jim Rutherford evaluates his team between now and the Feb. 24 NHL trade deadline, Guentzel will not be a factor, but the hole he left behind will be.
At practice on Wednesday at the UPMC Lemieux Complex, head coach Mike Sullivan inserted Alex Galchenyuk in Guentzel’s spot on the top line with Evgeni Malkin and Bryan Rust.
Should Rutherford aggressively pursue a Penguins trade to fill the void, and what are the logistics?
A Penguins Trade: It’s easier said than done.
Rutherford is a horse trader capable of a hockey trade, like few of his colleagues. His Hall of Fame induction wasn’t unearned and a couple of recent Penguins trades, including the acquisition of defenseman Erik Gudbranson last February, came together within a week. Such quick deals are the exception, not the norm.
PHN learned Penguins kicked the tires on Nick Bjugstad for over a year. Our first report the Penguins liked Bjugstad was in the summer of 2017. He was finally acquired with Jared McCann in February 2019, after McCann became the object of the Penguins desires and Florida’s long term plans changed to include the pursuit of high priced Russian talent.
So, don’t expect a rapid turnaround deal to fill the Guentzel roster spot.
We’ve already dug through the rentals who may or may not hit the market. However, there are obstacles. Rutherford seems to have built up enough goodwill around the league with fair deals, so other GMs don’t seem to rake him over the coals when they have the chance.
Let’s be real. Who do the Penguins have available to deal?
Justin Schultz is a name which is gathering steam on social media, but let’s bring that into focus. Could the Penguins replace Schultz on the second pair with John Marino? Yes. However, that would eventually mandate the third pairing of Jack Johnson and Chad Ruhwedel and would put a lot of pressure on Marino on the second pair. Marino isn’t yet the point producer that Schultz has become.
Those are two negatives to dealing Schultz.
Kris Letang-Schultz-Marino is a far stronger right side than Letang-Marino-Ruhwedel. Oh, and Schultz is still on the training table, not the ice, so he’s off the board for the short term.
Follow me on this one. If Bjugstad is on the block, could the Penguins get a better winger than Jared McCann? If the Penguins deal Bjugstad, McCann would slide to 3C, and thus the Penguins would lose McCann the wing. And Bjugstad has been a better center than McCann, so the math is difficult; unless the Penguins can get a better winger than McCann, they would have a double loss by dealing Bjugstad.
There seems to be some revisionist history occurring. At center, McCann has one goal in his last 14 games. His advanced stats in the middle are also underwater. McCann’s great offensive awakening began with his move to the wing, last season.
Would Rutherford deal a prospect for a rental player? Or even for a mid-level winger? Conversely, would the Penguins prospects net a return of a mid-level winger?
If the Penguins deal a prospect for a winger, it is highly unlikely that winger will be a rental. Mortgaging the future for the immediate no longer seems to be in Rutherford’s purview.
Rutherford could package a prospect like 19-year-old defenseman Calen Addison who is currently with Team Canada in the World Juniors, or 20-year-old PO Joseph of the WBS Penguins with picks to acquire scoring help. Joseph is in his first professional season and has just six points (1g, 5a) in 23 games and is a minus-four.
But acquiring a player with salary for next season means those financial resources already earmarked for Jared McCann, Marcus Pettersson, Matt Murray and/or Tristan Jarry, and Justin Schultz or his replacement will be spent.
With all of those obstacles and logistical impediments, Rutherford has the challenge to add offense to the Penguins lineup.
So, should Rutherford move aggressively? No. His better play is to wait to see how the team with Crosby, Malkin, Hornqvist, and Schultz comes into focus. To see what players step forward in the absence.
Dominik Kahun, Alex Galchenyukk or others will get a chance. And perhaps one or both of those players will be as good as anything the Penguins could acquire without weakening their lineup or sacrificing future gains.
But, if the right deal comes along in the meantime, another Penguins trade certainly couldn’t hurt.