The big shoe dropped on Monday and Pittsburgh Penguins GM Jim Rutherford finally lassoed one of the players he coveted. The Penguins finally got Jason Zucker, and the speedy, tenacious forward with a good shot was in the lineup on Tuesday night.
Looking ahead to the next 11 days, the Penguins can tinker. They can buy insurance. And Lord knows, with the way their season has gone, insurance is a good thing.
There is a lot of chatter, and some stern words from Minnesota Wild GM Bill Guerin, who challenged his team to chase a playoff spot, or the moving vans will line up.
5 Thoughts and 2 Bonuses
1. The Pittsburgh Penguins overpaid for Zucker. It’s a hard argument to make because he will most likely seamlessly fit with the Penguins and be successful. And therein lies the nuance of the discussion. The Penguins got their man, and the trade will benefit them.
Why I believe they overpaid is they could have done the deal less expensively. We believe the inclusion of Alex Galchenyuk in the deal raised the price, which cost the Penguins a promising defensive prospect, Calen Addison. Presumably, the Penguins included Galchenyuk to create additional cap space for the trade deadline.
The argument for the deal is easy: win now. If Zucker works, it was a great trade. The flip side argument is: the Penguins paid a first and a promising prospect for a player who was banished to the Minnesota fourth-line just last week.
The deal will work for the Penguins, but the odds are they’re going to miss Addison, in a couple of years.
2. If you don’t know it, or yet accept it, Matt Murray is and has been the Penguins starting goaltender. As PHN reported on Friday, coaches have discussed the situation with the netminders, and everyone is on the same page, even if the Penguins 1b goalie really, really wants a crack at it. The stats from NaturalStatTrick.com since Jan. 1 are pretty clear, though.
|Games Played||Goals Against||SV %||GAA||Goals Saved Above Average||High Danger SV%|
Which goalie would you choose? (Goalie 1 is Matt Murray).
What is more interesting are the Penguins summer plans. Both will need a contract and this town probably “ain’t big enough” for both of them. OK, the Penguins salary cap probably isn’t big enough for the both of them, unless the Penguins really squeeze Tristan Jarry.
Jarry has become a good NHL goalie with still more room to grow. Murray has proven himself to be a big-game goalie, and the Penguins hope to play in a lot of big games. The decision is easy if you don’t think about it. Otherwise, it will be another hard decision on goalies for the Penguins.
I would like to see Jarry in a few big games down the stretch. I believe he would own them.
Or, as Mike Sullivan would respond to the question, “As we’ve said all along, we have two good goalies.”
3. It appears Juuso Riikola will again be a center of debate. As one of Riikola’s first champions, I’ve waited for his big shot. I thought he played well with Erik Gudbranson in the final preseason games, and that was a good pair, but John Marino and Jack Johnson were an even better pair.
PHN chatted with Riikola in an unpublished story last month. He was upbeat and excited about his chance to get into the lineup for an extended look. The headline was going to be, “Keep it Simple,” which was a phrase Riikola repeated in our chat.
The Finnish defenseman has the physical tools. He’s quick, can shoot, doesn’t fear contact, and has good vision. The thing which Riikola lacks is enough ice time in a learning environment. He’s never been able to get comfortable and go through the growing pains of coming to North America. That’s my observation, not his.
Riikola and Chad Ruhwedel just don’t work together. Advanced stats aside, teams get to them, and coaches are forced to limit their defensive zone exposure, which contributes significantly to their advanced stat prowess. I first noticed their stat lines on Tuesday night when I peaked at NaturalStatTrick.com to complete the PHN+ report card.
A seventh defenseman isn’t supposed to play on a pairing with the eighth defenseman. It spoke volumes when Sullivan put Ruhwedel on the left side with Justin Schultz, not Riikola.
Perhaps they’ll rethink that after John Marino returns from his fractured facial bone in three to six weeks. Riikola and Schultz were stable in the third period against Tampa Bay on Tuesday night.
4. The Pittsburgh Penguins acquisition of Zucker will someday mean the Penguins can reunite Guentzel-Malkin-Hornqvist or Guentzel-Malkin-Rust. That could be a scary good top six: Zucker-Crosby-Rust, Guentzel-Malkin-Hornqvist.
But there is no guarantee the Penguins can afford Hornqvist next season, either.
For now, the biggest benefit is lineup stabilization.
“We have not been as consistent lately,” head coach Mike Sullivan admitted on Tuesday morning. The Penguins grew into the game on Tuesday night and despite their loss, they were playing very well in the third period, instead of hanging on for dear life. The trade gave the Penguins a shot of optimism again.
5. The Pittsburgh Penguins have a few more draft picks and some middling prospects to deal for depth players. In for a penny, in for a pound. The Penguins still have third, fourth, fifth, and six-round draft choices. The Penguins didn’t scout the LA Kings on Wednesday night, but we know they had someone in Montreal to watch the Canadiens-Bruins tilt.
Marco Scandella cost Montreal only a fourth-rounder last month. The playoffs would not be the time for Riikola to get more on-the-job training.
6. Trevor Daley has not had a good season in Detroit. Has anyone? He too, would be a good insurance policy for the Penguins blueline unless the Penguins deem his physical skills to be diminished.
7. The Washington Capitals should weigh heavily on the Penguins thinking over the next 12 days. The Penguins can grind and beat the New York Islanders in a Round One matchup. The Penguins system adherence and discipline will be tested, but the Penguins are better. Washington, however, has an equal amount or perhaps more depth of talent. They have more physicality (see also, Wilson, Tom).
Tuesday night, the Penguins took a pair of undisciplined penalties when things got chippy. In addition to depth, the Penguins also lack someone able to cool the temperature or provide that confidence that “it” will be handled.