It won’t be rocket science to replace All-Star winger Jake Guentzel who will be out of the Pittsburgh Penguins lineup for the next four-to-six months. Believe it or not, the Penguins already have the appropriate pieces.
Those pieces and replacements won’t be 40-goal scorers, but the Penguins will soon have a full lineup and Guentzel’s replacement is already on the roster. When Sidney Crosby returns to action perhaps in a week, or two, center Jared McCann should move back to his better position at LW. And, he should do so beside Crosby.
“We’re not looking at this with any long term approach. We’re taking a very shortsighted approach with this group, right now,” Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan said. “We’re looking at one game and that’s the San Jose game (Thursday) and the group of healthy players we have.”
Penguins center Nick Bjugstad is also closer to returning to the lineup. He will fill his more natural position as the Penguins third-line center.
Losing Guentzel is a big blow to an already fragile lineup which has used every last ounce of its depth just to hold this drum-and-fife, patchwork lineup together.
“He’s not an easy guy to replace, but we’ve lost some tough guys to replace here throughout the course of this whole season, but I know we have the wherewithal to continue to find ways to win,” Sullivan said.
Pittsburgh Penguins Lines Potential:
Within a few weeks, the Penguins lineup could look something like this (feel free to mix and match a few players, here or there. Sullivan will):
Guentzel’s slick ability to create offense and bury chances will be missed. However, McCann is the easy choice to fill the role.
However, before Crosby and Bjugstad return, the Penguins have enough center depth to survive, maybe.
“What we like about Jared on the wing are his speed and his scoring ability,” Sullivan said on the recent western Canada road trip about two weeks ago. “He’s got a pretty good straight-ahead game. He can take defensemen wide. He can get separation. And, when he gets that separation, he can finish.”
McCann also has just one goal in his last 14 games, all played at center. His grades on the PHN report cards have been spotty, not because he has played poorly but because his line has not provided enough pressure in the offensive zone.
It wasn’t all sunshine and sauerkraut ice cream last season, but McCann and Crosby had a spark. According to NaturalStatTrick.com, the pair played about 128 minutes together and their line accounted for seven goals. Averaging out that time at 5v5, it’s close to a goal per game average (perhaps seven goals in eight games).
We’ve seen what Malkin and Hornqvist can do together, too. Before you jump the gun, the Hornqvist-Crosby connection has long since cooled and attempts to revive it have been pronounced DOA.
“We’re going to have to try to figure out what combinations we think give us the best chance to win,” said Sullivan. “That’s the question I always pose to our coaching staff. We’ve always been believers in trying to set tandems. We think that helps us keep balance and consistency.”
Pittsburgh Penguins Trade Nonsense
While the NHL rumor sites jump into overdrive whipping fans into a frenzy with speculation passed as news, the Penguins are not desperate to make a move. It will be a tough couple or few weeks until both Crosby and Bjugstad return. The Penguins will be reduced to one scoring tandem with Malkin and Rust, and a handful of forwards who have worked hard to stay above water with intermittent offense.
For those clamoring for a Penguins trade, the simple question is not who can they acquire, but who could they deal without leaving a larger hole to fill?
Trades often take weeks, and sometimes months to come to fruition. This swift and unexpected blow will not result in an immediate blockbuster which brings the Penguins riches for the cost of yesterday’s bread.
Before the Guentzel injury, Bjugstad may have been a trade chip. Alex Galchenyuk was hanging by a thread, but his value is not great enough to bring the Penguins the type of player he has the potential to be.
In other words, as part of the Guentzel replacement, players like Galchenyuk and Dominik Simon will need to grab a stick and contribute some of the lost offense.
Through staggering adversity, the Penguins group has remained resilient and successful. If GM Jim Rutherford had his hopes rising, it was for good reason. It might be tempting to spend some of “the future” to fix some of “now.” Prospects like Calen Addison and Sam Poulin may attract a nice return, but Rutherford has begun to think of the future and avoided deals involving his first-round pick last year and last summer.
Something on the trade market may spring forth, but don’t expect much return. If the injury bug continues to chew at the Pittsburgh Penguins they may be forced to do something, but don’t expect charity from other NHL GMs.