Former Washington Capitals winger Jakub Vrana is available. The St. Louis Blues placed the LW on waivers Tuesday, one day later than expected, and teams will have until 2 p.m. Wednesday to decide if he’s worth another gamble.
Should the Pittsburgh Penguins take a look?
The Blues are currently one point out of a wild-card spot in the Western Conference despite a -12 goal differential. Jake Neighbors, Brandon Saad, and Kevin Hayes fill out the Blues’ top-nine left wings in Vrana’s absence, which is due to a lack of production.
Vrana had major shoulder surgery on the eve of the 2021-22 NHL season and played just 26 games for the Detroit Red Wings. He played only five more last season before entering the player treatment program and being traded to St. Louis, where he played 20.
This season, Vrana dressed for 19 games and has six points (2-4-6), with a minus-5 rating. His advanced metrics are at career lows, too. From Corsi to scoring chances and expected goals, he’s in the 41-42% range.
The answer from this keyboard is no. The Penguins have enough players who are struggling. Are Jansen Harkins or Radim Zohorna better? Probably not, but neither of those players constricts the Penguins’ cap situation.
The kicker on Vrana is the $2.62 million cap hit (Detroit is eating 50% of his $5.2 million AAV).
Even with Bryan Rust injured and out at least week-to-week and with Rickard Rakell still on the mend, this has every red flag of a tempting but unfruitful proposition.
For starters, Vrana’s numbers have been falling since he returned from surgery. The Penguins lines will soon have Rickard Rakell back in the top six, which means Drew O’Connor will go back to the third line. Only the best version of Vrana would play in the Penguins’ top six, which means he would be relegated to the more defensive-oriented third line.
And once Rust returns to the lineup, the Penguins cannot afford him. Only if Rust, or a commensurate salaried player, is out for the season would this make sense. However, even in that extreme circumstance, Vrana’s cap hit would significantly impair president of hockey operations/GM Kyle Dubas’s ability to add desired talent before the NHL trade deadline.
Sure, there is always the chance for a Kasperi Kapanen-like turnaround. St. Louis claimed Kapanen from the Penguins last season, and he’s been a solid fit for the club.
Unfortunately, Vrana is a 6-foot, 190-pound sniper who hasn’t snipped in a few years.
The biggest impediment is the salary, but the larger issue is the Blues needed a player like him and still followed through on this action.
The Penguins may have a similar situation developing on their blue line. It seems P.O Joseph could return to the lineup Tuesday against the Arizona Coyotes. He will be available. For the moment, that gives the Penguins seven NHL defensemen. However, Chad Ruhwedel is also soon to return, which would give the Penguins a surplus eighth defenseman.
Who will go?
Joseph, who has admittedly struggled this season, has a lot riding on his performance against the Coyotes. The last time he played was the Nov. 4, 10-2 drubbing of the San Jose Sharks. He was set to play again on Nov. 18, but he didn’t feel healthy enough to help the team.
Another struggle-bus performance could make the affable Joseph the odd man out.