Leave it to Lou Lamoriello to find a completely legal but entirely dirty way to gain an advantage. Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman officially put Marcus Pettersson’s name on the NHL trade block, perhaps Jason Zucker, too, but I’m going to strongly caution about doing a victory lap or spending that cap money before the Pittsburgh Penguins have it.
This is why I laid out the Penguins lines last weekend. In a bubble, you can forget the big picture. Looking at the Penguins lines should give no hope that they’re a strong contender. As the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers get better, the playoffs seem more in doubt than ever, unless Jeff Carter maintains his 40-goal pace.
The analytics crowd will be stunned when the Flyers don’t fall into oblivion. One must assume Carter Hart will be much better, too.
Pittsburgh Penguins One-Timers
1. Marcus Pettersson, NHL Trade Rumors Aren’t What We Think
Elliotte Friedman, on his 31 Thoughts podcast, stated the Penguins have interested parties for Pettersson. There are a couple of teams who like his style.
Now, hold your horses. As we’ve cautioned before, if there were a good deal or even an acceptable deal for Pettersson on the NHL trade front, it would have been done already. Pittsburgh Penguins GM Hextall most probably would have done it before the expansion draft, which cost the Penguins Brandon Tanev and Jared McCann. Hextall would have done a deal before the NHL draft so the Penguins could recoup a pick or two. It would have been done before free agency, so Hextall had what my grandfather used to call “some flinching money.”
I’m not sure what my Grandfather was doing in his younger days that it was called “flinching money,” but it means to have some cash in your pocket if you need it.
Read the tea leaves here. Hextall is most likely faced with the choice of giving up draft choices or a prospect to move Pettersson because of his $4.025 million salary. Losing draft picks or prospects is a choice Hextall has thus far rejected. The play here is to wait for a team to give up on the UFA market or other options and come to the table straight up.
Just remember, the Vegas Golden Knights dealt the reigning Vezina Trophy winner Marc-Andre Fleury for no tangible return because of his salary.
2. Lou Lamoriello Believed to be Not Reporting Contracts
If true, the New York Islanders are absolutely violating the spirit of the rules. An NHL GM is not reporting contracts, so his team has a stronger negotiating position? I think at this point, there are enough credible reports, from Sportsnet to TSN to New York media, that we can accept this one as fact.
We can also accept that is dirty pool. It’s akin to hiding poker chips in your pocket. That kind of deceptive behavior would get a card player in serious trouble back in the Wild West. It’s dishonest. It’s secretive dealing in a public entertainment business. If you haven’t noticed, the hockey crowd goes wild for trade and player movement, including free agency.
A soap opera without drama is just lame theater on a cheap soundstage. A hockey without player movement drama is hockey with a LOT fewer fans.
And the NHL will probably find no fault with it.
So, get ready for less and less news on July 1, as teams agree to deals but sit on the paperwork, so no one knows who signed where and we get to guess at rosters. Heck, if they’re secret deals, why not agree to them weeks before July 1?
The Islanders can technically exceed the salary cap by a mile on the NHL trade front because some contracts are not on the books. They can then make additional moves without other teams holding their feet to the fire. They could blow past the 10% salary cap excess limit because the other contracts are hushed.
Lamoriello is a shrewd GM who is a good judge of talent and knows how to build a winning roster. The other silliness like throwing a reporter out of his office for not wearing a tie or not having reading Vince Lombardi’s biography, barring staff from having facial hair, and this CIA-level secrecy is also maniacal control.
In 2013, Lamoriello also came under scrutiny for creative ways to get Ilya Kovalchuk off his books after signing him to a monster 15-year contract in New Jersey. Kovalchuk “retired” to play in the KHL with 12 years remaining, then come back to the NHL five years later, as a free agent. New Jersey was free and clear.
The NHL and NHLPA need to step in and nip this one in the bud. If the Islanders have signed Kyle Palmieri, Travis Zajac, or anyone else, those chips need to be on the table.
3. The Chicago Blackhawks Will Release the Findings of Their Independent Investigation
In 2010, Chicago’s video coach allegedly sexually assaulted a couple of players, though the “IF” the assaults occurred isn’t really being questioned. The primary questions are–What did Chicago management know, when did they know it, and why didn’t they do anything about it?
After one season, Chicago GM Stan Bowman fired the video coach, Brad Aldrich, but gave the coach a positive recommendation to coach a high school team. You can guess the horror that happened next.
Blackhawks CEO Danny Wirtz has pledged full transparency and to release the findings of the organization’s report.
It’s 2021. No matter what it says, will anyone believe it? If it’s the worst-case scenario, people will dispute it. If it’s light on facts and absolves much of the Chicago org, people will condemn it.
I had a high school teacher back in 1992. He was a hippie sort (I mean that genuinely) and our religion teacher. He tried to explain there was no truth, only personal perspectives. I argued with him. I’m still right, but his side won. We live in a post-truth world, and there are no ways to convince people because someone only needs others to support their opinion for it to be valid.
Apply that corollary as you will.
In the end, this Chicago situation is going to be ugly.
4. The Penguins Will Miss/Make the Playoffs?
Their lines are not good enough to compete with the top teams in the Eastern Conference. That much looks pretty clear when you lay them out. We can debate where Zach Aston-Reese or Evan Rodrigues fits, if Sam Poulin or Filip Hallander may draw in, but to expect any of those players to be substantial difference-makers would be using hope as a strategy.
Hextall has work to do.
5. Jim Rutherford Really Hamstrung the Pittsburgh Penguins
I know. Water is wet. Kylie Jenner is ridiculously rich, with emphasis on ridiculous.
But where Rutherford specifically erred was not the carousel of player movement that some harp upon. No, it was dishing hefty contracts to young defensemen who lacked a purebred pedigree.
John Marino was a sixth-round pick acquired for a sixth-round pick. Marcus Pettersson was a pressbox defenseman in Anaheim. Each had exciting first years with the Penguins, followed by an expiring contract. In Pettersson’s case, he had to sign his qualifying offer because the Penguins simply didn’t have the money for a long-term deal–until January.
By then, Pettersson had settled into the player he is today, which doesn’t have the same luster or potential as when he arrived for Daniel Sprong in December 2018. However, Rutherford dished the long-term contract with a $4.025 AAV anyway.
I like Marino very much. He had a sophomore slump but really shined when called upon as a top-pairing defender. The book is not yet written on Marino, but he’s being paid as if he’s an established defenseman.
Rutherford splashed the cash but didn’t get a bargain on either one. Rutherford’s penchant for being “fair” cost the Pittsburgh Penguins here. The team didn’t use their leverage, and now it will likely cost them a player.
In the fall of 2019, the Penguins’ logjammed defense was broken by dumping Erik Gudbranson on the NHL trade market. That wasn’t Rutherford’s first choice–recall the Jack Johnson trade report that didn’t come to pass. We could see a similar Penguins trade scenario with Pettersson, in which Marino becomes the unintended sacrificial lamb.