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PHN Q&A: More Penguins Trades, Jason Zucker, and are Pens Done?

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Pittsburgh Penguins, Bryan Rust, Jake Guentzel

Since the beginning of my writing career, which coincided with my nightly shows on 93-7 the Fan, there has been an occasionally stated theme and intent for much of the work we’ve done. Changing perceptions, dogma, and appreciating the game of hockey is important. The Pittsburgh Penguins won’t always have a Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, or Sidney Crosby. It’s important to appreciate the NHL game and hockey as it exists, the spirit in which the league is run, and why.

The coming years of the Penguins are going to explain why that was important.

Many of you are beginning to fear. We received the first submissions for the PHN Q&A on Monday, but they weren’t about the NHL trade market or free agency. Instead, they spawned an immediate column about angst and the legacy bending effects for Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, and others.

Malkin seems to be bearing the brunt of the Penguins’ decline as a side effect of not being the best in the world. It remains some of the most unfair treatment I’ve ever witnessed.

It’s much like the years of misguided booing of Jagr, even though the Penguins had no choice but to trade him to survive. 

Hopefully, we’ve made a little dent in bringing hockey’s full scope and context, not Penguins hockey, to yinz. It may come in handy as the league evolves.

To the Q&A we go!

There are two parts to your question, Simon. Zucker has surprisingly good statistics with the Penguins. He scored nine goals in 38 games last season, about a goal in every four games. That’s a 20-goal season, even though he was a bit less than .5 points per game. The season before, he had 12 points (6-6-12) in 15 games.

However, Zucker’s stats outperform him, and it doesn’t feel like he impacts games as much as a $5.5 million player should. Even though the Penguins gave up a top prospect and a first-round pick to get him, don’t expect Zucker to be a highly sought player on the NHL trade market.

He’s a solid player, yes. There is a case to be made, yes. But this is where the eye tests and even the baseline stats diverge. Now the second part:

Using PuckPedia.com’s player dashboard, in Zucker’s salary range exists Jake Guentzel, Nikolaj Ehlers, Filip Forsberg, and Teuvo Teravainen. Players such as Mike Hoffman and–wait for it–Brandon Saad make less.

So, Zucker has value to the Penguins, but there are plenty of better resumes for the same or less cash.

Question 2:

The Penguins’ ability to blitz the NHL trade front is over. Now the hard work begins.

We can’t say the Penguins are done because we don’t yet know the Penguins roster. Their “final” roster won’t be known until one day after the NHL trade deadline in March. I’ve seen too many teams invigorated or scrambled at the deadline. See Jeff Carter. See Derick Brassard.

But is winning and losing all that matter? The Pittsburgh Penguins’ long playoff streak is in jeopardy. If not now, it’s likely going to end sooner than later, unless GM Ron Hextall can replenish the Penguins center depth. All of the Penguins pivots, except fourth-line center Teddy Blueger, are 34 and older.

Refer back to the opening of the Q&A. I grew up like most of you. Star power, talent, and finesse win games. The other teams that don’t have it are jealous. When a few people and experiences within the game opened the door to other ways of thinking, I REALLY began to enjoy hockey.

If winning and losing is all that matters, you’re going to hate hockey soon enough. There will be no reflected glory. The things to find joy in are the evolution of players, the growth of prospects, available trades, and, of course, second-guessing the GM and coaches on personnel. You know, all of the good stuff. It will be different, but it was often a lot of fun for the 10-12,000 fans that showed up from 2002-2004.

I don’t think the Pittsburgh Penguins are there yet. If they don’t make the playoffs this season, it will be because injuries ravaged them (again), or Philadelphia/New York squeaks by at the end.

Question 3:

Second question first. No. To flip Terence Stamp’s character from Yes Man, “No. Say it 1000 times. Say it 1000 more times. No!”

First, Bryan Rust. If the Penguins can’t find the money for a 27-goal, gritty, fast team player who bleeds for the team, then blow it up.

Now to the big enchilada. Again.

The only possibility that Malkin or Letang are traded is if they want to be dealt. Be it through high contract asks or forthright asks to go, at this point, that’s the only way, but we do not have any indication of that.

If Hextall trades Malkin or Letang at mid-season and gets only rental returns, it will have been awful, franchise-altering asset management.

Former GM Jim Rutherford said both should retire as Pittsburgh Penguins. GM Ron Hextall and Brian Burke have said all three should retire as Penguins. Unless you begin to hear differently from credible, reliable outlets (and not rumor sites), assume the answer is No Man, No!

To your first Q, Drizzy. That part perplexes me, too. I’ve been around and around with it in my head. I consider part of this job to be analysis, too. And I’ve looked at it from all angles. I must wonder if the prices on July 28 changed Hextall’s plans. He admitted to being surprised by the prices that day. Were there additional adds they wanted to make? Would that have precipitated a trade?

We’ll never know, but this team is a step back from last season. However, they’re setting up for the future by keeping “the future” in the system instead of trading Sam Poulin, Nathan Legare, Filip Hallander, or P.O. Joseph for immediate “win now” help.

The Final Rose:

Well, umm, err, maybe?

It seems the NHL trade chatter is frozen. The Pittsburgh Penguins have about $1.6 million in actual salary cap space, even as PuckPedia.com lists them at $121k. Sami Vatanen and Erik Gudbranson remain free agents and would fill the Penguins’ need for a right-side defenseman.

I see several forwards who could be available on PTOs or two-way deals, including Riley Sheahan, who would be a nice temporary add as fourth-line center as Malkin heals from knee surgery.

We’ve been through the defensemen here and the possible two-way deals here. 

But that biggie we all expected or wanted (to cover) seems remote.

Sorry.

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Rob
Rob
1 month ago

The next Q&A I want to ask if Malkin and Letang are going to be traded. I will never get it. Letang is their best defenseman(also the most physical) and continues to be one of their leading scorers. His play has not declined. Malkin is still playing at a high level as well. Injuries have been a problem, but that isn’t his fault. Hockey is a physical game, players get hurt all the time. Malkin played hurt in the playoffs and had more points than everyone on the first line. He is a heart and soul guy on the Penguins.… Read more »

Jason
Jason
1 month ago
Reply to  Rob

Concur. The ‘trade Malkin’ hype train makes no sense. The return for trading past their primes (its not a knock, its a fact) Malkin and Letang isnt going to bring a cup to Pittsburgh. So sign them to whatever 3 year deals they want, watch them spend their entire careers in Pittsburgh, and then hang up their jerseys in the rafters of PPG Paints Arena. Give them jobs in the organization if they want them, and bring both down on the ice the next time we win a cup. You know, like what could have been done with Jagr if… Read more »

Last edited 1 month ago by Jason
concernedpensfan
concernedpensfan
1 month ago
Reply to  Jason

the only reason one of them haven’t been traded already is their return would be much less than their current value to the team. Both are the DECLINE everyone can see it both players have had serious injuries and are now in the mid-30’s to many die hard pens fans who have seen some nightmare post-season play from Kris Letang who for every dazzle play has 3-4 bad pinches, turnovers, stupid retaliation penalty that leaves to momentum killing series. Check out the penguins post season since kris returned after the pens won cup iin 2017 without his services. Malkin- should… Read more »

Rob
Rob
1 month ago

Also, they have no trade clauses 🙄

Sid hasn’t been great in recent postseasons either. Trade him too!!!

Kris Francis Peterinelli
Kris Francis Peterinelli
1 month ago

I would argue that Letang is in decline. He has been relatively healthy the past couple of seasons. His decline is only father time, which no one can avoid. This is a business. The Steelers made a tough (but correct) call when they let Polamalu go. It was time. The same can be said for Geno. If you are resigning both him and Letang, then we are going to have a complete drop off when those three retire. And unfortunately in Pittsburgh, it you ain’t winning, the fans ain’t coming. For all the glory, this team has been bankrupt and… Read more »

moe
moe
1 month ago
Reply to  Rob

Letang and Malkin gave and give all the sweat and talent they have for this team. For some reason, it has become fashionable to talk about them as not so good, and could be traded. Both have won us Cups and been the best when it matters, and every game they play.

Kris Francis Peterinelli
Kris Francis Peterinelli
1 month ago
Reply to  moe

And Joe Greene and the Steel Curtain won 4 super bowls but Noll held on to too many of those players too long out of respect and the team suffered for quite a few years after that. Thank you for all you have done Geno, but we need to get younger and there are 9.5-million reasons why we must move on after this season.

Rob
Rob
1 month ago
Reply to  moe

Agree! I also will say that Crosby was the worst of the 3 in last seasons playoffs, possibly the last 2 postseasons, but i am not hearing any calls for his ejection? He constantly misses defensive coverage as well. Say what you will about how many goals Jarry gave up, but at least a handful of the goals were players wide open because of missed coverage by Sid. My point is no player is perfect so why are people zeroing in on just Malkin and Letang? If Malkin and Letang go, then so should Crosby, right? Who would be 2nd… Read more »

jackw
jackw
1 month ago
Reply to  Rob

Exactly right Rob. Calls to trade Malkin are rooted in ignorance and entitlement. Didn’t win a Cup this year? Must be Malkin’s fault, because – you know – online commenters are super geniuses who could turn any franchise into an annual Cup champion. And Hall of Fame superstars are mere pawns in the hands of such incomparable Master Manipulators.

PensFansAreDelusional
PensFansAreDelusional
1 month ago
Reply to  jackw

Didn’t win a cup this year? Bro, they have been embarrassed for 4 years straight in the post season, with Malkin and Letang being some of the worst players during that stretch. Between taking terrible penalties, ill-timed pinches, blind cross ice passes, and not producing on the score sheet, they have been heavy anchors weighing the future of the franchise down, instead of helping the team. You guys act like these people are your family and are owed loyalty to the end of time. It’s why Pens fans are the most delusional in all of sports.

Ken Colligan
1 month ago

I will say it once more. The most prominent player that Hextall has ever traded for is Radko Gudas. Do not expect him to change. Management will attempt to sell the glory days but the days of the Pens dominating the sports headlines are over. Being bad is one thing. Being bad with no ability to sell your fans hope is quite another.

Rob
Rob
1 month ago
Reply to  Ken Colligan

He will stay around through the rebuild and then be let go. That is my prediction.

Kris Francis Peterinelli
Kris Francis Peterinelli
1 month ago
Reply to  Ken Colligan

Ken, who are you trading right now to make us better? Guess he was right about the goalie not quite being ready for the NHL. That was what pushed him out, the lack of patience on the Flyers part. There is some good, young talent on that team that he acquired through this thing call the draft. May have heard of it. We used to participate but dealin’ Jimmy sold the farm.

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