The Pittsburgh Penguins just finished a five-game winning streak to surge into a playoff spot, though it’s tenuous as their lead is just a point or two over several teams which have games in hand, too. The Penguins have found players fill bigger roles, such as Evan Rodrigues and Danton Heinen, but are the Penguins good enough to hold the playoff spot without some serious shopping on the NHL trade market?
Two names are now front and center in the NHL trade rumors. Both Jake DeBrusk and Evander Kane have worn their welcome with the Boston Bruins and San Jose Sharks, respectively. DeBrusk’s agent confirmed publicly that the winger requested a trade over the weekend. The Sharks put the troubled Kane on waivers Sunday but otherwise have no idea how to handle the complicated situation, including teammates that do not want him back.
The Penguins couldn’t.
GM Ron Hextall shouldn’t.
Elliotte Friedman reported one Eastern Conference team was interested. It’s probably not the Penguins, but the idea has some merit.
The Case for Evander Kane
Kane, 30, was ostracized in the San Jose Sharks locker room after being a poor teammate and ruffling nearly everyone’s feathers, from the coaches to the depth players. Sharks players reportedly told management they didn’t want Kane back this season. The NHL almost decided for them, as Kane was under investigation after his ex-wife accused him of gambling on NHL games and abuse.
Ultimately, the NHL cleared him on those charges but suspended Kane for 21 games because he faked his vaccine card. The Sharks have treated Kane like a hot potato and decided to put him through waivers to assign him to the AHL San Jose Barracuda.
“There’s nothing clear-cut. It’s just an ongoing observation, I think of hockey, but, at the same time, conduct or anything like that. I guess it’s what you don’t see,” acting Sharks GM Joe Will said on Sunday. “So, it’s just getting to playing hockey and just getting down to business. There’s not really a goal set or a set accomplishment or timeline or production, but it’s just an overall thing (for Kane to get back to the NHL).
Kane is trouble, but he’s also a 30-goal caliber power forward with speed, power, and finish. If not for character issues, he would be a Brian Burke-type player. That’s only the beginning of the case to do it. In addition to potentially being an impact player, Kane will be affordable. The Sharks already know to move him on the NHL trade market, they will have to eat up to 50% of his $7 million salary.
They probably know they will also have to include a first-round draft pick.
After this season, Kane has three more seasons remaining on his contract. Is a potentially high draft pick worth the hassle?
Our colleague in San Jose, Sheng Peng, opined that a team with an established culture and strong leadership could be a good fit. Kane needs someone to keep him in line. A combination of Sidney Crosby and Mike Sullivan could keep him straight?
Kane fell in line with the Sharks when they were led by Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski.
Believe it or not, the Penguins could accelerate their retool with Kane. Among the forwards, Evgeni Malkin, Jeff Carter, and Bryan Rust will be unrestricted free agents next summer. Evan Rodrigues, Danton Heinen, and Zach Aston-Reese are also UFAs.
That first-round pick would be pretty important, even if Kane inevitably alienates the Penguins, too. Most draftniks consider the 2022-25 drafts to be deep with plenty of high-end talent.
It is just a wee bit crazy, or a lot crazy, but if they think they can get two more seasons out of him, the secondary benefits may be worth the price of admission.
If there’s a time to take on a contract in exchange for a first-round pick, it’s some time closer to June.
And Why Kane is a Hard No
But here’s why it’s an absolute no-fly for the Pittsburgh Penguins: There is no hope for players who behave worse as they get older. Most of us mature and settle down at least a bit, but it appears Kane veers from unlikeable to out of control. The Penguins have the kids on the way from P.O. Joseph to Sam Poulin and Nathan Legare.
A bad apple can lead others astray pretty quickly or create a toxic environment. Even for a player who checks every box the Penguins need, a first-round pick isn’t worth the danger.
Sullivan was able to keep Phil Kessel between the guardrails for most of three seasons, even as Kessel contributed a few gray hairs and plenty of frustration. Kane makes Kessel seem like a comparative Mary Poppins caliber coaching dream.
Maybe after Kane hits rock bottom and realizes how far afoot he’s gone.
If there’s one team that could handle Kane, it’s probably the Pittsburgh Penguins. Sheng Peng also mentioned the Washington Capitals and Carolina Hurricanes as other eastern teams that could make it work.
Jake DeBrusk, NHL Trade Darling
The more plausible of the two, DeBrusk is a power forward in waiting. However, since the Bruins 2019 Stanley Cup Final run, in which DeBrusk was an integral piece, he and coach Bruce Cassidy have been at odds.
DeBrusk’s agent confirmed to TSN they asked for a trade. DeBrusk will stay with the Bruins while the team attempts to accommodate him. Daren Dreger already reported there are eight teams interested, and more could follow.
DeBrusk, 25, carries a $3.675 million cap hit through this season and will be an RFA after the season, so control is not an issue. What is an issue with DeBrusk is consistency.
Our colleague Jimmy Murphy, who has covered DeBrusk for several years, offered us the following analysis: “Skill, effective when feet are moving hard. North-south guy, lacks that extra shift of intensity in too many occasions.”
The 6-foot, 194-pound winger is a natural LW who doesn’t mind going towards the net. His outlier year was 27 goals and 42 points over 65 games in 2018-19. He’s scored 27 goals in 122 games since.
The Penguins have every reason to consider DeBrusk. He’s popular in the locker room, he’s got some personality, but he has struggled and doesn’t jibe with Bruce Cassidy. It happens. DeBrusk is not unlike Jason Zucker, who fell out of favor in Minnesota after an outlier 30-goal season.
Consistency is DeBrusk’s achillies heel. As an RFA at season’s end, a team can take a chance on DeBrusk and sign him to a short-term deal if they’re encouraged. Or, a team could walk away, too.
Since both the Penguins and Bruins appear to be locked into a battle for the wild-card spots, perhaps a deal would be even more difficult, but a nose for the net, hands, and a north-south game sure are enticing.
Wanting DeBrusk is easy. Making a trade work for both teams is probably pretty tough.