Pittsburgh Penguins president of hockey operations/GM Kyle Dubas did his best to quash the surging NHL trade rumors surrounding Jake Guentzel this week when he candidly said no trade talks had taken place.
Now, sports fans and media have come to know denial is often a public facade to buy time privately to deal with such matters, but to date, no one has actually reported discussions. Only speculation exists that because Jim Rutherford, Patrik Allvin, and Rick Tocchet are very familiar with Guentzel, he would be a perfect fit.
Fair enough. A lot of us wouldn’t mind seeing that crew hoist another Stanley Cup and the party in Vancouver.
However, in the debate over Guentzel’s future, both the immediate and long-term, everyone seems to be missing one point: What will be the fallout this season if Dubas deals Guentzel, and what will be the fallout over the next year?
To repeat my belief, Guentzel will neither be traded nor re-signed. He will become the Penguins’ trade deadline acquisition, and the team will go to war with the army they have, not necessarily the army they want.
The Penguins can win a playoff series or two, and that would be a successful season.
The point most often used by those in favor of the trade is, “You can’t let Guentzel get away for nothing!”
Answer: A playoff run isn’t “nothing.” Every year, teams across the league add rentals at the NHL trade deadline, and many of those teams don’t advance past Round One. Keeping Guentzel past the deadline is akin to the Penguins putting their chips on the table and taking a chance. Making the playoffs or extending their season isn’t “nothing.” Extending the season is the ticket that teams pay handsomely for.
The point everyone is missing regarding a Guentzel trade is the fallout, immediate and longer term.
Keeping Guentzel is that ticket to the big dance. If the Penguins trade him, they probably won’t make the playoffs unless they magically get a replacement in the trade. That won’t happen (Why would a team give up a player that could replace Guentzel in a trade for Guentzel?)
The Penguins offense has been far dependent on Sidney Crosby and Guentzel this season.
The only player who might be able to replace Guentzel is Evgeni Malkin, and we don’t think coach Mike Sullivan or Malkin wants the move to LW, at least not yet. It should happen sooner than later, but next season is the likeliest time to broach that topic.
Statistically, the probabilities are the Penguins will be in a fight for a spot, and they will make it. The goal differential is the biggest tip-off. The teams they’re fighting have red numbers. That usually catches up with teams in the second half when the game tightens.
If they miss the playoffs or make them but aren’t competitive without Guentzel, the larger fallout could be the hockey version of tectonic plates shifting.
How will Malkin, Kris Letang, and perhaps even Crosby receive the news their team traded away one of their last chances? The Penguins are unlikely to get immediately better by trading Guentzel. So, it’s quite conceivable a Guentzel trade would be viewed in the locker room as the organization waving the white flag on their careers. Some ill feelings could follow.
I can already hear many of you saying, “GOOD,” but that’s another subject for another day.
Guentzel doesn’t really fit with the Penguins’ life cycle. The team is coming to the final few years, and Guentzel is not. He’s a complimentary piece. There may not be anyone to compliment in a few years.
Also, Guentzel’s physical stature may not allow him to age well. He already takes a beating and isn’t the fastest or strongest guy. He will command a five or six-year deal for a team with a real chance to win now, and teams that can truly win it all now don’t care about the future.
The Penguins are not in that position.
Pulling on the Guentzel thread has more than a few negative outcomes. But keeping him this season and using the money in July to more appropriately position the organization for the coming to rebuild or retool makes sense.
Sure, if the Penguins are several points out of a playoff spot, a Guentzel trade is almost mandatory, and the team should absolutely follow through. But I don’t think that’s the likeliest scenario.
The most likely scenario is the Penguins are in a playoff spot near the NHL trade deadline, and giving up Guentzel, even for a solid return of future potential, would have quite a fallout.
And remember, the Penguins had a ridiculous run from 2001-2006 and hit on almost every top pick. The odds of that were staggeringly long. It probably won’t happen again. Trading Guentzel or other players for draft picks only yields hope, usually not results.
Ask Buffalo, Ottawa, and Detroit about fire sales and recouping draft picks, hoping to be competitive quickly. Any team that wants to acquire Guentzel will be a team chasing a Stanley Cup — those teams pick at the back of the first round.
According to analysis, later first-round picks have around a 60% chance of becoming impactful NHL players and a much smaller percentage become regular top-six forwards or top-four defensemen.
So, trading Guentzel could yield … nothing.
And that’s why the best trade the Penguins could make is trading Guentzel to themselves as a rental.