ANAHEIM — Rickard Rakell and Jake Guentzel have question marks surrounding their future with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
But those questions are for entirely different reasons and spawn a different line of questions. Will Rakell land on the NHL trade block? Will Guentzel re-sign easily, or is his time with the Penguins coming to an end?
Rather than a wide-ranging Penguins Q&A, this time, we’ll hyper-focus on the Penguins wingers and their futures with the team. Rickard Rakell is increasingly under the microscope for his slow start, and Guentzel’s contract status is again in question.
The Rakell question isn’t so easy.
With Rakell current production situation and a 5m cap hit, is it worth trading him and possibly funding a couple lower cost or one same cost replacement to give some new life to the team?
— PengWINS (@faci_nate) November 6, 2023
Well, yes, I do think Rakell could land on the NHL trade block, but not because of his slow start. Certainly, it was a curiosity that he had just one assist in the first nine games despite linemate Evgeni Malkin having 11 points and Reilly Smith having seven.
It’s a slump, and those happen. Rakell had two assists and missed a couple of glorious chances in the 10-2 blowout over the Sharks Saturday.
The reasons I think Rakell might eventually hit the market are his salary and his style of game. The Penguins need some jam in the dirty areas. They’re not winning enough net-front battles in the offensive zone, and they could use a player able to play in that area.
Bryan Rust is a speedy puck retriever who is gritty in the corners and can fish out a puck near the net, but he’s not a player built to go to the net and wait for the puck, either at full strength or on the power play.
Rakell is a skill player. He’s not been hard to play against, and losing his spot on the top power play is indicative of the changing game, the team’s changing needs, and his ability to fill the role.
Also, he should have some value on the market. In addition to some muscle up-front, the Penguins could also upgrade the back of their defensive pairings.
One thing to note: Rakell does MUCH better on Sidney Crosby’s line than he does Malkin’s wing. According to NaturalStatTrick.com, including all of last season, there’s a 10% swing on GF (58%-48%) and a 6% swing on scoring chances (58%-52%). In terms of converting high-danger chances, there is a huge 25% difference when Rakell plays with Crosby (67.5%) compared to Malkin (43%).
Rakell has played almost exclusively with Malkin this season, presumably because Rust has been such an asset to the Crosby line. However, expect Sullivan to tinker with that arrangement as he’s done often in the past.
I would also expect his name to be out there on the NHL trade market this season for the above reasons and because the Penguins have little else to use as bait.
What type of contract is Guentzel expected to get (AAV/term)?
— Del Scott (@delscott331) November 6, 2023
Before I offer a projection, I think a more important question is: What is the difference between Guentzel’s term expectation compared to Sidney Crosby’s career arc?
If Crosby has a few more years left, would it really make sense to dish a six-year deal to Guentzel? The Penguins winger is a unique talent who can think the game with Crosby or Malkin and find a way to provide offense despite physical limitations.
Coach Mike Sullivan was recently asked if he could have foreseen Guentzel’s rise in the NHL (he just hit 200 goals in 463 games). With a little self-effacing humor but a big nugget of truth, Sullivan began with, “Well, no,” before getting into the reasons Guentzel has succeeded.
For his positives, Guentzel will need a center and a good one.
Because of his physical stature, Guentzel will probably age quicker than most, too.
My blunt assessment is that I’m not sure Guentzel should be in the Penguins’ long-term plans. Assuming they’re in the playoff race at the NHL trade deadline, Guentzel will remain with the Penguins because it would cost more on the trade market to replace him than they would fetch by dealing him.
On the eve of the regular season, President of hockey operations/GM Kyle Dubas said the priority before talking contract with Guentzel’s camp would be getting him healthy. Guentzel has proven himself healthy, but he’ll turn 30 next October.
A five or six-year deal is the going rate, but can anyone imagine paying a premium for a 35-year Guentzel to play with a 41-year-old Crosby?
This situation might be painful next summer unless Guentzel is willing to sign a team-friendly deal.
Discontented fans like to call for Jarry and/or Sullivan to be replaced, without having any idea who would or could replace them. But, without expressing discontent or suggesting that change on either front is possible or likely, do any names occur to you?
— Evan McLaren (@evan_r_mclaren) November 6, 2023
I won’t discuss coaching alternatives until Sullivan is no longer the coach of the Penguins, and that is presumably no time soon.
However, for Jarry, let’s cut to the quick. People were unhappy with him last season. He was injured and inconsistent. When the Penguins signed him to a five-year deal with a $5.375 million AAV, some were further annoyed.
It seems those people who were unhappy have pounced on the slow start. No, Jarry has not been good in most of the Penguins games, but his contract and his start are separate issues. Yes, I know in our world, opinions are forever, and they must be proven right with daily hammering on social media until the world surrenders.
The Jarry questions are premature. He’s a Penguins goalie for the foreseeable future, and there’s no point rehashing anything before October. The Penguins signed the best goalie on the market for a slightly under-market value, probably in exchange for an extra year.
That’s just how these things work. The Anaheim Ducks are winning games, and so John Gibson is off the market, or at least should be. The Jets extended Connor Hellebuyck for seven years beyond this season at $8.5 million per season.
I wouldn’t touch that Hellebuyck contract.
Other teams are getting desperate for goaltending. Ask the 2-7-1 Edmonton Oilers, who are getting terrible netminding. I suspect the LA Kings will be aggressive on the market sooner rather than later. Toronto is wondering what’s up with Ilya Samsonov, too.
So, just sit tight. Let things play out for several more months before proclaiming, “I was right, Jarry isn’t…”