It’s later August, the temperatures for most of our readers will be in the 90s (that’s about 33 degrees Celcius for our Canadian and Swedish friends who flock to Pittsburgh Hockey Now), while the NHL trade market has gone cold and the Pittsburgh Penguins issues are simmering on the back burner with training camp just a few weeks away.
Call me impatient, but the lack of movement on issues and the NHL trade market surprises me. The slowdown has been league-wide. It’s also why, even now, former Penguins GM Jim Rutherford doesn’t receive wholesale criticism. One of our final headlines before Rutherford’s surprise resignation last January, was “Is Rutherford Saving Cap Space for Impact Trade?”
You knew he was always up to something.
In addition to a pair of Stanley Cups, of course, Rutherford connected with that armchair GM in all of us and stirred the NHL trade market like grandma trying to find just the right balance of the spices in the chicken soup before Sunday dinner.
(That was my Grandmother. Maybe yours made meatballs?)
Rutherford kept us hopping. Or hoping. The next tinker, fix, change, was right around the corner. We don’t need to revisit the trade record right now, but it was always a wild ride.
1. Penguins GM CONTRAST
Sit down for this one.
In GM Ron Hextall’s introductory press conference, he was (perhaps) a little taken aback by the tone of our questions on one matter–his conservative approach, especially on the NHL trade market.
“I’m not a one-trick pony,” he said.
As Philadelphia Flyers GM between 2014-2018, the only first-round pick Hextall traded was to move back four spots in the 2016 first round. He added a second-round pick in the process. He traded down with Winnipeg from No. 18 to 22.
Otherwise, Hextall has acquired a few first-round picks in his GM’ing, including getting one for accepting defenseman Radko Gudas in exchange for Braydon Coburn. And he picked up two first-rounders with Jori Lehtera for Brayden Schenn in 2017 (one of those first-rounders was conditional).
That’s not a judgment or criticism.
Get this bit of contrast–As Flyers GM, Hextall made 14 trades in four years. However, in Jim Rutherford’s final 18 months on the job, from June 15, 2019, to his his final deal in October 2020, Rutherford made 15 deals. In the same four years, Rutherford made 53 trades.
Let those contrasts soak in for a moment. No judgment on right or wrong. That’s your first whistling slapshot past the Joffa clad mullet. The times they are a-changin’.
2. The current iteration of the Pittsburgh Penguins is surprisingly thin
We’re still unclear if the Pittsburgh Penguins offseason plans were derailed by the Crazy Eddy insane prices of July 28 or if it was always going to be the patient and steady approach.
Early season trades (except for the aforementioned Rutherford) are rare, so don’t expect Hextall to fling open the doors to the NHL trade market in October or November.
However, count me as surprised that the Penguins still have holes in the lineup in late August. To avoid divulging sources, we’ve chatted with several players and players’ camps. We haven’t yet found anyone to admit contact with the Penguins–and it’s entirely to their benefit to lie and say yes. So, we’re pretty sure they were truthful.
That doesn’t mean Hextall is on his hands–it likely means we haven’t fished in the right ponds.
But the Penguins currently lack a right-side defenseman who has proven everyday capability. They haven’t added much offense after losing Jared McCann (unless Danton Heinen has a career year), and who is the fourth center if Evgeni Malkin misses time?
There is no more offense to add via the free-agent market. It’s bone dry in that area.
What about the extra center? Perhaps it is Heinen. Or 29-year-old Michael Chaput, who signed a two-way deal on July 29. Chaput hasn’t scored an NHL point since five assists with the Montreal Canadiens in 2018-19 but did play 15 games over the last two seasons for Rick Tocchet in Arizona.
So, who is the extra center if/when any of the Penguins pivots suffers an injury? Given the Penguins’ infatuation with the injury bug, “when” is the more appropriate question. And having a capable fill-in seems to be imperative. Heinen or Chaput will have to be the second coming of Frederick Gaudreau.
Or the Penguins need to add that to the shopping list.
3. Penguins fans are right to wonder
Bigger, tougher, physicality…what happened?
4. Brian Burke?
You can still participate in the PHN reader poll here.
I won’t spoil the results, but there was a significant change throughout the day on Monday, especially regarding Ron Hextall’s offseason performance. I’ll publish the final results tomorrow, but strap yourselves in. That’s going to be the fanbase fight this season.
Hextall definitely has the unenviable task of presiding over the final phase of the Penguins Crosby-era dynasty. He is a competent GM with a good eye for young talent. Director of Player Personnel Chris Pryor is an important part of that process, too.
I think I share your surprise with the relative quietness of Brian Burke. He’s not a guy who shies away from a microphone or bold moves. His role wasn’t fully defined publicly, but he said Hextall was the GM and would be in charge of building the team.
Though Hextall reports to Burke.
How patient will Burke be if the Pittsburgh Penguins offseason concludes without addressing the above matters? Might he give Hextall a little nudge?
From what we know of both men from past jobs, it seems quite possible Burke might wait this out but light a little fire at mid-season pending the Penguins fortunes.
Going from division winner to out of the playoffs would be a BIG tumble and not look good unless significant changes for the future were underway.
Of all of the Penguins’ points of drama, that may be the most interesting one.