Sometimes I hear things which don’t comport with things I understand to be true. Sometimes what I’m told doesn’t jive with publicly stated goals. And so the latest batch of Pittsburgh Penguins rumors which have fans stirring has me just a little, or a lot, skeptical. You may also thank me as I’ve written this sentiment twice before and within 48 hours of each publishing, Penguins GM Jim Rutherford made a move, though his moves made sense.
The first of the Penguins rumors which are percolating in several fanbases across the NHL involves acquiring Nikita Gusev from the Vegas Golden Knights. Several fanbases think their team OR the Penguins will snatch the KHL MVP from Vegas.
It would be fair to say there is a little buzz in the Penguins organization about the possibility, too. Perhaps they get as excited by rumor mill sites as everyone else. But it doesn’t fit. Gusev would require something between $4-$6 million to sign. Even on the low end of the spectrum, the Penguins would need to deal two of the following: Bryan Rust, Jack Johnson, and Nick Bjugstad. Though we could toss Alex Galchenyuk on the list, too?
The Penguins would need to clear at least four million, make a deal with Vegas, AND then find enough money for Marcus Pettersson, Zach Aston-Reese and Teddy Blueger. What would the Penguins lineup look like after that? Here is one current iteration set against what it would it could look like with Gusev.
Expected Penguins Lines
|Jason Zucker||Sidney Crosby||Dominik Simon|
|Jared McCann||Evgeni Malkin||Bryan Rust|
|Patric Hornqvist||Teddy Blueger||Brandon Tanev|
|Dominik Kahun||Andrew Agozzino||Sam Lafferty|
Penguins Lines with Gusev
|Jake Guentzel||Sidney Crosby||Dominik Kahun|
|Nikita Gusev||Evgeni Malkin||Patric Hornqvist|
|Alex Galchenyuk||Jared McCann||Brandon Tanev|
|Zach Aston-Reese||Teddy Blueger||Dominik Simon|
Another possibility is the Penguins also have to deal players like Blueger just to make it all work. The team could leave itself perilously thin.
Moving past that fear, there is a significant falloff in the third line with Gusev. Jared McCann’s offensive outburst and sparkplug play were from the wing, not the pivot. As a center, McCann is conservative, defensive and careful. On the wing, he went for it, with a smile on his face.
As a third line center, Nick Bjugstad controlled the play and the game. The goal results were not abundant but the possession and opportunities were. If Patric Hornqvist is back to his old self, that duo could both dominate play and post healthy offensive numbers.
With Gusev, is that lineup as tough to play against, or would Sullivan again have multiple defensive liabilities?
Also, we haven’t even factored what it would cost the Penguins to acquire Gusev. Vegas can’t take salary in return or they must take less salary than they send out. The Penguins have a first round pick and a couple of very interesting kids they snagged in the draft. Each has a high ceiling. Vegas GM George McPhee would be crazy to not demand the inclusion of one.
So, the Penguins would need to clear $7-$9 million in total to get Gusev into their lineup and be able to make the deal with Vegas.
That one just seems well beyond Jim Rutherford’s magic.
Nick Bjugstad’s name has come up recently regarding the Penguins efforts to move salary. The backup plan would be Jared McCann in the third line center role but wasn’t that tried last season? And didn’t the Penguins decide there was a significant advantage to Bjugstad in that role?
The answer to both questions is yes.
We’ve been over the advanced stats and praise for Bjugstad-Hornqvist. Here and here. Oh, and here too. The pair often had a Corsi rating well above 60% and scoring chance ratio to match. They scored 72% of the goals (8gf, 3ga) at even strength.
There was nothing to indicate that was a fluke. Bjugstad is a not physical but he is strong on the puck and good on the wall. His long wingspan and deceptively fast skating allow him to be a suffocating forechecker. Sometimes he was too aggressive and barged into the zone as the second forechecker before looking behind him (as was his former team’s system). It mostly worked in his and the Penguins favor.
Bjugstad does make $4 million and having that off the books would help, but it would cost that much to fix the hole which would be created.
One more thing in the Penguins rumors: Jack Johnson back to LA.
Ok, that one makes sense.