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Penguins Trade(s) Analysis: A Strong Right, Bigger Bodies but One Problem

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PIttsburgh Penguins trade, Jeff Petry, Mike Matheson

The Pittsburgh Penguins made a pair of trades on Saturday, flipping their second pairing to a pair of teams in exchange for unique defensemen at the opposite ends of the spectrum. Jeff Petry is finally a Penguins d-man, while it may have been GM Ron Hextall’s most prolific day as a GM with a pair of trades that sent $9.2 million out the door, acquired a third-round pick, lost a fourth-rounder, and accepted nearly $7 million back in salary.

The Penguins acquired zippy 22-year-old defenseman Ty Smith, who had a sophomore slump. Renowned defenseman Jeff Petry. Struggling forward Ryan Poehling. They also got a third-round pick from the New Jersey Devils.

The Penguins gave up John Marino, Mike Matheson, and a fourth-rounder.

On paper, it’s an excellent day for Hextall, who also managed to clear about $2 million in cap space. The team has about $1.8 million on paper and about $2.6 million in real money if they clear one more defenseman by trade or stashing Smith in the minors.

The Good: Petry, Size, and Money

Jeff Petry, 34, is finally in a Penguins sweater after NHL trade rumors tied him to the Penguins for months as a Kris Letang replacement. However, he won’t replace Letang but play behind him.

Petry is a bigger body than John Marino, who was traded earlier Saturday. Petry is 6-foot-3, 207 pounds. Presumably, Petry will take the second pairing with Marcus Pettersson or P.O Joseph. Mark Friedman has an outside chance to claim the spot.

The Penguins wanted some beef. They got it.

“When the season was over, we sat down with the coaches, management, and staff and talked about our team. And the one thing we felt we wanted to do was get a little bit heavier on the back end,” Hextall said. “I think with Petry and (Jan) Rutta, we feel like we accomplished that.”

Petry is also a far more accomplished defenseman than John Marino, whom he is replacing. Petry can kill penalties, run a power play and put points on the board at even strength.

He’s an all-around defenseman who scored more than 40 points in his last four seasons before a dip to 27 points with last season’s woeful Canadiens.

Hextall also added a bit of forward size with Ryan Poehling, the “throw-in” in the Petry deal. The 6-foot-2, 197-pound forward is a natural center though not overly physical. In 85 career NHL games, he has 79 hits and 38 blocks. Last season, the down-line player was primarily a center but had 24 giveaways compared to 21 takeaways. 

“When Ryan was drafted, we really liked him (25th overall, 2017) … We really liked Ryan, felt like he’s a big body that is going to get better,” Hextall said. “Things haven’t gone exactly how he would have liked them to go in Montreal. We’re hoping that change can spur a guy on, and he can be a good two-way player. He’s got good size, he plays the middle of the ice, and he can also play the wing.”

Poehling could be a nice get, and it comes with little to no risk.

The right side of the Pittsburgh Penguins defense is now big, talented, and very good. Kris Letang, Jeff Petry, Jan Rutta.

Hextall has done a masterful job retooling his right-side defense.

The Maybe: Ty Smith

The Penguins may have completed an Ocean’s 11-level heist on New Jersey. Ty Smith was the 17th overall pick in the 2018 NHL Draft and had an eye-opening rookie year in 2020-21.

He can skate, he has puck skills, but he’s “average” sized at 5-foot-10, 180 pounds. Hextall indirectly challenged him to win a job in training camp.

 “I think part of the development process for young players. You’re going to have your ups and downs. It’s just part of learning and part of developing into a pro. We hope that Ty will come in and build on his first year, learn from his second year and continue to become a better player,” said Hextall. “He’s a young man. He’s 22 years old. He played as a 20-year-old… So we do believe the upside is is pretty high.”

Smith will presumably compete with P.O Joseph and Mark Friedman for the third pairing role. However, Smith is the only one who is waivers exempt, so he will need to clearly win the job to force Hextall to expose one of the others to waivers.

Pittsburgh Penguins Problem

To build the impenetrable right side, Hextall had to give up his best left-side defenseman. After the second Penguins trade on Saturday, Mike Matheson is now a Montreal Canadiens defenseman.

“Mike Matheson is a defenseman who was playing top-4 minutes in Pittsburgh that brings a lot of the qualities that we lose in a Jeff Petry in terms of his ability to transport the puck,” Montreal GM Kent Hughes said.

Matheson is also only 28, makes $4.875 million (which became a bargain), and is an elite skater. He was arguably the heir apparent to the Penguins’ top pairing if Brian Dumoulin does not rebound from a poor season in which injuries slowed him but never seemed to recover.

To get, you must give.

“When you’re trading for good players, you’re going to have to give up good players. Mike is a good player. We certainly valued Mike, but we just feel like Jeff at this point is a little better fit for us,” Hextall said. “He can play all situations. He can log big minutes. And we just felt like right now with our right side with Letang and Petry, and Rutta is extremely strong.”

Extremely strong is correct.

But that left side is not so strong. Dumoulin was decimated by injury and looked like a 40-year-old defenseman last season. Marcus Pettersson is an acceptable NHL defenseman but is neither heavy nor strong near the net. His offense is also lacking. Pettersson isn’t capable of sliding up to the top pairing should Dumoulin be injured or stumble again.

That leaves depth defenseman Mark Friedman and untested rookie P.O Joseph, who hasn’t yet cracked the NHL after three professional seasons.

Hextall has been pulling rabbits out of his hat this week. He’s been aggressive and improved the Penguins. However, he’s also left one significant vulnerability.

I thought Matheson could be the Penguins’ top defenseman in a few years. Instead, Petry will be hanging up the skates. The team is genuinely in win-now mode. If Hextall can shore up the left side before the season, the Pittsburgh Penguins will be a formidable team.

But that’s a BIG if.

Penguins Trade Grade: Give Hextall a solid B with the left side issue pulling down the grade from an A+. The Penguins easily won the Marino for Smith trade. This was the aggressive Hextall that Philadelphia didn’t get to see. He went swashbuckler and was 1-0-1 in the two trades.

It’s been a good, but risky day for Hextall and the Penguins.

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Pittsburgh Hockey Now Editor-in-Chief, formerly 93.7 The Fan, Sportsnet Hockey Tonight, NHL Home Ice. Catch Dan tweeting @theDanKingerski and the official @pghhockeynow account.

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Clyde Jones
Clyde Jones
27 days ago

I hope he’s right about Petry, I liked Matheson.

Irish Hammer
Irish Hammer
27 days ago
Reply to  Clyde Jones

He’s not! Disgracefully destroyed this team. How can we get older and softer? They did? Crazy? Now sign Kessel ! Sid and Malkin like him! He’s only 34 ! Heavier body. You can see it hanging over his belt. A easy 3/4 yr contract? Fits right in with Penguins! His only checks on payday. Maybe Chara. Only in 40s.

Vince Gori
Vince Gori
27 days ago

These moves were good overall, however, I feel his next move will be a key. He has to move at least one defenseman since seven is enough, eight is too many, and nine…..
Right the loser is Chad Ruhwedel who performed well last after finally getting a chance. With this group he’s back in the press box, something not deserved. I would be OK with moving two out between Dumoulin, Pettersson, or Joseph.

Mike Kirkell
Mike Kirkell
27 days ago
Reply to  Vince Gori

I suspect the move will be to sign Kapanen and call it a day. I hope the move is to find a legit top 6 winger to play with Malkin and Rakell. I just don’t think relying on Zucker (health and fit with Malkin or Crosby for that matter) or Kapanen to fill out the top 6 is the smart play if you’re all in. Smith can start the year in WBS. POJ and Kapanen’s rights can be moved, either for futures or as part of a package for that last top 6 winger. As an aside, I wonder how… Read more »

Robert Shoemaker
Robert Shoemaker
27 days ago
Reply to  Mike Kirkell

After kapanen signs they will be back over the cap so at least 1 more salary dump move is needed

Mike Kirkell
Mike Kirkell
27 days ago

Yes, I suspect Kapanen will get it be signed for slightly over 2M or they’ll walk. In this scenario, they’ll send Smith to WBS, since he is waiver eligible and, if necessary, will trade POJ. They then will keep 7 defensemen and have about 1 million in cap space for deadline moves. What I was saying is IF they’re going to be making those moves with Smith and POJ to keep Kapanen, then perhaps they should aim higher and perhaps put Blueger into play, in which case they could add a 5M winger. The math: 1.9M current space + 1.9M… Read more »

Robert Shoemaker
Robert Shoemaker
27 days ago
Reply to  Mike Kirkell

I suspect Smith will make the team and they have to move Pettersson, Friedman, Joseph, or Ruhwedel or 2 of them. Ruhwedel is now squeezed out of the lineup for rhd so he has to move somehow. He is sokid, but one dimensional. I prefer Friedman as the 7th d because he can play either side and brings a physical element. Hex needs to move Pettersson somehow and get his 4 mil off the books. POJ can do the same stuff he does at a much lower cost. Kapanen can go to arbitration now if he wants to, hopefully he… Read more »

Last edited 27 days ago by Robert Shoemaker
Scott Maloni
Scott Maloni
27 days ago

This is the cost of keeping the core together. Not a good day for hockey fans that cheer on the Pens.

ThePenguin71
ThePenguin71
27 days ago
Reply to  Scott Maloni

Actually, this was a very good day.There is another deal coming to ease the glut on the left side. Dumo and POJ will be here. The Pens got bigger. They added youth, while also shaving cap space and upgrading second pair with a defenseman who is playoff savvy and can perform at both sides of the rink. They reshaped the blue line and kept the core together.

Mike Kirkell
Mike Kirkell
27 days ago

Dan, I know Rutta plays predominantly on the right side, but isn’t he able to play on both sides? Dumoulin-Letang, Pettersson-Petry, and one of Friedman or Ruhwedel with Rutta on a 3rd pairing. Yes, I know . . . no POJ or Smith. Smith can clear waivers. And, I’m not sure POJ is with the team when the season starts. In this scenario, going with the 7 defensemen noted, the Pens have 3.7M in cap space (1.8M plus the 1.9M if POJ and Smith don’t start the year with the big club). Maybe that goes to paying Kapanen and keeping… Read more »

Katz is dumb
Katz is dumb
27 days ago
Reply to  Mike Kirkell

Only problem is POJ is signed to a one way contract.

Brad
Brad
27 days ago
Reply to  Katz is dumb

1 way means he gets paid same in ahl or nhl not he can’t be sent down

Pawl
Pawl
27 days ago
Reply to  Brad

POJ would have to clear waivers if sent down.. Smith does not

Robert Shoemaker
Robert Shoemaker
27 days ago
Reply to  Brad

He can be sent down, but has to go through waivers

Timm
27 days ago
Reply to  Mike Kirkell

You forgot Josh Archibald!! How could anyone forget Josh Archibald?? SARCASM. Still scratching my head on that one. But current management wasn’t around when Archibald wore a Penguins sweater before to see how ineffective he is.

I’d personally put Zahorna on the 4th line instead of DOC, but to each his own. I miss ERod already. You could put that guy ANYWHERE in the lineup.

Mike
Mike
27 days ago

Pens are turning into the Flyers. Not good. Slower and sluggish. Not good at all.

Robert Shoemaker
Robert Shoemaker
27 days ago
Reply to  Mike

Smith is hardly slow and petry is just better than Marino. Both trades are wins. Matheson was good but a turnover machine. Both of these trades were wins for the penguins. Getting better players does not make the pens the flyers

Cal
Cal
27 days ago

I like the moves…now see if the team can pry a good left winger. Crouse? Bertuzzi? Neittereter? Max Jones?

Steve Malik
Steve Malik
27 days ago
Reply to  Cal

not happening pal!!!

Cal
Cal
27 days ago
Reply to  Steve Malik

Yeah…neither was Petry buddy old bosom old boy!

Curt Lindner
Curt Lindner
27 days ago
Reply to  Cal

Sign Kappanen, then send to Vancouver along with Petterson and the 3rd round pick from Jersey for J.T. Miller. GMJR likes those 2, so maybe the extra pick will work! WE GET GRIT AND A SCORER!

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Tom
Tom
27 days ago

I really liked Mathewson as well. Double digits in goals. Most goals amongst our D core this season. Dan, I’m curious why you think the Marino, for Smith and a 3rd, trade is a win for the Penguins other than winning the Salary Cap? Isn’t Marino a better player than Ty Smith? I’ve read some message boards from the Jersey Fans and they are calling Smith slow and soft? I’m not sure if they are being biased now that they no longer have the player. I’ve read conflicting reports that say Ty Smith is an elite skater with excellent hockey… Read more »

Robert Shoemaker
Robert Shoemaker
27 days ago
Reply to  Tom

This move was definitely a salary dump trade. Marino showed a lot of promise as a rookie but didnt grow from there and if anything declined a little after getting his big deal. Smith is still on his elc and slightly younger so he has more time to grow and a higher ceiling, being a first rounder. Most of the time salary dump trades bring in a lower round draft pick. Hextall did well to get more than that.

Mike Kirkell
Mike Kirkell
27 days ago
Reply to  Tom

Ty Smith is as likely to start the season in WBS as he is with the big club since he’s waiver eligible. The result of this week is to take Matheson and Marino out and add Petry and Rutta in. It changes the mix of the defense. You’ve added two guys with real playoff experience, more jam, better PK and defensive play, and in Petry the single best defenseman of the lot. Whether it works or not certainly is a question mark for now, but I thought going into the off-season that that Pens needed to do three things: 1.… Read more »

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Lisa Nath
Lisa Nath
27 days ago

With petry asking for a trade and with his high salary most likely limiting the teams that could take him, I am surprised the pens didn’t leverage their slight position of strength in this trade and either insist on the salary swap be more even by Montreal keeping some of Petry’s salary or trading someone different than Matheson . I really liked Matheson and the left D is now much weaker .

Robert Shoemaker
Robert Shoemaker
27 days ago
Reply to  Lisa Nath

Smith has the potential to be better than Matheson, so i will hold my judgement until we see the new guys play. Hex could still make another trade to sure up lhd as well.

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Kleckdough
Kleckdough
26 days ago

“Oceans 11 level heist on nj” ????? Ty smith was one of the worst players on a terrible team. You gotta see his game, lol, he was coughing the puck up at a ridiculous rate in his own end and looked visibly shaken and scared of contact. A defender who cant defend. Id have no doubt that he’ll be on your ahl team this year. I couldnt help but comment to defend the devils gm, i wouldve been upset if smith was a devil this year. I know the pens have great coaches so its possible they can turn this… Read more »

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