NHL Trade Deadline: Is Penguins Blue Line Untouchable? Is 3C the Only Fix?
And then there were 15 days until the NHL trade deadline. Nearly two weeks ago, Pittsburgh Penguins GM Ron Hextall said most teams have not gotten down to the nitty-gritty, “finer” details. When asked about the Penguins’ trade deadline philosophy, Hextall also specifically veered toward upgrading his third line and didn’t mention any other facets of his inconsistent team.
Justifiably, most attention has focused on the Penguins’ trade targets for the third line, but what about the blue line? Are the Penguins’ defensemen immune from the coming deadline?
Thus far, the only name connected to the Penguins was Anaheim d-man Dmitri Kulikov. Last week, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman dropped the name, though not as a report, but as a logical choice.
Kulikov is a mobile, though light scoring, left defenseman. In 54 games, Kulikov has 10 points and is in the final year of a two-year contract with a $2.25 million AAV.
However, as Brian Dumoulin rebounds from a near-disastrous first half and regains both trust and his first-pairing role with Kris Letang, an LHD would seem redundant.
It would seem to be both a departure from Hextall’s goal to improve the third line and an impediment to that goal. Hextall has few assets to move. Any asset that goes out the door only increases the degree of difficulty to stick the landing for a second trade.
Perhaps the Penguins’ best trade chips reside on defense: P.O Joseph and Ty Smith.
If one goes out, perhaps in a deal for third-line help, then all bets are off.
More than a dozen scouts attended the Toronto at Chicago game Wednesday. The Penguins have recently had scouts in Chicago (we can’t say if they were for the Blackhawks or opponents) but did not have any in attendance Wednesday.
This time of year, get excited by management attending. Hextall is certainly a recognizable figure, but AGM Chris Pryor could probably slip in and out without much media recognition.
We’ve got our “scouting scouts” team deployed.
Third Line Winger?
Rightfully, attention has focused on the middle of the Penguin third line, primarily Jeff Carter. His even-strength goal against Anaheim notwithstanding, those have been rare since October (it was his first against a goalie since Oct. 20).
Hey, the wingers aren’t lighting up the scoreboard, either.
And, before you comment, no, the Penguins cannot afford a big-name winger and to put Bryan Rust on the third line. It’s a thought for a different regime and a different era.
Brock McGinn hasn’t scored a point since Dec. 22. If he doesn’t score this weekend, you can count a five-holiday span (Christmas, New Year, Martin Luther King Day, Valentine’s, President’s Day). His scoreless streak is now 20 games.
Kasperi Kapanen has, to these eyes, shown flashes of the player the Penguins want and need, but only flashes. Including the Winter Classic, he has three points (2-1-3) in 12 games. He can generate offense independent of his center, and against Colorado, he took defensemen wide and deep into the offensive zone.
Kapanen created space in the fun zones though the Penguins didn’t take advantage.
Could a third-line winger be an elixir? When Hextall said he wanted to improve the “chemistry,” did he mean swapping McGinn, who has two more years at $2.75 AAV, for a winger with a a bit more offensive pep?
The Penguins’ third line is languishing, but since advanced stats were used to bury them, you may want to sit down for this.
Over the last 10 games, Carter’s advanced stats are through the roof. His Corsi with McGinn (in 59.5 minutes) but without Kapanen is 59%. Their scoring chance rate is 60%.
And, over the last 10 games played together, Carter with Kapanen, but without McGinn (35 minutes), has a 59% Corsi and a 60% scoring rate.
BUT when you put all three together in a 33-minute, 10-game sample size, the line nosedives to a 41% Corsi and 46% scoring chance rate.
To summarize the stats, courtesy of the line tool at NaturalStatTrick.com, Carter with McGinn has good o-zone possession but no goals. Carter, with Kapanen, has good o-zone possession but no goals.
When the trio combined, nothing is good, but they have one goal vs. none allowed.
It’s just another in the maddening dichotomy of the Pittsburgh Penguins season.
So, maybe, it is the chemistry, and maybe with a tweak, Penguins Jesus can be a BJC fan again?
Of course, a Penguins trade is not guaranteed. There were playoff teams left holding the bag last year, and the NHL trade deadline is clogged with big salaries and a lack of cap space.
Still, there are a handful of good teams at the bottom of the PK standings. Seattle, Buffalo, Edmonton, LA, and Florida are 25th or worse. If Hextall nibbles at the wings of the third line, that is something to keep in mind.