The Pittsburgh Penguins probably skipped sitting on Santa’s lap this year out of fear one of them and Santa would suffer a lower body injury. Perhaps they were like the kid who is afraid of Santa, but willing to shout their hopes down from the second floor of the mall? And it’s lucky no one caught their head in the railing for an upper-body injury, either.
The first thing on the Penguins wish list was bubble wrap. Maybe, just maybe, enough bubble wrap would help them slide down the rankings of the most significantly injured teams in the NHL.
A Red-Rider bb-gun was certainly off the table.
The Pittsburgh Penguins concluded the first major portion of their schedule with only two periods of a healthy roster, or anything resembling it, yet they surged to a 21-11-4 record. That’s not bad for a group that played with its top three centers for only a few games. In fact, it’s amazing.
The Penguins do have a few things on their wishlist.
1. A scoring winger
Don’t mistake the Penguins need for a scoring winger with their willingness to accept one who does not blend seamlessly into their system. They’ve had one of those before and aren’t going back. So, if Santa brings one of those, he should keep the receipt.
What the Penguins lack is a shooting winger who can convert those golden chances which their hard work creates. Jake Guentzel is exceptional. Bryan Rust has found the Midas touch, as well. His projections lay somewhere between All-Star sniper and third-line grinder, and that’s not bad at all.
The Penguins have scouted the Ottawa Senators frequently. Jean-Gabriel Pageau has 18 goals already and Vladimir Namestnikov has 10 markers. Mike Hoffman is a UFA-to-be in Florida. His speed and hands are unquestioned, though he may need some cajoling in the defensive zone.
Evgeni Dadonov is also a pending UFA, but the Penguins would have to give up a sizable haul. And would Florida want what the Penguins have to offer, which would probably include a former Florida Panther, Nick Bjugstad?
2. Bubble Wrap.
Seriously, send truckloads.
3. Depth Defense
The Penguins GM Jim Rutherford and this scribe probably disagree on the Penguins need or the severity of it, but sometimes Santa brings things you didn’t know you need (Like a box of striped socks which look like flags from around Europe. Best gift I got this year!).
Juuso-Riikola-John Marino, Riikola-Ruhwedel, or going back to Letang-Marino is not the best six-week plan. Rutherford has done wonders with this roster but was forced to move Erik Gudbranson early in the season when other plans fell through but the Penguins salary cap issues remained. With Marino and when healthy, the Penguins have an excellent top-six on the blue line. However, their puzzle pieces don’t fit well without Brian Dumoulin to anchor the left side.
A steady, perhaps physical left-sider would do wonders for the Penguins. Pending Calgary’s outlook, they have two pending UFA defensemen: T.J. Brodie and Travis Hamonic, who would be a short term rental as he wants to play out west.
Pending the Penguins pain tolerance, there some longer-term options and there are some quick fixes, including old friend Ron Hainsey in Ottawa. However, the list of deeper left-side defensemen which would best be suited are not household names. LA Kings rearguard Ben Hutton had a solid outing in Pittsburgh a few weeks ago, too.
Juuso Riikola is worthy of an NHL sweater, but the mixture with the Penguins just isn’t right. Ideally, the Penguins would find a hockey deal there.
4. A Couple Months to Jell
I haven’t written it boldly, yet, but there is something about this team that is special. The buy-in to head coach Mike Sullivan. The locker room camaraderie. The speed and the tenacity which permeates the lineup. The Pittsburgh Penguins play like a hungry team and they will soon have a couple of stars back in the lineup to complete the puzzle.
A little more time together will give Rutherford a chance to accurately assess what he has before taking a leap of faith at the trade deadline.
Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah!