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Penguins trade rumors: Pens interested in Andrew MacDonald?

With Paul Martin and Kris Letang injured, the Pittsburgh Penguins may seek a defensive option so that they don't have to rely on Robert Bortuzzo or Simon Despres.

Justin K. Aller

While everyone assumes that given the lack of depth with the forwards that will be the Pittsburgh Penguins biggest trade target, it's important to remember that defensively the team needs to tighten up as well. Paul Martin (broken hand) and Kris Letang (stroke) are out of the lineup. From Rob Rossi of the Trib:

The Penguins, like almost every Cup contender, are interested in MacDonald, an impending free agent with a cap-friendly $550,000 hit. He is perhaps the most sought-after rental player on the trade market.

Upgrading on defense is the Penguins’ second priority after Kesler because they are operating as though Kris Letang (stroke) will not play again until at least next season. They do believe, as of now, that Paul Martin (right hand) will be ready for Round 1 of the Stanley Cup playoffs – but coaches are not at all comfortable with going into the postseason possibly having to play Simon Despres, if he is not traded, or Robert Bortuzzo. Neither player is all that much trusted by the staff at this point.

The Penguins believe they can make the salary-cap work to add Kesler and a veteran defenseman. That is partly because a deal with Kesler would be a hockey move that involves player(s) taking up cap space.

To add a defenseman, the Penguins would consider adding a rental player on an expiring contract.

MacDonald has taken a beating, including here at Jewels from the Crown:

The Kings proved this season that they can be successful even with an anchor weighing down their back-end. I have no doubt that they could withstand two, so I doubt trading for MacDonald breaks their season. On the other hand, the fact that it's even a question should rule the trade out for the Kings. There is not a single good reason to trade for him. He's weighed down excellent players, and he would do the same in Los Angeles. In a scenario where the Kings trade for MacDonald, the best possible outcome is that he doesn't completely ruin the roster. That's it. That is not a situation you should trade for.

And, while MacDonald hasn't had a good season, we've seen him up close and I don't believe he's as bad of a player as his Corsi based stats suggest that he is. The Islanders have a loose defensive team and usually has poor goaltending. It's not a system that will make many defensemen look very good. And, as many would point out, MacDonald has been used as a top-pairing defenseman, where as in Pittsburgh he could be sheltered on a third pairing.

The bigger issue raised by Rossi to me is the perception that young players like Bortuzzo and Despres won't be playoff options for the Pens. Despres, who many feel is trade bait, has 6 career NHL playoff games, but has unable to remain in the NHL lineup due to questions of consistency and decision making on the ice. Bortuzzo has not played any NHL playoff games, and 37 of his 50 career NHL games have come this season.

With Martin expected back in time for the opening of the playoffs, a move by the Pens to acquire a defenseman probably means the team is looking past Letang's recovery from a stroke in time for this season. If the team thought or hoped Letang would be back, they probably wouldn't be making a move to trade for a rental NHL level defenseman.