Ever since Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford voiced concern about his team’s play and hinted at changes, a significant portion of the talk surrounding this team has been centered on trades.
Who might go? What might come in? What do they need?
I am fairly certain about one thing: Jim Rutherford is probably close to completing some kind of a trade.
It may not be a major one, it may not be a franchise-altering or season-defining move, but there is probably going to be something completed in the not-too-distant future. Not only because he is unhappy with where the team is (for good reason), but because this is what he does. He generally makes at least one (or even two) trades mid-season.
Since becoming the Penguins’ general manager at the start of the 2014-15 season he has completed seven trades of varying degrees of importance between November 1 and January 1 ... and a couple more in the weeks immediately after January 1. He had a tendency to do the exact same thing throughout his tenure in Carolina.
So, if you are going to get somebody in a trade that means somebody or something has to be leaving.
At some point I have to imagine the Penguins 2019 first-round draft pick will be traded because, well, that is what they do. They are in a win-now position and they haven’t actually made a first-round pick since 2014 having traded every first-round draft pick since then (and the 2014 first-round pick they did use, Kasperi Kapanen, was traded within a year of being selected). That 2014 pick was the only first-round pick they have used since 2012. So that is almost certainly out there.
When it comes to players, Daniel Sprong is obviously the one getting the most attention in trade talks, but allow me to make a point I made on Twitter on Tuesday night during the game.
I don’t think your eyes are on the right prize here. A Sprong trade very well might happen. In fact, it probably will happen at some point. But I do not think this is the ultimate end game here.
If Rutherford is going to do something to shake things up or make a change, or break up a team that, in his own words, has maybe been together for too long, what in the hell is trading Daniel Sprong going to accomplish?
Trading the 21-year-old forward that never plays and never sees the ice when he does play is not likely to send any kind of a message to a veteran team that has been together for this long and won championships.
It is also not going to bring you the type of meaningful return that is going to shake up that sort of veteran team.
You know what the trade market for Daniel Sprong probably is?
Another team’s Daniel Sprong. A once highly-touted prospect that has not fit in with their current team and needs the “change of scenery” treatment. If you are going to trade for that type of player and play them, you might as well play the one you have and invested a high draft pick in and see if you can extract anything out of it.
That is not what the Penguins need.
They need somebody that can make a significant impact offensively on the third line (as I wrote after the game over at NBC on Tuesday, you have to go back nine games since the Penguins received a goal from their third-or fourth-line).
Even though they have pretty much all of their top defenders signed long-term and for a lot of money (arguably too much money), they probably need somebody else to play in the top-four because after Kris Letang and Brian Dumoulin, there really is not anything that stands out there.
No, the type of change the Penguins are looking at here — or perhaps should be looking at here — is something more significant involving a more important player.
Not one of the core players (Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, and Phil Kessel are going nowhere), but a significant player.
The obvious starting point is one of the players sitting in that $4-5 million salary cap range, of which the Penguins have many: Bryan Rust, Carl Hagelin, Olli Maatta, Derick Brassard, or dare I say ... Patric Hornqvist or Jake Guentzel.
Hornqvist seems like he would be pretty safe because he is the type of “blood and guts, glue guys” that hockey teams love, and more importantly, he’s really good. He is probably as close to the “big core” as you can get without actually being part of the big core.
Guentzel seems pretty safe, too, because he’s one of the few young players that has come through the organization in recent years that has made an impact and stuck. But you have to give something good to get something good. I still think there is some question as to what he is and what his ceiling is, and he is going to be due a new contract after this season on a team that is already pressed tight against the salary cap every year.
I would also hate to see them give up on the Brassard experiment before we even really get a chance to see what it can be, but Rutherford has shown in the past he is not afraid to quickly move on from what he perceives to be a mistake, and given that the results have not worked out as planned, he may have reason to be reaching that point here.
This is a team in need of an actual shakeup. The roster, as currently constructed, has some flaws both short-term and long-term, and the one likely trade everyone is looking at (Sprong) probably isn’t going to accomplish what anyone is looking for, even if you sweeten it with that first-round draft pick.
It seems like there is something bigger lurking around the corner. Jim Rutherford is just the type of general manager to make that sort of move in a situation like this.
Not sure what exactly it will be, but I just don’t see this being as simple as moving on from a disappointing prospect.