With more changes expected for the Pittsburgh Penguins, the natural name to get moved next is forward Daniel Sprong. The 21-year old has ability but has been unable to establish himself in a role on the Pittsburgh right wing, getting relegated to healthy scratch status. For better or worse, Sprong is basically an after-thought to coach Mike Sullivan.
One natural fit, on paper and in theory, would seem to be a rebuilding team that could be interested in giving a talented young player a real audition at the NHL level in a role fitting of his talent. And they even have a bunch of legitimately good NHL scoring to offer in return, which would be of interest for a team like the Pens. Sounds great, right?
But, there’s a catch. This team is within the Pens division. It’s the New York Rangers.
Blueshirt Banter was sniffing around the Sprong situation this week saying:
The Penguins, perennial contenders (at least in theory), could be enticed by a number of players the Rangers have to offer. Mats Zuccarello makes the most sense for their needs. As strong as they are at right wing, they lack talent on the left. Pittsburgh would need to add another asset or two, but Sprong-for-Zuccarello is an obvious concept that could work. They could also be interested in Chris Kreider, Kevin Hayes, or Jesper Fast, though those deals would be harder to imagine.
Any deal with Pittsburgh shipping a young player with 20+ NHL goal potential is hard to imagine from this perspective. Even if there’s only a 10-25% chance that Sprong reaches something close to his potential, why in the world would Pittsburgh send a dynamic young skill player to a rebuilding team within their division? The math doesn’t add up there.
About the only way this would be palatable for Pittsburgh is if the Rangers were so enamored with Sprong that they were willing to make the value worthwhile. Like Zuccarello for Sprong straight up (later in the season when the Pens will accrue enough cap space to make a deal possible). That accomplishes a goal of upgrading Pittsburgh’s top-six and left wing for this season, and worth the risk that Sprong develops into a top-six player himself.
Now let’s absolutely throw the brakes on and mention that this makes almost no sense for New York to overpay for Sprong. This wouldn’t be a great value for a Zuccarello trade, when they can likely flip him to a different team for a better return.
The point remains though, that short of majorly enticing Pittsburgh, there’s no reason to trade Sprong within the division. Let alone trade to a team like the Rangers who as long as they still have Henrik Lundqvist and a “big city spend to the salary cap even while rebuilding” type mentality could always be a potential first round playoff opponent.
BSB also floated another potential situation, which would be a little more unorthodox but is an interesting thought as well.
There could also be a draft pick swap in play. The Rangers drafted four players in the top-40 last year, have Tampa Bay’s second (potential first) for this year, and will presumably add a few more draft picks at this season’s deadline. Pittsburgh’s prospect pool is empty and they have already traded their 2019 third-round pick and 2020 second. The Rangers could move from their surplus to acquire Sprong, while the Penguins could either keep the draft pick(s) to reinvest in a trade down the road or replenish their prospect pool.
This is intriguing to consider instead of using Sprong to make the NHL team better right now, Pittsburgh shifts gears and swaps Sprong for a prospect or draft pick for the near-future. (Perhaps even trading the pick they get for Sprong for an NHL player down the line).
Again, this concept is probably better in theory than in actuality - why would New York trade a highly ranked prospect that they just drafted five months ago away to a division rival? Especially when they have to weigh dealing a pick or younger prospect who has more of a blank slate and time to develop than Spong. After all, there’s a decent-to-significant chance Sprong won’t amount to much at the NHL level.
Similarly, New York isn’t - or at least really shouldn’t - give their 2019 first round pick for a player who can’t even be assigned to the AHL without waivers and isn’t NHL established. So it doesn’t make a lot of sense for the Pens to accept lower level prospects/picks when the end result what they have to consider the most is the possibility of sending a talented NHL ready player to a division team that could haunt them for the next 5-10 years if he does pan out.
In this situation both sides have to weigh the worst case scenarios for them, since it will impact them relatively significantly if such a scenario comes true. There’s a reason most “change of scenery” type of trades involve sending a player out of the entire conference - think of all the recent ones involving the Pens: Jamie Oleskiak from Dallas, Derrick Pouliot to Vancouver, Carl Hagelin for Tanner Pearson from LA/PIT, and on and on. (Riley Sheahan, from Detroit, doesn’t classify directly in this manner, since DET was mainly looking to move the salary in order to sign RFA Andreas Athanasiou, and even then he maxes out as a bottom-six player anyways.)
Dealing a young player with even a modicum of potential and talent within the division has to be a no-go, barring a significant over-evaluation and willingness to pay more than they objectively should be expected to.
Pittsburgh shouldn’t and won’t be interested in even the off-chance they can make the Rangers better, perhaps even significantly better, so dealing Daniel Sprong to NY is going to be a no-go from this angle.