Penguins GM Jim Rutherford has never been shy to make trades. At this year’s deadline he picked up Derick Brassard, filling the third-line centre role he was searching for all season. He got Phil Kessel a few years ago for a cheap acquisition cost considering he’s scored 83 goals over three seasons with the team. Carl Hagelin was a great pick up three years ago and a central piece of the HBK line for Pittsburgh’s first of the back-to-back championships. Justin Schultz has been a successful reclamation project.
So when Rutherford says he’s looking for change in the off-season, your ears perk up.
“I think it’s obvious that I’m going to keep an open mind to making some changes, and I will make some changes,” he told local media after the Pens were eliminated in Round 2. “I can’t give you a definite answer on who that’s going to be right now and exactly the positions, but we’re a good team, and we will be a good team going forward. We’ll have a chance to win again. We have the nucleus to do that.”
Earlier this month we explored four potential players the Penguins could consider moving this summer. Kessel is on that list mostly because of his cap hit and a trade value that should be high after a 34-goal season, but Sheary and Hagelin may be the more realistic targets.
With their centre spots now filled, the most pressing need for the Pens to address is on the blue line and either of these players could get put toward that. Hagelin is the speedy, veteran who kills penalties, while Sheary is the younger player signed for longer, but coming off a season of struggles. Either way, Rutherford also said prospect Daniel Sprong would have a spot on next year’s Penguins, which means a winger needs to move.
It’s certainly not shocking to see Sheary and Hagelin as the most realistic tradeable pieces. Both have decent-sized salaries (one year at $4.0 million for Hagelin, two more seasons at $3.0m for Sheary) and this is important because with salary cap considerations the Pens are going to want to keep trades as close to salary-neutral as possible.
On ice, Sheary has taken a lot of criticism from the general fanbase. To be sure, he had another dreadful playoff (0 goals + 2 assists in 12 games) and had very low ice time. as the playoffs wore on. Since he adds little in two-way or physical play and other wingers passed him on the depth chart, coach Mike Sullivan didn’t seem to have a lot of use or interest in Sheary.
On the whole, Sheary’s point total went from 53 in 2016-17 to a disappointing 30 in 2017-18 but let’s not totally dismiss the 18 goals he pitched in. 16 of which were at even strength, which was tied-87th best in the league (and one more than the better-regarded Jake Guentzel’s 15 ES goals).
It’s tough to score at full strength and Sheary’s done very well in this area - his 37 ES goals in the past two seasons have him tied-42nd in the whole league and is more than stars like Max Pacioretty, Jack Eichel, Blake Wheeler, and T.J Oshie among many others.
That said, if Sheary is out of favor with the staff it might seem a trade is needed to give him a better fit and place. There’s not much sense in keeping Sheary for 9 minutes a game playing with role players like Tom Kuhnhackl.
Guentzel has clearly won a spot with Sidney Crosby at this point and if for defensive reasons they’re reluctant to put the defensively-weak Sheary on the same line as either Phil Kessel and Daniel Sprong (themselves not Selke candidates), then there’s not much more room left.
A player I’m less inclined to trade at this point would be Hagelin. Sure, he makes $4 million. Yes, he only scored 10 goals this season. I think Pens fans have been spoiled over the years with complementary wingers like Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis having contracts in the $3m range and producing well over it for 20+ goal and 50+ point seasons on the reg. Hagelin doesn’t offer that, and by comparison it’s very unsatisfactory.
However, Hagelin adds speed to a lineup that needs it. He’s a great “3rd wheel” player on the Malkin line to open up more room to operate with defenses playing back a step. Hagelin’s also a sound and responsible player away from the puck that’s well-positioned on the ice. He is a component of the penalty kill. His all-around game helps him be a bigger part of the team. No one is ever going to be in love with his contract, but with one more year left it’s stomachable. I’d say if you get a very interesting offer that could greatly increase the talent level of the team, sure, make the trade. Otherwise Hagelin will be a useful player for Pittsburgh for next season in a 2nd or 3rd line role.
Due to fit, I’d say Sheary would be the one to move. He’s still relatively young and some smart team will have figured out he is an inpressive ES goal scorer.
Tomorrow, a dive into the unknown for potential trade targets to look into.