Now that the Pittsburgh Penguins have seemingly righted the ship, you can be sure that Jim Rutherford still has another trade or two up his sleeve before the NHL trade deadline, a date that is rapidly approaching.
His history with the Penguins suggests there is still something to be done over the next month-and-a-half. It is just a matter of what it is and when it happens.
What is going to be intriguing about this trade deadline is that it is probably going to take an awful lot of creativity to get something significant done, because the Penguins don’t really have a lot of intriguing trade chips to offer up to the rest of the league. That is ultimately the result of their aggressive approach the past few years. So what exactly do the Penguins have to offer, and what would be a reasonable expectation for a return based on their potential trade chips?
- Their first-round draft pick
At this point I am just doing to assume that it is a given that Jim Rutherford is never again going to make an actual first-round draft pick with the Penguins. The team has not selected in the first round since 2014 when they selected Kasperi Kapanen. Before that, you have to go back to their multiple first-round picks in 2012 when they selected Derrick Pouliot and Olli Maatta. Given that Kapanen was sent to Toronto in the Phil Kessel trade, the Penguins haven’t had a first-round pick of their own suit up for them since those two first-round picks in 2012.
The return on those picks has varied.
The 2015 first-rounder went to Edmonton for David Perron.
The 2016 pick was included in the package (along with Kapanen) for Kessel.
The 2017 pick went to St. Louis as part of the Ryan Reaves trade.
The 2018 pick went to Ottawa as part of the Derick Brassard trade.
History suggests it is going somewhere, whether it be straight up in a swap for a second-line type player (the Perron trade) as part of a major blockbuster like the Kessel or Brassard deals.
Does it have a lot of value: Probably not as much as you would think. First-round picks on their own don’t really bring back a huge return, especially at trade deadline time because the teams trading them are going to be picking at the back end of the first-round, and a pick in the 20-31 range barely has a 50 percent chance of producing a player that even makes the NHL, let alone becomes an impact player. It almost always has to be packaged with something else to land a major contributor.
2. Other draft picks
They don’t really have a lot to deal from here. They don’t have a third-round pick this year (they do have an extra conditional fourth-round pick from Buffalo that could turn into a third-round pick depending on how many goals and points Conor Sheary finishes with— he needs to hit 20 goals or 40 points, and is currently on track to fall short of both marks), and they don’t have a second-round pick next year which means they will be left dealing from a bunch of mid-round picks, something they have had a fair amount of success doing in recent years.
Does it have a lot of value: It’s basically a lottery ticket and is probably going to either get you mid-level rental, or a player in need of a fresh start and a change of scenery. Consider that Justin Schultz was acquired for a third-round pick. Jamie Oleksiak for a fourth. Ron Hainsey for a second. This is the type of player you are looking at here.
3. Derick Brassard
The writing is on the wall here.
For whatever reason this just does not seem like a marriage that is working or is ever going to accomplish what either side hoped it would (even if, in some bizarre way, it has) and it almost seems like a foregone conclusion that the Penguins’ big trade deadline acquisition from 2018 will be playing for somebody else after the 2019 trade deadline.
Does he have a lot of value: Maybe? He is an unrestricted free agent after this season and has not played up to expectations this season, and that would seem to be less than ideal when it comes to making a move. But he would also be dirt cheap (in terms of the salary cap) for a new team and is still probably held in high enough regard that somebody would be willing to slot him back into a second-line center role and see if he can get back to being the player he was before Pittsburgh.
This looks like a potential “change of scenery” trade if there ever was one.
4. Tristan Jarry
This is going to be the player that gets thrown around in every trade proposal involving the Penguins because he is the one notable prospect the team still has in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, and he plays a position where he is currently blocked at the NHL level by two players that are quite clearly ahead of him on the depth chart (Matt Murray and the recently signed Casey DeSmith).
Does he have a lot of value: Not only am I going to say no, I would almost go as far as to say he has little to no value. Maybe zero value. Yes, that is harsh. But it is also probably true.
Here is the unfortunate reality with Tristan Jarry: He is a goalie. Goalie is a position that is incredibly difficult to get value for in trades even when it is an established NHL goalie with a good track record. Teams just do not typically trade for them or give up a lot for them when they do. In Jarry’s case, we are talking about a goalie that has a limited NHL track record and is not exactly lighting it up at the AHL level.
Look at it this way, Filip Gustavsson was probably a better prospect than Tristan Jarry with a much higher upside a year ago. His value as a trade chip was to be included as just one part of a massive trade package to get Brassard.
If the Penguins are able to get anything of consequence for Jarry without including something else significant in the trade I will be shocked.
5. An NHL defender
When Justin Schultz returns the Penguins are going to have a log-jam of NHL defenders between Kris Letang, Brian Dumoulin, Olli Maatta, Schultz, Marcus Pettersson, Jack Johnson, Jusso Riikola, Jamie Oleksiak, and if you want to include him in the mix, Chad Ruhwedel. That is nine blue liners that can all play at the NHL level. Obviously, not all nine can play at the same time, so it stands to reason they could flip one of them off on somebody else.
Does it have a lot of value: Not the players they would be willing to trade. Letang, Dumoulin and Schultz are not going anywhere. It also seems highly unlikely that they would move Johnson or Pettersson, and while Maatta is always mentioned as a possible trade chip I don’t know if I see that happening right now unless they really have a chance to do something drastic. That leaves players like Riikola and Oleksiak. Their best value is probably as a throw-in to a larger trade (think Ian Cole last year) or used to help replenish the draft pick cupboard when other future picks are inevitably traded.
6. Prospects other than Tristan Jarry
This is where things get slim because, well, there just isn’t a lot here. This is the result of trading every prime draft pick over a six year period and not really having an opportunity to restock the cupboards. This is not a criticism, by the way. The Penguins did what they had to do to maximize their championship window with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and got a couple more Stanley Cups out of it (and could still maybe get another one). It is worth it. But the reality is the farm system isn’t exactly full of players that really move the needle.
Do they have any value: No. In fact, let me go as far as to say this — whatever prospects they have in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton probably have more value to the Penguins as potential Penguins than they do to other teams as potential trade assets. The “prospects” they have in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton at the moment aren’t really prospects. The top performers at that level are currently the likes of Teddy Blueger, Sam Lafferty, and Ethan Prow ... all of them are age 24 or older. I would almost rather see if a player like Blueger or Lafferty could become a newer version of Bryan Rust or Conor Sheary than waste anymore time on the likes of Garrett Wilson as a call-up.
When you go beyond Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, the prospect pool doesn’t really get much deeper.
Nikita Pavlychev has become an intriguing player based on what he has done at Penn State, but again ... I almost think he has more value to the Penguins as a prospect than he does as a trade chip. Calen Addison and Jordy Bellerive are nice players in the WHL, but just about all NHL teams have a handful of good players at the junior level.
In the end, Jim Rutherford is going to have his hands full here.
You know his instinct is going to be to try and do something to give this team a better chance. But he does not have a lot to work with when it comes to making that happen. He has not let that stop him before and I for one am fascinated to see how he does it.