Going on two weeks into a season already filled with injuries, the Penguins continue to hobble along with 12 healthy forwards and a pretty grotesque nine defensemen.
From local reports to Darren Dreger to Elliotte Friedman to Bob McKenzie, the chatter about the Pens’ interest in moving a defenseman has been strong. Add Pierre LeBrun to the endless mix:
For the time being, [the Pens winning] takes a bit of pressure off veteran GM Jim Rutherford to rush out and acquire a forward. On the other hand, he’s still carrying nine NHL defensemen and sources around the league confirmed again over the past few days that Rutherford is still trying to move a defenseman.
Which teams are looking for defense?
Winnipeg would make sense, although again, until the Jets get resolution on the Dustin Byfuglien front, I’m not sure how wise it would be to use his cap space only to have him return this season.
Anaheim tried to trade for Justin Faulk last month and has excess depth up front. Would Erik Gudbranson be a fit for the Ducks as far as giving them a little more grit on the back end?
Arizona got brutal news, which our own Craig Morgan put out there Monday, that shutdown defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson would be out three months with a cracked fibula. I mean, there’s no one available on the trade market that could do what he does anyway, but the sense early on at least is that the Coyotes will try to fill the void from within and not look at the trade market. I suppose, however, that could be re-examined later depending on results.
New Jersey? I don’t sense the Devils have inquired anywhere yet. But if their slow start to the season continues, it wouldn’t surprise me if a defense upgrade would be a priority eventually.
Not helping Pittsburgh’s quest to move a defenseman is the competition on the market, as Dallas is still actively taking calls on Julius Honka, and there’s also the Sabres, who once fully healthy on defense will have some moves to make.
Really, it just seems like a matter of “when” not “if” Pittsburgh trades a defenseman at this point. Something just has to give sooner or later and the only possibility is shipping out a blueliner.
While it seems too early in the year for a move, Ottawa and New York already hooked up on a deal to clear some space for NYR by sending Vladislav Namestnikov to OTT for a draft pick. Namestnikov only has a season left on his contract though, and likely can be flipped at the deadline for an asset if the Senators want, which is a different situation than the Pens are in.
We’ll see what the Pens can do. Gudbranson to Anaheim makes a lot of sense — he seems like a Bob Murray type of player (big, physical) and the Ducks did seem to want to add a right-handed defensemen. Pittsburgh and Anaheim have traded a couple times in the past year, they’re certainly not strangers with each other and have a good enough working relationship.
Say, Devin Shore (a 25-year old forward with decent speed and versatility and a RFA this summer with a $2.3 million salary cap hit) for Gudbranson. Who says no? The Pens aren’t likely going to clear all $4.0 million of Gudbranson’s salary but at least could give themselves some room and also add a piece that could re-balance them a bit in Shore. Or , maybe not, just a suggestion.
Either way, the calculus for the Pens definitely has been changed by the emergence of John Marino. Mike Sullivan gushes over Marino every time he talks of him.
“We just really, really like him,” Sullian said following Saturday night’s game against Minnesota. Almost any line Sully gives when asked about Marino starts with effusive praise like that.
Marino’s clearly on the upswing, playing the last four games and seeing his minutes incrase in every contest, up to 18:14 last night against Winnipeg (a blowout will help with rolling the lines).
But if Marino’s going to play — and by all accounts the Pens have no reason to take him out — that means a veteran is going to be a healthy scratch. Twice it was Gudbranson, last game it was Jack Johnson.
Then you have poor Juuso Riikola and Chad Ruhwedel who went weeks and months at a time without playing a game last season, and will certainly do so again this year as just depth players buried on the roster.
It’s a logjam that has had no real end in sight, but probably not because they haven’t tried to work on it. Seemingly sooner than later Rutherford will solve this with a trade. The best news for the Pens might be that they’re able to score goals and win games despite their forward injuries, which is no doubt easing the pressure and not going to force Rutherford to make some sort of panic move while he works to sort out the defense.