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The ten worst Pittsburgh Penguins trades of the 2010’s

Moves that might have been better off not being made

Pittsburgh Penguins v Washington Capitals Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Yesterday we took on the best trades the Pittsburgh Penguins made in the 2010’s and for every best list, well, there’s the worst.

Here’s the qualifications, taken straight from BSB with the appropriate Pens’ related notes shoehorned in. By attempting the rankings of the best trades, I considered a few areas of evaluation. They are:

Immediate Face Value Appraisal

Sometimes, you know it’s a win, right from the time you see the Bob McKenzie tweet announcing the trade.

Hindsight Analysis

But, knowing what we know now matters too. Carolina trading Pittsburgh in the eight overall pick in the 2012 draft seemed great at the time, but didn’t really mean very much now at the end of 2019.

Impact on Team’s Success

Shedding a bad player for a serviceable player (like, say, Daley for Scuderi) means a lot more right now than trading a second round pick for a rental that didn’t add up to much. That kind of makes sense at face value, so let’s stay there.

Butterfly Effect... To a Degree

The Pens traded the draft pick that was Ryan Dzingel to Ottawa for Alex Kovalev. That one is probably going to show up in the other article for worst trades of the decade. In a big sense, this is part luck but any trade involving picks and prospects can end up meandering to a way different path eventually then what it looks like at the time of the trade, for better or worse.

10 - June 25, 2010: Pittsburgh trades a third round pick (used to select Harrison Ruopp) to Philadelphia in exchange to the rights to Dan Hamhuis

This trade ended up being mostly a non-factor, but still makes the list for pure annoyance. Hamhuis was an unrestricted free agent on July 1 and the Flyers picked him up from Nashville the week earlier. Hamhuis did not want to sign with Philadelphia, so they made the ever-rare intra-state PIT/PHI trade, scooping a third round pick off the Pens, no conditions, no nothing. Just a straight up relatively high pick.

What Pittsburgh apparently didn’t know or thought they could change was Hamhuis (a British Columbia native) and his mindset to sign somewhere out west. He ended up joining Vancouver. So for hearing “no” from the Hamhuis camp, the Pens gave their rival a decent pick. Luckily nothing really came of that decision, and ironically enough the pick/prospect involved was sent to Arizona, who eventually traded him to Pittsburgh.

9 - February 24, 2011: Pittsburgh trades a seventh round pick (used to select Ryan Dzingel) to Ottawa for Alex Kovalev.

This trade ended up looking poorly since Ottawa bucked the odds and actually drafted and developed a good NHL player from the last round in the draft. The Penguins needed skill in 2011 with Sidney Crosby concussed and Evgeni Malkin’s ACL shredded. Kovalev didn’t have much in the tank and had some bad luck on top of that, scoring only 3 goals in 27 games in his second stint in Pittsburgh that ended with a whimper at the end of the first round of the playoffs.

This is probably a trade the Pens would make again, the logic of what they were attempting was sound, and the price paid was about as low as possible. Just ended up being a big value win for Ottawa to turn a veteran on an expiring contract into an eventual future 40+ point NHL scorer.

8 - January 2, 2015: Pittsburgh trades Rob Klinkhammer and a 2015 first round pick (used to eventually select Mat Barzal by NYI) in exchange for David Perron.

A lot of fans get hung up on the selection of Barzal here, but would the Pens have drafted a smallish center from the WHL in the first round? Seems unlikely, so that is what it is. This also proves that even when something fortunate happens to the Oilers they find a way to mess it up (Edmonton traded this pick for prospect defenseman Griffin Reinhart. Reinhart, naturally, didn’t pan at the NHL level).

The major factor perhaps overlooked a bit now with time is that the Pens did NOT protect this pick. It took them until the last day of the season to qualify for the playoffs, so they were very close to potentially surrendering a very valuable pick. Not many in January 2015 would have expected making playoffs to be so precarious for Pittsburgh, but in the Mike Johnston era nothing was for certain. Jim Rutherford learned his lesson on this, the following summer when acquiring Phil Kessel from Toronto Rutherford made sure to protect the future first round pick (i.e. the Pens would have kept it and kicked the pick a year into the future if they had not made the playoffs).

Perron was also a disappointment in Pittsburgh, which hurts as well. Perron only scored four goals in 43 games in his second season with the Pens; contributing to the decision to flip him to Anaheim for another player that needed a change of scenery in Carl Hagelin. That decision to turn Perron into a useful player in Hagelin who helped win two Stanley Cups at least cushions the blow of losing a first round pick in what was a very talented 2015 draft year.

7 - March 25, 2013: Pittsburgh trades a 2013 second round pick (eventually used by Columbus to select Dillon Heatherington) and a 2014 second round pick (used to select Noah Rod) to San Jose for Douglas Murray.

Luckily for the Pens that neither of these draft picks panned out or else this trade would be WAY higher on the list. Still, the immobile Murray was not a very good player by the time he was traded to Pittsburgh, and the Pens decided to pay a fairly high price to bring him over. Not the greatest of ideas. There was opportunity cost to get Murray instead of a better player who could have helped more.

6 -January 19, 2019: Pittsburgh trades Derek Grant to Anaheim for Joseph Blandisi

This was a minor deal, and there isn’t a lot of outrage for a swap of lower-end NHL players, however it low-key has turned into a lopsided deal in value and performance. Grant didn’t fit in or play well in Pittsburgh and was shuffled back to the Ducks. Since then Grant has scored 12 goals and 21 points in 65 games in his second stint in Anaheim where he’s been a mainstay in the bottom-six. Blandisi has only been in the NHL due to injuries in Pittsburgh for 24 games, scoring two goals and four points.

5- June 21, 2017: Pittsburgh trades a 2020 second round pick to Vegas for expansion draft considerations.

Rutherford was overly-generous in how he navigated the expansion waters, even though to be fair it was a delicate situation. Marc-Andre Fleury did the Pens a solid move by waiving his no movement clause to become eligible for this draft. All parties obviously knew that Fleury’s stint in Pittsburgh was coming to an end, the only question was where.

In hindsight all the NHL teams were overly-generous to Vegas, bending over backwards sending them extra players and draft picks. Teams could have worked together a little more, but instead all ended up benefiting the new club.

So because of all of this, Rutherford and Fleury decided that the goalie was willing to relocate to Vegas and take on the challenge of backstopping an expansion team. To ensure there would be no surprises and to facilitate the move the Pens were willing to toss an extra pick to Vegas to do so. It was the right thing to do, to do right by Fleury, but from a cost management perspective it now sure does look like the Pens gave up a pick they didn’t have to. Fleury was by far the best player available to pick from Pittsburgh’s list. Vegas would have been dumb to not take him, but they got a high pick for free to do it anyways.

4- February 25, 2019: Pittsburgh trades Tanner Pearson to Vancouver in exchange for Erik Gudbranson

The Pens played the outdoor game on Feb. 23rd in Philly. Brian Dumoulin got concussed on a borderline questionable head shot. In the ensuing scrum, Kris Letang got jumped and torqued his already surgically repaired neck.

Less than 36 hours later the Pens added a big, tough defenseman who wasn’t known for much positive besides being big and tough. In a time and age where that means very little.

This trade on the ice didn’t work out as a disaster, Gudbranson through smoke, mirrors, magic, luck or good fortune played pretty well in a short sample in the 2019 season. He wasn’t a game-changer, but for him that’s a positive since the only way he changes games tends to be negative for his team.

Gudbranson had a cumbersome $4.0 million contract with term on it. Rutherford was able to fix the issue and get out of all the contract, when Anaheim was similarly injured and impulsive later on. But Rutherford also managed the asset of the 2015 first round pick that went for Perron as mentioned above, to Hagelin, to Pearson, to Gudbranson, to nothing at all. That’s not a pretty picture.

3 - February 23, 2018: Pittsburgh trades a 2018 first round pick (eventually used by NYR to draft K’Andre Miller), Ian Cole and a 2019 third round pick to Ottawa. Pittsburgh trades Ryan Reaves and a 2018 fourth round pick to Vegas. Pittsburgh acquires Derick Brassard, a 2018 third round pick (eventually traded to Colorado), Vincent Dunn and Tobias Lindberg.

The Pens thought they were solving a huge problem by adding Brassard, but really only confounded a bigger problem by giving up a ton of assets for what ended up being much more of a foul ball than the home run they were looking for

Brassard, an offensive-minded center aging out of his prime, was miscast in Pittsburgh in a third line center role that demands a huge defensive assignment. It worked for all-around players Jordan Staal and Nick Bonino, it did not work at all for Brassard.

2- June 29, 2019: Pittsburgh trades Phil Kessel, Dane Birks and a 2021 fourth round pick to Arizona for Alex Galchenyuk and Pierre-Olivier Joseph.

This could shift in time, depending on the development of Joseph. However, whether he’s a Dumoulin or a Joe Morrow, time will tell. But the main portion of this trade for the Pens was probably always destined to end up on a “worst of” list. They downgraded a player who scored 92 and 82 points in the last two seasons down to one that hasn’t fit in and has two goals and 10 points in 27 games and is on pace to end the season with 23 points due to missing time to injury. (And I’d probably take the under there on 23 points with the Pens).

Pittsburgh wanted to make this move to open up salary space, change the mix in the room, ease tension between coach and players, and to that end there certainly can be no complaints about how the team has fared. But it’s not like they didn’t play hard and weren’t even more powerful in 2016 with Kessel, so placing all the blame on him feels disingenuous at best.

1- June 23, 2017: Pittsburgh trades Oskar Sundqvist and a 2017 first round pick (used to select Klim Kostin) to St. Louis in exchange for Ryan Reaves and a 2017 second round pick (used to select Zachary Lauzon).

The doozy. After winning two straight Stanley Cups, the Pens didn’t want to “just play” anymore, they wanted to get tougher. Bigger. Meaner. Grit. Pushback. The GM owned up to the new direction and pushed it to a hard right, paying a huge price to add the undisputed heavyweight in the league in Reaves.

But Reaves is the last of the enforcers, so he had very few combatants who were willing to fight. Reaves also couldn’t skate a normal shift for Sullivan and was lightly used accordingly.

Add in that the Pens downgraded 15 spots in the draft and took a reach on a defensive defenseman who had to medically retire from hockey and it compounds the negative effects of the trade. Couldn’t have been known at the time, but Lauzon was a fairly low ceiling prospect in the NHL from draft day. That STL selected a high-skill, flashy and potential top-six point scoring forward in Kostin just rubs a lot of wound of this deal.

Oh, and the Pens gave up on Sundqvist (who I would argue they did have a reason to give up on, he didn’t show a ton in the NHL up to that point) but Sundqvist would develop very nicely in St. Louis as a contributing NHL player. Pittsburgh would lack viable lower line centers in 2017 and 2018. It’s just pain from every angle on this trade.