One of the most disappointing aspects to the Penguins’ season so far is has been their power play. It’s ranked 21st in the league now and was as low as 25th early in the month. Pittsburgh has dealt with important injuries, from Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin out for significant stretches of time, but they’ve still performed poorly no matter the personnel.
An interesting name to keep an eye on will be Erik Gustafsson from Chicago. The Blackhawks may have a “firesale” of veterans as the February trade deadline approaches, and Gustafsson, a 60-point player last season, could be very attractive addition for a contender as a left-shot puck moving defenseman.
Our SBN blog Second City Hockey saw a potential fit for Pittsburgh:
Gustafsson is far off the 60-point pace he set last season, and the power play, with him as quarterback, has not done exceptionally well this season. His value is much lower than it could have been this summer or at last season’s trade deadline, as his lack of defense is not being offset by his offense so far this season. There’s signs he could improve — his shooting percentage is four points below last season’s, for instance — but right now, the Blackhawks have a hole in their defense when he’s on ice.
But the Blackhawks may still be able to get a return from a team in need of a better power play going forward, as Gustafsson has demonstrated a clear offensive ability, and maybe it’s just the Blackhawks’ general bad power play and power-play coaching that is holding Gustafsson back. Maybe he’ll do better on a better team, albeit one that needs a better quarterback for their first or second unit.
There are several teams that fit this description. The Penguins are one of the best defensive teams in the league this season, but their power play ranks 22nd, despite a hefty heaping of offensive talent
Gustafsson has played 21-22 minutes in the past two seasons too, the Pens could slot him into a lower pair and perhaps benefit more from a more focused role. With key defenders missing a ton of game action from Kris Letang (8) to Brian Dumoulin (13, and counting), Justin Schultz (9, and counting), getting a player like Gustafsson provides Pittsburgh an opportunity to ice a better player than replacement level talents like Juuso Riikola, Chad Ruhwedel and Zach Trotman.
The price appears to the right too, SCH suggested a second or third round pick would be an appropriate and acceptable trade price for Gustafsson. Gustafsson makes $1.2 million against the salary cap and is set to be an unrestricted free agent at season’s end. All of that is a good fit for the Penguins to add. With Schultz’s contract also ending and a return seeming cloudy at best and unlikely at worst, Gustafsson could make for a cheaper possible replacement as well.
Erik Gustafsson, 2019-20 stats per Natural Stat Trick:
Corsi For%: 48.4% (3rd out of 8 CHI defensemen)
5v5 Goals for: 33 (2/8)
5v5 GF%: 54.1% (2/8)
Scoring Chances for%: 47.1% (3/8)
If the Pens wanted to add depth in the form of an offensive minded defenseman, it’s tough to see a better candidate than Gustafsson. But if all of Dumoulin, Marcus Pettersson and Jack Johnson are healthy, is there a need on the left side? Can Gustaffson play the right effectively? It seems he’s lined up there at least occasionally.
Those are all questions they will have to weigh. The availability of decent-to-good defenseman this time of year can be a question mark, and with the injury woes the Pens have gone through, they may be wise to invest a mid-round draft pick to add depth to that group, much like they did in 2017 adding Ron Hainsey and Mark Streit as rental additions. As the old mantra goes, you can never have too much defense, especially for a team prone to get as injured as the Pens do.