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Report: The Penguins tried to trade back for Carl Hagelin (which by rule they couldn’t)

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Big deal or nah that the Pens missed a CBA provision that meant they couldn’t trade for Carl Hagelin last week?

NHL: Toronto Maple Leafs at Pittsburgh Penguins Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Before the trade deadline, it looks like Pittsburgh Penguins had aspirations of re-acquiring winger Carl Hagelin from the Los Angeles Kings, before finding out a league rule would prevent such a move from happening. This nugget was in Elliotte Friedman’s 31 Thoughts:

In the days leading up to Carl Hagelin’s trade to Washington, Pittsburgh tried to re-acquire the winger. Before the trade was submitted for Central Registry approval, someone noticed that the Penguins were ineligible to do it. They traded him to Los Angeles on Nov. 28 and retained salary. A team can not bring back any such player for one year after the initial move.

This is a bad look for the Pens’ front office. It’s a basic rule in the collective bargaining agreement- just as if a team buys a player out, they can’t re-acquire him. I don’t consider myself a CBA expert but I’ve thumbed through it and knew those two wrinkles in it. Kind of odd that no one in Pittsburgh’s office realized it and even went through any sort of time and effort to advance an idea at all that would be an ineligible transaction.

For all the frequent chatter about the Pens missing former AGM Jason Botterill, this is the one time where it actually makes sense. Botterill has an MBA and is known as the “salary cap/CBA” guy, dating back to his days under Ray Shero. Botterill is a details guy and sharp to know items like that. It’s a pure guess, but if I know it, someone who studies the document definitely would have known it.

Guys like Jim Rutherford and Bill Guerin are more ideas or vision guys. The devil is always in the details and we’ve seen Rutherford come up with and complete complicated and tricky transactions (like the three-way trade to acquire Derick Brassard). So it’s not as if he’s simple or slow, but certainly not as detail-oriented in his approach and personality as a Botterill type.

Most folks who don’t understand the workings of an NHL front office might be inclined to give the success of moves to underlings (we saw this in Toronto too recently) and blame the head manager for poor decisions. In reality, all the credit for Rutherford’s good moves go to Rutherford. All the blame also goes to him for bad moves. It’s not a round-table discussion, there’s one general manager execution his plan and his staff assisting him.

But in this case it looks like the Pens could have used more informed perspective before determining their direction to not realize they couldn’t re-acquire Hagelin in February after trading him and retaining salary on the initial transaction last November.

We really don’t know and Friedman doesn’t say exactly how far the process got, so beating up or harping on this too much probably doesn’t do a lot of good. Who knows, there’s a million things happening before the deadline, perhaps this was just a quick thought, quickly flushed and no big deal as they move on to the next item. But to have this nugget see the light of day certainly doesn’t suggest a lot of confidence in the detail level exhibited by the front office right now.

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The whole Friedman is an interesting read about the deadline from across the league of what teams were working to accomplish and how certain transactions fell apart, or did in fact end up happening. Here are the other Pittsburgh related items from Friedman:

The Flames wouldn’t confirm it, but did ask about Vancouver’s Alexander Edler. It’s believed Pittsburgh circled around him a couple of times during the year, and Sportsnet 650’s Rick Dhaliwal reported Columbus had interest, too.

We had a sense this might be a natural avenue to explore when writing about this last Sunday. On the surface it made sense - even though the realistic factor of Edler waiving his NTC and the Pens making a strong offer that the Canucks would want to take always seemed low. Too bad it didn’t work out, for simply on the ice results Edler would have been a vastly superior defensemen to the one the Pens ended up getting from Vancouver in Erik Gudbranson.

Speaking of Gudbranson-

Days before Pittsburgh acquired Erik Gudbranson, the Penguins had a nasty game with San Jose where Sidney Crosby ended up fighting Haley — a tough customer. According to The Athletic’s Josh Yohe, a Penguins player saw Evander Kane look at their bench and say, “Who on this team is going to do anything about it?” Gudbranson badly needed a fresh start, and, if anyone can breathe new energy into his career, Sergei Gonchar is a great bet. But you have to believe Gudbranson ended up in Pittsburgh (and Adam McQuaid in Columbus) with Washington in mind.

It’s totally easy to believe Pittsburgh took a reactionary stance following the San Jose game (which as mentioned above saw the Pens get pushed around in a low-key almost line brawl) and the Philly game where Brian Dumoulin got hurt on a questionable hit and Kris Letang got hurt in the ensuing scrum. Easy to see how at surface level the GM would think “well, now I need to add defense depth AND I need a guy who is a tough customer to help back the team up”.

While that adds up, it’s still disappointing from Rutherford. What happened to 2016 and Mike Sullivan’s “just play” motto? Remember when Ben Lovejoy gave a fired up interview on NBC where he was ready to run through a brick wall in Game 4 in the Washington series? The video appears to have been take off the internet but Lovejoy said:

“Since Christmas teams have been trying to combat our speed by punching us in the mouth. We’ve been taking it, and we’re going to keep on taking it and force them to turn with our speed.”

The Pens attitude - from the way the manager has built the team - has clearly shifted. In 2016 there would be no room in the lineup for a defenseman that doesn’t skate, defend or provide any offense, and one with terrible metrics.

But now in 2019, instead of trying to win on the ice and just play, the Pens are more interested by Rutherford’s own admission at his press conference to add toughness, even at the expense of not being a skilled (or good) hockey player.

Pittsburgh surely hopes Gudbranson will do better on their team than Vancouver, but that was the same hope with Jack Johnson (and Matt Hunwick before him) — two objectively bad defensemen with bad metrics that would be improved by being in Pittsburgh. Johnson is having one of his worst personal seasons in terms of rates of shots and goals against. So did Hunwick. Simply hoping a bad player will fit in or improve just because they play for the Pens is a very empty thought, and one bound to disappoint. Pittsburgh brought in Johnson in the off-season and he’s been caved in, made his teammates worse while on the ice and bled goals against. Now they’ve brought in Gudbranson who is even worse than Johnson at defending.

That shift in philosophy from skill and “just play” to this new era of “real heart and soul guy” that can’t play very well is a tough one to take. There aren’t many championship caliber teams that build by willingly forsaking skill and speed in exchange for toughness. Logically it just doesn’t make sense to be a worse team but tougher one.

This isn’t the 1970’s NHL hockey anymore, there’s no need to be anything but a skilled team that competes very hard, battles, doesn’t back down and just plays. The 2016 and 2017 Pens were built like that. Hell, this year’s Tampa Bay Lightning look an awful lot like that as far as putting premiums on speed, skill and tenacity.

It’s a shame the Pens are a lesser team than what they once were due to the personnel decisions they’ve made recently right up to the deadline.