Lately I’ve been pointing out a somewhat concerning trend, both here and at one of my other writing jobs over at NBC, regarding all of the recent moves that general manager Jim Rutherford has made for the Penguins.
The trend: none of them make it more than a year in Pittsburgh before they end up getting shipped back out of town to another team.
Going all the way back to last offseason, almost every move the Penguins have made has backfired or not worked out in such a way that they have had to make another series of moves to correct them. The narrative that forms around this is that Rutherford is an aggressive GM that recognizes his mistakes and works quickly to fix them. This is good. There is nothing worse than stubbornness and a refusal to admit something isn’t working and continuing to try to fit a square peg into a round hole. What is concerning is the number of times he has had to do this recently and the number of assets it costs to correct them.
Matt Hunwick. Ryan Reaves. Antti Niemi. Riley Sheahan. Jamie Oleksiak. Derick Brassard. All for one reason or another have arrived in Pittsburgh and, just as quickly, moved on after not working out.
The other two major moves (not counting the recent additions of Nick Bjugstad and Jared McCann because they literally just got here. I think they’re still running down the tunnel at PPG Paints Arena to the locker room) that haven’t yet been undone, the free agent signing of Jack Johnson and the trade for Tanner Pearson, are not exactly off to promising starts.
Given the way they have began their time in Pittsburgh, you almost have to wonder when he admits his mistakes and moves on from them, as well.
At this point Jack Johnson analysis has already been beaten into the ground, dug up, beaten into the ground again, and then blow-torched into ashes, so I am not going do that again (at least not now!) so let’s talk about Tanner Pearson for a bit because he has really been struggling lately.
The decision to flip Carl Hagelin for him earlier this season made some sense because Hagelin is a free agent after this season and wasn’t providing any offense. For all of the positive things he did away from the puck, his stick was where scoring chances went to die and it was simply something that was not working out anymore. Even though Pearson was having a dreadful start to his season with the Los Angeles Kings (and who wouldn’t be having a dreadful season there?) he had still shown more ability in the past and, if nothing else, it was a good buy-low opportunity on a player that is in what should be the prime of his career and still has term left on his contract.
Overall, his offensive production has improved since arriving with the Penguins, and he has shown flashes of being a decent middle-six player. He had four points in his first six games, and also had two goals in that big come-from-behind win against the Anaheim Ducks as part of a little hot streak a few weeks ago.
But there has also been a lot of nothing having been held without a point in 26 of his first 36 games with the team, while he has just a single point (an assist) in his past eight games.
Nobody scores every game, and I am not expecting him to be a huge point producer or offensive machine because he is never going to be that. But there are too many games where you just kind of forget he is even on the team because when he is not producing a point, he really is not doing much of anything to make an impact.
His possession and scoring chance numbers are not good.
He has been held to one shot or less in 14 games, including each of the past three. In two of those games (against the Tampa Bay Lightning and Ottawa Senators) he did not even attempt a shot on goal. He attempted two, with one actually getting on net, in the most recent game against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
It is difficult to be less of a factor.
I like the fact that with Pearson, Bjugstad, and McCann (and let’s throw in Marcus Pettersson too, just for kicks) Rutherford has made a point of acquiring players that are younger or still in their peak years that also have term left on their contracts. The Penguins could use all of that. Pearson and Bjugstad are still signed for two more years each, while McCann and Pettersson are still years away from reaching unrestricted free agent status. There is a lot of team control and cost certainty there, and the Penguins really need to find some consistency and stability on their second, third, and fourth lines. But you still need production and strong play to go along with all of that.
In the end, I want to think Pearson is a better player than he has shown this season, both in Los Angeles and Pittsburgh, because he has shown that in the past. But even if you just look at his Pittsburgh production this season his 82-game pace would be under 30 points with terrible underlying numbers. For $3.75 million in each of the next two full seasons the Penguins are going to need more than that.
If they do not get more than that, or at least get some sort of sign that they might get more than that, you can be pretty sure that at some point over the next year or so we will be talking about Rutherford admitting his mistake once again.