After almost six months, the 2018-19 NHL regular season is almost completed. The Pittsburgh Penguins opened their schedule on October 4 against the Washington Capitals. Check out the Penguins’ lineup for that game from NHL.com:
Of the 23 players on the opening night roster, six have been traded: Jamie Oleksiak, Riley Sheahan, Derick Brassard, Daniel Sprong, Carl Hagelin, and Derek Grant. Another exit was made recently with Juuso Riikola being assigned to the minor league affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
And that doesn’t even include Tanner Pearson, who was brought onto the team in November and shipped back out again in February.
Needless to say, it’s been a season of changing and shuffling the deck for the Pens and general manager Jim Rutherford. While obviously we all tend to focus on what entered, this break in the schedule gives a nice chance to change focus and catch back up with the departed and see if they’ve made out like Mark Wahlberg or more like Matt Damon, Leonardo DiCaprio or Martin Sheen. (Spoiler alert?)
Prologue trade: summer salary clear
(We included Conor Sheary because when the Penguins traded him last June, it was the first major move to set the stage for the 2018-19 season. Also, there’s good reason to be invested in Sheary’s season; his trade was a conditional one. If he scores 20 goals or 40 points this season, Pittsburgh receives Buffalo’s third round pick. If Sheary doesn’t hit one of those benchmarks, the Penguins only get a fourth round pick).
Well, a fourth round pick it is. Buffalo has seven games remaining, and Sheary would need eight points in those games. He doesn’t have a stretch all season of scoring like that all year. It’s looking more and more like the 2016-17 season was a Sidney Crosby-fueled bender rather than repeatable stats.
Sheary has one more season under contract at a $3 million rate, where he will no doubt score both 20 goals and 40 points in 2019-20 just to spite us all. (Probably not though).
Trade No. 1: The Shakeup Begins
Background: Remember back in November? The Pens started out slow, and Rutherford was fairly disgusted with the early season malaise. He felt the team was too comfortable and not getting results because they were in the comfort zone. So after warning them publicly a trade would happen if nothing changed, nothing changed on the ice so the GM definitely made a swipe at jolting the team.
November 14 : Carl Hagelin was traded to Los Angeles for Tanner Pearson.
Results for the traded: Hagelin was put in a bit of an awkward position, since it was widely acknowledged the last place Kings would likely again trade him soon. Then he also got hurt and had a knee surgery during his stint in LA. He recovered as was traded to the Capitals, where he has fit in very well so far and is producing points at his best rate of the season on a third line with Lars Eller and Brett Connolly.
Trade No. 2: Sprong is Sprung
Background: The trials and tribulations of Daniel Sprong and Mike Sullivan. Since Sprong couldn’t be sent to the AHL without being waived, he was basically shoe-horned on the NHL roster. Sullivan did start Sprong briefly in training camp with Crosby and Jake Guentzel. But that didn’t last past the first few preseason games, and Sprong was mired on the fourth line or was listed a healthy scratch. It was clear the coach had no use for the player, so the GM finally stepped in and moved him.
December 3: Daniel Sprong was traded to Anaheim for Marcus Pettersson.
Results for the traded: Sprong’s Anaheim career has been almost as weird as his stint in Pittsburgh. While he’s had good quality of linemates, he’s also had low ice time. He’s not playing much power play at all. His production hasn’t been bad, but for whatever reason, he hasn’t performed well enough for another two coaches (first Randy Carlyle then Bob Murray after Carlyle’s firing) to want to play him more. In fact, every month he’s been getting cut in TOI since he got to Anaheim (via Yahoo):
It’ll be interesting to see where Sprong goes from here. He was a healthy scratch occasionally in January and February, but still isn’t playing a ton, despite putting the puck in the net a little bit in March. In many ways, it’s like his time in Pittsburgh — the skilled forward might score a goal on any shift, or he might make a mistake leading to a goal against and get benched for the rest of the game.
As I said at the time of the trade, the critical question for fallout of this was whether Sullivan was correct in his determination that Sprong was more trouble than he was worth. So far, I don’t think we’re any closer to answering that question based on Sprong’s rollercoaster time in Anaheim. He’s been the best player on the ice in some games, but he’s also inconsistent and has played poorly enough to be stapled to the bench.
Trade No. 3: Well, It’s Better Than Waivers
Background: It seemed like the Pens were hoping Derek Grant would be a dynamic bottom-six forward that would add size, physicality, and some punch with production. Grant did score 12 goals in 66 games last year in Anaheim. Instead, Grant was just a warm body and mostly unimpressive this season in Pittsburgh. He became a spare forward and was being healthy scratched. The Pens could have waived him and lost him for nothing but instead flipped him back from whence he came to get a younger player they could freely send to the minors.
January 17: Grant was traded to Anaheim for Joseph Blandisi.
Results for the traded: Well, Grant didn’t have to go back to the minors this year, so he collected his full salary and stayed in the show. But Grant hasn’t flashed much and probably faces an uncertain future on the free agent market this summer at age 29 to get another NHL job. He’s a journeyman and has traveled a long road already, and that road figures to continue to wind more in the future.
Trade No. 4: Like It Never Even Happened
Background: After a strong start to the season where he scored a few goals and chipped in a couple more assists, Oleksiak got concussed in a fight and never seemed to find favor on the team again. His play slumped, and he was relegated down the depth chart. Sensing a chance to clear a player still due a $2.1375 million salary through 2021, Rutherford struck.
January 28: Jamie Oleksiak was traded to Dallas for a 2019 fourth round pick (MIN).
Results for the traded: You would think it would be a good thing for Oleksiask to go back to Dallas, the place that drafted him and developed him for seven years. But it hasn’t. He has been shutout in production and has fallen into healthy scratch territory there. It really remains a mystery why they would want to bring him back and not have a plan for him. Fortunately for Oleksiak his salary should make him an NHL option somewhere next season.
Trade No. 5: The Better 19
Background: The Brassard saga finally came to an end after a one year stint in Pittsburgh filled with injury and just not a great fit. Brassard wants to be in a scoring role and lots of minutes. He never fit in with what Pittsburgh needs out of a third line center. So he, along with expiring contract Riley Sheahan was traded for younger players who might fit better.
February 1: Derick Brassard, Riley Sheahan, 2019 second-round pick (PIT), 2019 fourth round-pick (PIT), 2019 fourth-round pick (MIN) were traded to Florida for Nick Bjugstad, Jared McCann.
Results for the traded: Much like Hagelin, it was widely known the Panthers would trade Brassard at the deadline, which they did. They only netted a third round pick from Colorado. Now on his third team of the season, it hasn’t really gotten much better for Brass. His fall in value and perception in the last 12ish months is really astounding.
Sheahan did not get traded again and is playing out the string in Florida. He also faces free agency this summer, which has been brutal in the past to “middle-aged” players who don’t have a lot of skill. The salary cap world has victimized players like Sheahan, so hopefully he’s able to fit in somewhere.
Trade No. 6: Calling in the Character
Background: With Pearson not really moving the needle a ton in Pittsburgh, and the Pens getting pushed around and tons of players injured in February (Olli Maatta, Brian Dumoulin, and Kris Letang all getting dropped), Rutherford decided to bring in some #grit.
February 25: Pearson was traded to Vancouver for Erik Gudbranson.
Results for the traded: Pearson has had a pretty decent start, and everyone seemed pleased enough with him. He’s not an impact player, but a middle-line forward that can pitch in a bit. It seems since he’s not the fastest skater, and being in the West might be better for him, much like being in the East has always suited Hagelin more over the years.
So there you have it, a huge number of bodies shuffling in. out, and sometimes both in-and-out. At this point, the Hagelin trade looms the largest, since he ended up on a rival team the Penguins play just about every spring.