Every off-season it’s fun for the main stream media to float what sources say “could” happen. The key word being the veil of “could” as a qualifier. They’re not SAYING Iceburgh is going to be sent to the North Shore for the Pirate Parrot, just that it could be discussed.
Anyways, this hold-up on trading the best players is nothing new. Mainstream sources have forewarned not to be surprised about a Phil Kessel trade this summer. (Even though the refrain was the same in 2018.....And also, shamefully, in summer 2017 weeks after winning the Stanley Cup for the second time in Phil’s second season talks about Phil potentially being traded were floated by the Pittsburgh media).
But, as Adam Gretz pointed out here, the best advice for Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford is don’t do anything stupid. If you trade a point-per-game winger with a 23-team no trade clause, you’re making the team worse in the immediate future. If you trade what Rutherford called a “top 10” defenseman in Kris Letang (who also has a partial no trade clause) you’re being stupid. If you trade Evgeni Malkin, well then walking papers should be handed out.
With that in mind, how should the Pens structure their personnel in the off-season? It could be something like this..
This is the bedrock of the team, and players that simply can’t be parted with. In the unlikely event if Edmonton calls and offers to retain 50% of Connor McDavid’s salary to get one, well then you think, but just about in all cases otherwise and for reasonably intelligent practical purposes, these are the players to build around from 2019-20 beyond — on the ice and off of it for marketing and business reasons they’re a part of the team.
Sidney Crosby - no explanation necessary.
Evgeni Malkin - 2018-19 was perhaps Malkin’s worst season, and even though he scored 72 points in 68 games, that still remains disappointing. But Malkin’s talent is a level that franchises search (usually in vain) to find. He’s still part of the solution and is not the problem. The problem would be building some talent around him. Would he be more engaged with a young Russian winger that he can help fit into the NHL like Sergei Gonchar did for him? Sounds appealing, but some sort of challenge like that could be a good idea.
Kris Letang - there’s no scenario where Letang can be dealt and a player who eats 25+ minutes and can score 50+ points while holding down the right side of the ice can be found. He gets hurt and he can make visible mistakes, but he also tilts the ice for the Pens advantage and way more good than bad happens. Don’t over-think it.
Jake Guentzel - just got extended for five more seasons at a completely reasonable $6.0 million cap hit, and just scored 40 goals with Crosby this season. He’s not going anywhere anytime soon.
Matt Murray - goaltending can be voodoo, so again, no need to over-react. When you remember Murray was likely trying to playing through an injury early in the season, then got rest/rehab and came back on December 15th his .930 save% from then on was tied-third best in the whole league and his 25-9-5 record was definitely what it is all about. It’s totally fair to wonder what the next contract for a #1 goalie who doesn’t play 50+ games (let alone 60+) should look like, but for 2019-20 there’s no doubt who that #1 goalie is.
Young and valued
These guys are cheap, productive players. Their position on the team should be safe since their value to Pittsburgh surpasses their likely value in a trade.
Jared McCann - McCann is the major piece of what Pittsburgh has to show for both the 2018 and 2019 trade deadline acquisitions. He’s young, exciting and can play center or wing. At $1.25 million cap hit next year he could be a bargain that is around the 20 goal mark again.
Dominik Simon - the internet either loves or hates Simon depending on how much you can appreciate a nuanced hockey player devoid of tremendous skill but capable of driving good play. At $750k, Simon is a strong value for the Pens next season.
Marcus Pettersson - for a guy who was a rookie last season, Pettersson looked more steady than many of the regular defensemen. He can skate, has nice size and comparing him to a Swedish Dumoulin has a bit of legs based on age progression.
Brian Dumoulin - okay so he’s not THAT young for a hockey player at 27, but at $4.0 million, Dumoulin represents solid value as a first-pair defenseman that can do just about everything well all over the ice. There’s no real reason to consider moving him, at all, much like the players in this category.
Teddy Blueger - was great in limited looks in the NHL in 2018-19, should have a full-time roster spot on the fourth line next season.
The Phil Kessel category
Phil gets his own spot, because he’s just different than everyone else, a unique personality somehow confined to the NHL machine that definitely does not appreciate or support individualism.
Phil Kessel - Kessel is a point-per-game winger with an almost iron-clad no trade clause. If the Pens want to trade him, he’s going to probably a division rival for a fraction of his value returning. That would not be wise. Phil can be a pain for the media, his coaches but he still drives production on the ice, and that’s what matters most.
Gotta give to get
If the Pens want to make changes (and surely they do), well they have to have something on the trade block of value in order to get something valuable back. These guys (in our eyes) do not have to be traded, but probably should at least be dangled to see what bites
Bryan Rust - did a cold streak at the beginning of the year and another at the end interrupt a great season for Rust? Or did one hot streak in the middle salvage a terrible season? Could be looked upon either way. Not expecting him to be gone, he might be safer in reality than in this look, but the Pens probably should at least consider it.
Nick Bjugstad - Bjugstad wasn’t bad as a Penguin, but he has a $4.1 million salary. Remember when the Pens couldn’t afford $4.0 million to keep Nick Bonino? Bjugstad isn’t the best fit for third line center and there could be an upgrade to seek for his position which is why he lands here for considering bang for the buck, as well as if a lumbering 6’6 player really fits into the coach’s system.
Olli Maatta - three healthy scratches in the playoffs and a bloated defensive payroll mean that in reality Maatta is almost sure to be traded. For this exercise, he is still probably best used as trade bait, but the Pens need value here. Maatta had a bad season but let’s remember 91% of Pensburgh readers graded him an A or a B for his 2017-18 season and in 2016-17 he had a terrific playoff run. He’s going to be a solid second pair defensive defenseman somewhere next season, which of course is sadly ironic since that’s exactly what Pittsburgh actually needs and of course isn’t going to get from Jack Johnson.
2019 first round pick - trading a first round pick on draft night might trigger PTSD for Pens’ fans remembering the 2017 debacle. But it’s still a valuable tool that, if used correctly, could really help the team improve with an immediate NHL caliber player in 2019-20. Long-term, it’s smart to keep the pick, draft a youngster and hope in two, three or four years he might make an NHL impact. But 2018-19 told us this core might not have two, three, four years to wait on that development. Burning another high pick for immediate gains has been the name of the game for Pittsburgh, and at least has to be considered again.
Sell low bin
Bad contracts and aging players, these are the ones Pittsburgh really need to move on from, if at all possible.
Jack Johnson - the Pens’ worst defenseman last season results wise. Bad contract and now he’s a year older. The avoidable mistake of signing him in the first place needs to be corrected.
Erik Gudbranson - the organization seems content with him, and he’s gotten high marks from the media too. But let’s remember this, Gudbranson — at best — is a third-pair defensemen getting paid $4.0 million. He can’t handle the puck at all. He’s not going to help breakouts. He’s not going to score many points. Defensively he wasn’t poor in a small sample in Pittsburgh, but we all know his overall floor level of play is very, very low when things go bad. They haven’t gone bad yet, but Gudbranson at best is a guy with no upside that will need sheltering and has a $4m contract. That’s not a situation to really be content with.
Patric Hornqvist - hurts to put him here, but here he is. Hornqvist got moved off the top power play at the end of the season with the emergence of Guentzel. Hornqvist has played his way off the Crosby and Malkin lines. What good is an aging, injury-accumulated winger who isn’t a PP1 mainstay and will struggle at even with lower line wingers? Not sure you’ll find a taker for him — which may be a blessing in disguise if he can comeback, shake the concussions and get back to his old self — but at this point Hornqvist is a drag on the team. It would be selling low to move on now, but if you’re afraid his best days are behind him, he has to be here.
Tristan Jarry - kind of a forgotten man as of late. But Jarry’s contract guarantees him his full $700,000 whether he plays in the AHL or NHL next season. NHL goalies don’t get traded for a lot, and Jarry isn’t even an NHL goalie right now so he’ll be traded for even less. Don’t expect any sort of value in the return, but he still needs to be flipped to help the financial bottom line, as well as give him a chance in a new organization being as DeSmith beat him for the backup job.
Just kinda there
Everyone else, who is not a mainstay but just on the team
Casey DeSmith - did great as the backup this year, signed for next year and beyond. So there no need to think too much about him or his spot when it comes to upgrading the roster, which is the best kind of backup goalie. He’s there, he does his job, and it’s quiet.
Justin Schultz - about the only intrigue is his contract since he will be an unrestricted free agent after 2019-20. But the Pens commonly keep veterans into and through their walk year, even if they know they will lose him. Schultz’s long-term future may be questionable, but for now he’s fine as a capable part of the team.
Zach Aston-Reese - he needs to stay healthy. And also prove he’s got the playmaking and consistency to be more than a fourth liner, but hopefully health is in the cards for ZAR next season.