The Pittsburgh Penguins are a star-led team with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin as the primary key players on the team, and also in the locker room. However, if you go back throughout history, when the Pens have had success, they’ve usually been insulated with secondary types of key leadership.
Talking about intangibles is difficult since, by definition, you can’t exactly quantify just what or how personalities will mesh as a group of people band together in an effort to seek a common goal. But having that added, special “extra” batch of leaders and personalities matters. It’s getting Gary Roberts in 2007. Or Bill Guerin and Hal Gill and Chris Kunitz in place by 2009. It’s having low-key but very important steadying forces like Trevor Daley and Ron Hainsey. To say nothing of the key value-add that goes well beyond the whistle by having a Matt Cullen on the squad and in the ‘room.
This isn’t necessarily an indictment on Crosby or Malkin, who have been this generation’s most productive players (well, until Connor McDavid came onto the scene anyways). But, style-wise, it’s also fair to say that Crosby and Malkin are more the “lead by example” types, though by all accounts Crosby has become more rounded and vocal a leader as his career has evolved.
Having a “veteran voice” to lend experience and maybe that extra wrinkle of personality or leadership has been key in the past, and could be another element the team could get a benefit from. This could also be a wise move, being as the team traded a known leader and “heart and soul” fiery type in Patric Hornqvist this summer as well.
The good news is the price would be right. The Penguins only have $1.3 million in available cap space right now — and even more importantly have operated with a keen eye on keeping actual costs down in the uncertain 2020-21 financial situation. But, veterans who are still unsigned would probably be willing to sign not for $$ reasons but rather to chase a Stanley Cup to cap a great individual career. Pittsburgh could also, and possibly would have to waive, trade or demote a lower-end player from the lineup if they add a veteran to stay under the 23-player roster limit.
Who would some of the best options for this type of role and player be right now?
Pros: Pain in the ass to play against, already has won a Stanley Cup (2007 with Anaheim), is that type of player that is a “letter on his chest” type of leader. At 35, Perry isn’t THAT old, was fairly productive and effective in the 2020 playoffs with 5G+4A in 27 games for Dallas, and has been a proven playoff performer with 98 points in 145 career NHL postseason games. Perry can also still play a key, net-area role down low on the power play, which could provide value to fill a hole for the type of physical forward with size that the Pens don’t currently have.
Cons: Pain in the ass that can be prone to making bad decisions that can hurt his team, only scored 5 goals in 57 regular season games in 2019-20 with Dallas, has slumped from his prime of being a consistent 50%+ Corsi player to being in the 47% range each of the last three seasons.
—You don’t pay or play Perry for impressive regular season results any longer. He wasn’t a standout statistically last year, his first in Dallas, by any means. But much like his former teammate Chris Kunitz, Perry is judged by what he can do in the playoffs. And usually, THAT is where he is going to provide value and earn his keep, and that is where he shined last year for the Stars, especially in the Stanley Cup Final. Perry scored five total points in SCF Games 4-5, including the OT GWG in Game 5 that staved off elimination for Dallas.
“Corey’s a big guy. He’s always in those hard areas, and he got rewarded for it,” teammate Tyler Seguin said in September. “Composure. A lot of experience. Passion, drive. Guys that have been there and know how hard it is to get these moments and don’t want to have any regrets. That’s what this is all about.”
That’s the type of player and leader that should be on the Pens’ radar, especially with their own bottom-six group of right wingers not being exactly “jump off the page” good. If you add Perry, it probably bumps a Rodrigues or Lafferty type off the team, but would the onset of experience off-set the desire to want to be younger and faster? It’s an interesting question to ponder.
Pros: A very good friend of Malkin and they have played together internationally a ton over the years, adding Kovalchuk might allow the Pens to push a Jason Zucker or Bryan Rust type to the third line to balance team depth. Plus he really, really worked in Montreal:
“Does he have anything left?” “How would he fit in?” “Can he keep up?” Those were the questions upon Kovalchuk’s arrival in Montreal. And within the first weeks, Kovalchuk’s response has been more Rachmaninoff than Stravinsky. Rather than embrace the chaos that is the Canadiens’ high-energy, up-tempo gegenpress, Kovalchuk identified how his skills best fit within the system. Instead of trying to keep up with Tomas Tatar, Kovalchuk occupied spaces vacated by opponents forced to defend the aggressive Slovak. Instead of trying to defend alongside Phillip Danault, he adjusted his game to the presence of the Habs’ security blanket. Rather than trying to dangle like Max Domi or Nick Suzuki, he made it a mission to make safe plays at important times while giving the youngsters emergency options when necessary.
Cons: Turns 38 in April, has been very hit or miss, hot or cold lately and was a washout last season in Los Angeles and Washington (0G+1A in a very uninspired bubble playoff performance with the Caps). As a skilled forward in the twilight of his playing days, he is a 12-13 minute a night player, so even if he’s in a top line role he is certainly far from a full-time top line player at this point.
The 43-year old hasn’t said if he will leave Boston, or if he would continue his NHL career if he can’t reach an agreement for the Bruins. Father Time is undefeated and was finally catching up to Chara last year as the tall player is finally showing cracks in mobility and seeing a drop-off in his game. Plus, the Pens just don’t have a spot for Chara on their team. It would be one thing to consider adding a winger and maybe bump Sam Lafferty to the minors or waive Evan Rodrigues...Adding a LHD to a team that already has a great first pair LD in Brian Dumoulin, a very effective second pair in Marcus Pettersson, a big contract/reclamation project in Mike Matheson and Juuso Riikola? There just isn’t much of a fit for a player in Chara who turns 44 before the start of the next playoffs. 5-10+ years ago, this would have been an idea, but in 2020 it’s time has passed.