But the Pens might not be done quite yet ahead of the February 24th NHL trade deadline as they try to gear up for another spring playoff run. The biggest hanging swing factor at this point for Pittsburgh comes down to a simple concept, yet perhaps an unknown. Health.
Brian Dumoulin had a surgery to repair severed ankle tendons on December 1st. Nick Bjugstad had the dreaded core muscle surgery in mid-November. Neither are practicing with the team, despite both being several weeks past the minimum time announced being out. Is there concern that one or both might not be able to play their presumed important roles down the stretch?
The answer to that question will lead to how much action in the trade market still needs to be done. If Dumoulin isn’t going to be at 100% as a 20+ minute a night player, the Pens probably need to add a defenseman. That situation would be similar to 2017 when Kris Letang’s health was murky and unknown at the deadline, and indeed Letang would be sidelined for the rest of the season. It’s not believed Dumoulin WON’T play again this season, he is expected back, but at what capacity? That feels like a reasonable question at this point.
Ditto for Bjugstad, who was on the ice several weeks ago, but despite coach Mike Sullivan using the term “progression” to describe Bjugstad’s recovery, the player hasn’t been seen skating since the All-Star break. There’s no public knowledge to believe Bjugstad isn’t coming back at some point, but again the question must be asked if he’ll be able to get on track and be counted on to play a third line role down the stretch.
As Josh Yohe said the other day in The Athletic following the Zucker trade, “I’m betting Rutherford isn’t done yet.”
It would seem a pretty good bet to make, Rutherford is never shy about adding depth pieces, for the bottom of the lineup or just for insurance. He went out and got Erik Gudbranson last year with Letang and Dumoulin on the shelf to boost the defense. It was Ron Hainsey and Mark Streit in 2017 to help mitigate the Letang absence (in bodies, if not in performance). It was Justin Schultz at the deadline in 2016 as a number 6/7 type defensemen to add to the mix.
One item to remember is the Zucker trade cleared out a first round pick and one of the few bright prospects Pittsburgh had in Calen Addison. What already was a fairly bare trade cupboard (with no second round pick this year) has been reduced to little valuable pieces, and less desire to trade what does remain. Thus, higher end players possibly available like Tyler Toffoli, Andreas Anthanasiou are not realistic adds post-Zucker add.
If the Pens are going shopping it will have to be out of the more of the bargain bin than anything else. That also fits the team needs of just adding a body or two, just in case.
Here’s some new targets and names to keep an eye on. The commonality between all these players is that they’re rental players set to be free agents at the end of the season. They’re all also on clear non-playoff teams who really have no reason to hold onto veterans when they could flip them for a mid-to-late round draft pick.
Trevor Lewis - Los Angeles
As ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski wrote in a really nice trade deadline primer:
A versatile part of two Cup-winning Los Angeles teams, the 33-year-old has just 20 points in his past 87 games and is averaging 11:48 per game, his lowest time on ice since 2011.
At 6’1, 202 pounds and ability to play either wing, Lewis has the size that will be enticing. If Bjugstad’s situation is cloudy at best, the Pens could run a lower line with Lewis, Jared McCann and Patric Hornqvist. That would be pretty good to compliment with their Buzzsaw (ZAR-Blueger-Tanev) and the Crosby and Malkin lines (Zucker-Crosby-Simon; Kahun-Malkin-Rust). If Bjugstad can bump someone out, that adds more flexibility and options.
Melker Karlsson - San Jose
More from Wyshynski:
The 29-year-old is an asset on the penalty kill and can help someone’s bottom-six forwards, but there’s a prevailing wisdom that the Sharks will seek to re-sign him as a veteran depth player.
Nothing would stop the Sharks from signing Karlsson on July 1 as a free agent, and they could add a draft pick to rent him out for a few months. The price would probably be right for the Pens, and they could use Karlsson as a scratch of fourth line/PK guy along the way as the perfect depth piece. This one makes a lot of sense if San Jose is willing to trade.
Wayne Simmonds - New Jersey
On the surface, the Pens already have a very similar player to Simmonds in Patric Hornqvist. Unlike other targets, Simmonds isn’t going to add to the PK. He’s more of a luxury, but as a quickly fading power forward, how much is in the tank? Still, a physical player with size, it’s worth a passing thought, at least. Probably not much more.
If there’s worries about Bjugstad’s immediate future, or what level of play he’ll be at this spring, adding a center makes sense. The Pens could go Jared McCann and Teddy Blueger as their non-star centers, but depth down the middle is always a coveted item for NHL managers and coaches. Thompson is a hard-worker, could add to PK, is great on faceoffs winning a team-high 55.2% for Montreal this year. Wouldn’t break the bank on trade price either.
Mark Borowiecki - Ottawa
Once more from Wysh:
There’s something to be said for the Sens keeping a good soldier like Borowiecki around, at least for his physicality. But the pending free agent is a liability on both ends of the ice, and if someone wants to toss a reasonable draft pick Ottawa’s way for his services, it should take up that offer
Borowiecki feels like a Rutherford type of lower line defenseman. And he’s a left shot. This would seem like more insurance for the Pens than anything since Dumoulin-Pettersson-Johnson would be the top three LHD if there’s health. Are the Pens that worried about health or not playing Juuso Riikola to consider it?
Andy Greene - New Jersey
To me it really doesn’t make sense to add a player like Greene who wouldn’t be in the top-6, but he could be an intriguing add. If he even wants to be. From Craig Custance at The Athletic:
Greene controls this situation and if he waives his no-trade clause it’s because it’s a scenario he believes gives him a good chance at winning a Stanley Cup. He’s not a big name but he’s a pro’s pro on defense and someone teams can plug in without causing a ripple. “He’s no-nonsense,” said an NHL source. “Just does his job. He doesn’t have to be the center of attention.”
I’d put this one low on the likely scale, but if there is significant concern about Dumoulin (which...who knows), it could be an option to explore.
Ron Hainsey - Ottawa / Trevor Daley - Detroit
One more trip to the nostalgia well, perhaps? Both Hainsey and Daley are in their late-30s. Neither might have a lot left in the tank. But presumably either could be had for a small price. And would at least give that veteran/Stanley Cup winning presence for the team to be a “break in the case of emergency” piece to have on hand just in case they were needed in the lineup for a handful of playoff games (likely the less, the better).
Rutherford has deep histories with both of these players, and as we’ve seen with a guy like Matt Cullen, the GM isn’t afraid to bring back a player that’s long in the tooth that he knows will be a good team fit.
Remember when Ron Freaking Hainsey did this? One of the greatest Stanley Cup Final goal by everyone's favourite millennial. pic.twitter.com/rf6qVO8eZE— Arjun (@_marlanderthews) April 9, 2019
It will be interesting to see what the Pens are gunning for to round out their team for the stretch run. Clearly Pittsburgh is a team in full win now mode. Every team wants that extra player to have around to maximize depth. Any further move will be relatively minor in comparison to the Zucker deal completed, but still potentially important in April and perhaps beyond.