While our own Adam Gretz gave his take on what might make sense for a direction for the Penguins to go as far as finishing touches on their roster prior to the NHL trade deadline on Monday, the fun thing about Jim Rutherford is he’ll just come out and give the blueprint.
Since Rutherford often says what he means and means what he says, it’s worthwhile to take his comments to NHL.com yesterday at face value. Rutherford laid out what his mindset is going into the hours leading up to the deadline.
“If we could add another forward to give us a little more balance in our Top 12, we’d do it if it’s someone who we think is the right fit,” Rutherford said.
Breaking that down, they key terms look to be “balance” and “right fit”.
The Penguins will have a Sidney Crosby line (with Jason Zucker in tow), an Evgeni Malkin line (with Bryan Rust) and their Buzzsaw line.
Building off that, we see a team — if it ever gets to full health — coming together looking like:
Jason Zucker - Sidney Crosby - AAAAAA
BBBBBB - Evgeni Malkin - Bryan Rust
Zach Aston-Reese - Teddy Blueger - Brandon Tanev
CCCCCC - DDDDDD - Patric Hornqvist
The last two lines are basically interchangeable checking lines, no need to get too caught up in placement since both will be playing 11-13 minutes, in an ideal world.
So what of the letter soup above? Since static, set forward lines are more pairings, there’s always going to be rotation, even in the best of times.
“A” candidates: Dominik Simon, Jared McCann, Nick Bjugstad?
“B” candidates: Jared McCann, Dominik Kahun
“C” candidates: Simon, Kahun, trade addition?
“D” candidates: McCann, Bjugstad, trade addition?
The tough part is how fluid the lines have been, due to injuries. Kahun has missed time recently. McCann has bounced from wing to center often this season. Bjugstad figures to be a huge wild-card. Do they dare try him with Crosby this late in the season? When will he return? What level of effectiveness will he have upon the return? These are all up in the air and unknown at current time, which is one reason why Pittsburgh needs to explore adding a potential top-12 type of forward.
By now, we’ve seen the names potentially available, and the Pens can be flexible enough to grab the player that they like the most (assuming they can pay the acquisition cost), whether it’s a center or a wing. So that could open up perhaps Buffalo’s Johan Larsson or Zemgus Girgensons or New York’s Jesper Fast or Montreal’s Nate Thompson or San Jose’s Melker Karlsson or Los Angeles’ Trevor Lewis.
Choices and options across the board are good here, so that the Pens don’t have to zero in on one specific team and have to pay the price set, they can afford to shop around a bit and see if a deal is out there that fits better.
The biggest deal of Rutherford’s comments are the suggestion that forward is an area he is looking. If you were to bet, at this point it would seem the odds favorable that Pittsburgh will find a more veteran forward to add to the group, so that they don’t have to rely on a youngster like Sam Lafferty, Andrew Agozzino or Anthony Angello if there’s an injury.
Rutherford left the door open but wasn’t as committal when it came to adding a blueliner in a trade.
“We are going to get updates [on Dumoulin and Marino] near the end of the week, Rutherford said. “That info will determine whether we add a defenseman.”
This makes perfect sense. If Brian Dumoulin and John Marino have favorable medical reports, there isn’t much reason to add a defenseman. The Pens would already have Juuso Riikola and Chad Ruhwedel as No. 7 and 8 defensemen on the roster for depth and insurance.
The key might figure to be Dumoulin. We know that Marino, facial surgery, figures to return when healed in a couple more weeks. That shouldn’t be much of a question — barring an unannounced unfavorable complication in that process.
When and what Dumoulin’s return timeline is feels more of the unknown. He was announced out at time of injury as a minimum of eight weeks, and. His surgery to repair his ankle happened 11 weeks ago. There has been positive news from coach Mike Sullivan that Dumoulin has been skating on his own the last few days, but he’s only recently returned to the ice. Could that lead to a positive report that he’s progressing and give the team good news? Based on seeing him on the ice, that door could be opened.
Observing from afar, it would be extremely positive news if the Penguins DON’T acquire a defenseman. That would be the indication that they are confident that Dumoulin and Marino will both return in the fairly near future and both be able to contribute as expected in big roles down the stretch.
When Rutherford speaks, action usually follows. What moves he makes or elects not to make will be indicative of what he feels the team needs for their quest on another deep playoff run.