Ron Hextall has been in charge of the Pittsburgh Penguins for a little less than a year and so far has lived up to his reputation for being a patient general manager. Moves have been few-and-far between and he has been the exact opposite of what we became used to with Jim Rutherford, and even to an extent Ray Shero.
There have been no panic moves.
There have been no dramatic overhauls of the roster.
There has been no real major blockbuster trade.
Just carefully planned moves that have made varying degrees of impact.
Let’s take a look at them and the progress with them so far.
The Jeff Carter trade
Hextall’s first major move came at the deadline this past season, and so far it has been the most impactful deal.
Not only was the cost minimal (two mid-round picks), but the Kings ate a portion of Carter’s salary and left the Penguins on the hook for only a $2.65 million salary cap hit.
All Carter has done since joining the team is score goals. Even this year he is still on a 25-goal pace per 82 games and has really helped solidify the team’s depth. He has been a great fit as a second-line center this season in Evgeni Malkin’s absence, and should be perfect for the third-line role when Malkin returns. Sidney Crosby, Malkin, Carter, and Teddy Blueger is as good of a center quartet as you will find in the NHL right now as long as everybody is healthy and in the lineup.
The Penguins spent years and countless assets trying to fill that third-line center void after Nick Bonino left in free agency, and they may have finally found it in Carter.
Current trade grade: A
The Jared McCann trade
With an expansion draft this offseason everybody knew the Penguins were going to lose at least player, and given the salary cap situation, maybe more. Before the expansion draft they traded McCann to Toronto for a late draft pick and to get back prospect Filip Hallander, who was originally traded to the Maple Leafs in the Kasperi kapanen trade.
It was not a move that I liked at the time, and hindsight has not been any kinder to it.
McCann already has 10 goals in 20 games for Seattle, is still in a prime age, affordable under the salary cap, and has the versatility to play center or wing and help on the power play.
The Penguins could use him.
It is doubtful that Hallander ever comes close to being the player that McCann already is.
On top of that, they still lost Brandon Tanev in the expansion draft and essentially lost two players because of the expansion draft.
Current trade grade: D
The Danton Heinen signing
This was a move that I had relatively low expectations for. Heinen had shown some flashes of being a productive player earlier in his career, but struggled to consistently produce the past couple of years on some bad Anaheim Ducks teams. But for $1.1 million on a one-year deal the price seemed right to hope for a rebound.
The Penguins seem to be getting that rebound performance.
Heinen already has seven goals this season and has posted strong underlying numbers, looking like a really useful player in a lot of different roles to help solidify the depth.
It was a low-risk, reasonably high reward signing that has worked out about as well as could have been expected.
Current signing grade: B+
The Brock McGinn signing
When Seattle took Tanev it cleared one fourth-liner on a long-term deal, and the Penguins used that newfound salary cap space on another fourth-liner on a long-term deal.
Am a little unsure of this one.
For one, fourth-liners probably should not be signed to long-term deals even if they are useful in the short-term. And McGinn has definitely been useful. There is no denying he has made an impact on what has been a historically good penalty kill, and he has chipped in a little bit of offense at times. But could that salary cap space have been used in a more meaningful way?
Current signing grade: C+
The Brian Boyle signing
This was one of those filler signings close to the start of the season. The center depth looked thin due to injuries, and Boyle was somebody that not only gave them NHL experience but also the size Hextall and Brian Burke kept talking about in the offseason.
Given his status as a tryout player and the small contract he ended up signing there is literally zero risk long-term or short-term.
If he works out, it is a bonus. If not, you are not really out anything as long as he does not get overused. That has not happened, either.
Tough to have any real strong opinions on this move one way or another.
Current signing grade: C