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Pens need center help, Travis Boyd is on waivers

There is a fairly useful player on the waiver wire today in Toronto’s Travis Boyd. He represents an upgrade over what Pittsburgh currently has at center

NHL: MAR 09 Jets at Maple Leafs Photo by Julian Avram/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

With injuries last week to Evgeni Malkin (week-to-week) and Teddy Blueger (the dreaded “longer term) the Pittsburgh Penguins suddenly went from flush at the center position to depleted in a hurry.

This roster is begging for external help. Right now the lineup is being duct taped together with players like Evan Rodrigues and Frederick Gaudreau pushed into center action in the NHL, and Mark Jankowski playing up a line.

On Sunday, a waiver move has been made that the Penguins can’t afford to ignore.

It’s not saying much, but Travis Boyd probably would be the third best available center for the Penguins right now behind Sidney Crosby and Jared McCann. Boyd wasn’t waived by Toronto for performance reasons.

Boyd was something of a late bloomer, just a sixth round pick in 2011 that spent four years in the NCAA and then playing three full years in the AHL before making the leap to the NHL. Here’s his hockeydb resume:

Boyd has eight points on the season, but that would rank seventh among uninjured Pens forwards right now. Boyd has been used mostly as a winger in Toronto, but he has bonafide center experience in the NHL. He took 119 faceoffs in 24 games in 2019-20 with Washington, 210 faceoffs in 53 games in 2018-19.

Boyd’s stats in 2021 show he would be an upgrade over Jankowski, let alone a minor league player like Gaudreau.

Jankowski’s xGoals For% is just in the 13 percentile, which isn’t surprising considering he has four points on the year, one a recent empty netter and no points since the season’s opening week. In 2021, Boyd has a total WAR of 0.1, compared to Jankowski’s -0.06. That might not seem like a lot, but especially in 20-30 games, that’s a stark difference. Boyd is a player that will help contribute to wins. Jankowski has not done that.

Boyd’s finishing and assists rates put him as a player who has come through in limited roles, just has lacked the opportunity. Via injury, the Penguins have nothing but opportunity to offer right now, which makes for a natural fit, especially when the acquisition cost is exactly nothing.

That can’t be under-stated for the Pens either. While many fans are clamoring for a trade to address their current areas of need, Pittsburgh has little to offer other teams. They also have almost no space on the salary cap. Add in a tight trade market where insiders are saying there is little-to-no trade activity right now and it should be clear that the answer isn’t a white knight of a big time player riding in to save the day and seamlessly patch up the team.

Instead, this option of potentially adding Boyd is about the best thing the Pens could hope for right now. The price is right, the player has upside and is a legit bottom-end NHL center and the team needs exactly that right now.

What is working against the Pens though is where they stand in waivers. Boyd went on the wire yesterday, all teams can submit a claim. The way the system works is that if multiple teams attempt to grab the player, the team with lowest points in the standings receives the player. Pittsburgh right now is 10th in the NHL in points, so if any of the bottom 20 teams — plenty of which could probably use a center on a $700,000 minimum wage fairly young player — could beat the Pens to the punch just by doing what they should do by putting in a claim.

Another hurdle would be getting Boyd from Canada to Pittsburgh and clearing quarantine. That really shouldn’t be a hindrance though, if the Pens go out of their way to ensure Boyd would stay inside league protocols (basically by traveling via car and not stopping) to avoid a lengthy quarantine. There is already some precedent in this — Cedric Paquette was traded from Ottawa to Carolina on February 13th, and Paquette made his Carolina debut on February 15th coming from Canada down to the States.

The real issue in terms of changing teams and countries is going the other way from the USA to Canada. Ryan Dzingel was a part of that deal going from CAR —> OTT on 2/13, and Dzingel wasn’t able to make his Senator debut until March 4th. But that circumstance won’t be the same for Boyd were he to be claimed by a team from the US coming from Toronto.

So while the barrier of the national borders ought to not be a major issue, there is still no guarantee that Pittsburgh could get Boyd given their spot in the standings via the waiver wire. But given the holes in their lineup there is also no doubt that right now Boyd could them.

The Pens have already struck recently on the waiver wire by adding defenseman Mark Friedman, there really aren’t any reasons why they shouldn’t any hesitation at trying to claim Boyd and putting a better patch onto their patchwork lineup until Malkin and Blueger can returning and then figuring out where to go from there.

Shortly after 12 noon today the league will announced if Boyd clears or who his new team is. If the first 20 teams on the list pass on him, the 21st in Pittsburgh doesn’t have much reason not to.