Sully opened up pandora's box by scratching healthy $4M Marcus Pettersson. not that it was necessarily the wrong decision; Friedman's done nothing to warrant being taken out of the lineup. But it immediately begets the question of what you do moving forward with the d core, particularly with Pettersson. Had Dumoulin missed another game with his illness, Pettersson would've slotted into his usual role next to Marino and we wouldn't be having this discussion. Alas, here we are.
There is a caveat worth mentioning: even though Friedman took Pettersson's spot in the lineup, it's a bit disingenuous to say that he truly *replaced* him. In integrating Friedman into the lineup, Sullivan overhauled the entire left side D, rather than simply inserting Friedman at 2LD where Pettersson was. Matheson sprung from the bottom pair to play with Letang, to what seems like pretty universal aplomb, while Dumoulin was the one to *replace* Pettersson. The 2nd pair meshes with the 4th line as a shutdown unit, and Dumoulin fits that profile much better than Friedman. While the advanced metrics love Friedman, they actually hate his defense; he's better off remaining in that sheltered 3rd pairing role.
So let's assume yesterday wasn't a one-off, and Friedman's staying in the lineup, at least for now. In Sully's verbatim words, "based on performance", Friedman is the superior option. If that's the case, then management's best course of action in a landslide is to trade the $4M d man who's 4th on the coach's LHD depth chart. Funny enough, there's also a forward who makes similar money that Sully has soured on. Getting those two off the books would leave the Pens at around $8M in cap room, allowing them to make a play for a big time forward while still leaving a little space for an ancillary move. For example, the Canucks trio of ostensibly available forwards (Miller, Boeser and Horvat) all cost less than $6M. If Hextall's truly all in and wants to snag a second forward, he can do so with that leftover $2M.
It feels necessary to ask this followup question: why would the other team do this? Don't other teams have better prospects to hurl at these trade targets? They do, but the Pens offer an intriguingly diverse portfolio of assets. A Pettersson/Kapanen/Joseph/1st rounder package covers a ton of bases for the team acquiring: a proven top 4 D, a forward with flashes of top 6 potential, a young guy capable of filling one of your 18 skaters slots effectively on an ELC, and a wild card with decent value. Other teams will offer superior youth, but the Pens lend a selling team an opportunity to make more of a 'hockey trade'. There're very few contenders willing to part with 2 of their top 13 skaters (excluding bottom line & bottom pair) to make such a move. The Pens happen to be in that fortuitous position; they should pounce.
now that we've established the framework of what should be done with Pettersson, what do we do with the guys who, in said hypothetical scenario, are still here? The best option would seem to just be run it back with the current D pairs. If you take Pettersson out of the picture, Matheson is objectively the best option to play with Letang. Dumoulin fits the 2LD shutdown role much better, and Friedman in a full-time top 4 role would be a massive leap of faith. For what it's worth, Matheson actually has a higher xGF% with Letang the last 2 seasons than Dumoulin does, 52.02% to 50.97%, albeit in a much smaller sample (222 5v5 mins). The Canes did get two thirds of the expected goals at 5v5 on the second leg of a back-to-back, but I chalk that up to trotting out 3 out of 3 entirely new D pairs. This west road trip will give us a better indicator of what those pairs can do.
For the record, this is a very good problem to have. Friedman's emergence has created a butterfly effect that might get us the forward we need to get over the top. Without him, Hextall & Co. likely aren't comfortable including Pettersson in trade talks. They blue line's also been very healthy this year. God forbid that changes in the next couple weeks, you can stand pat without feeling bad about it. I'm glad Sully did this. It's a move that would've made sense even had Pettersson not been scratched, but he set this in motion. It's up to Hextall now to use the situation to the team's advantage.