The longer that more than half of the Penguins’ roster continues to struggle to score, the more general manager Ron Hextall is going to have to consider making a trade to address the issues that are developing.
Those issues are plentiful: Kasperi Kapanen was demoted off Evgeni Malkin’s line last night for the fifth time during a game in less than two months. Kapanen just can’t find a way to stay there, and he can’t find the back of the net either with one goal in his last 24 games. Evan Rodrigues, once the best player on the ice in many an early season game, only has one goal in his last 25 games. Danton Heinen isn’t far behind, with only three in the last 23. Even the meme worthy and cult hero Jeff Carter has fallen off, with just one in his last 18 games. Lower line players like Brock McGinn, Dominik Simon and Zach Aston-Reese are colder still, but at least they’re not counted on for their offense.
This developing issue may be solved (or hoped to be solved) by the return of Jason Zucker. But Zucker hasn’t been a paragon of production himself this season with a low finishing rate and only six goals this season in 31 games. Then again, six in 31 is downright red-hot compared to some of the streaks mentioned above.
Surveying the trade landscape, Anaheim is a place to keep an eye on as a good potential trade fit with the Penguins. The two teams have made several trades over the years, although with different management teams in place for both sides. Teams that are in different conferences always make a bit of sense as partners with the way NHL clubs operate these days, It also helps that Anaheim is going to be, if not a seller then at least looking to re-tool with new Ducks GM Pat Verbeek preparing to shake his roster up and make his mark on the team moving forward.
32 Thoughts written version: https://t.co/FBDuRqnbVX— Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) March 9, 2022
Anaheim GM Pat Verbeek made it clear he wants to know the market. That means Nic Deslauriers, Hampus Lindholm, Josh Manson and Rickard Rakell. That doesn’t mean automatic trades, although some — Manson and Rakell — appear more likely than others, with the caveat that it takes just one phone call for things to change. Verbeek dislikes term like Batman dislikes the Joker, although word through the grapevine is there’s a bit more wiggle room for Lindholm. I’m just not sure how much. As Jeff Marek reported, last year’s leading scorer, Maxime Comtois, is available too, during a difficult season where he’s been a regular scratch.
While Rakell (and even the fourth liner Deslauriers) have been in the rumor mill and connected to Pittsburgh in previous years, it’s that last note about Comtois that stands out. At 23-years old, Comtois found success last season as Friedman noted — although “leading the Ducks in scoring” also only meant 16 goals and 33 points in 55 games — not exactly Art Ross trophy material.
That said, at 6’2 and 210 pounds, Comtois would fit the Penguins’ management preference to get a little bit bigger. A little younger. (A lot younger, actually, Comtois would be the youngest forward on the team by three years). Comtois is under contract for a cap hit just north of $2 million next season, which might not be in Verbeek’s plans as he re-shapes the Ducks, but could work for Pittsburgh if the player is more like last season, and less like what he’s done this year.
Comtois and Kapanen have a naturally similar “change of scene” vibe as two players who performed well in 2020-21, but have struggled in 2021-22 and fallen out of favor with their teams.
It may be a little too counter-productive an idea to bring in a player with two goals in 33 games this season as a solution for a lack of scoring, a deeper look suggests it hasn’t truly been for a lack of individual inputs on Comtois’ part. As our friends at Habs Eyes on the Prize have analyzed and noted:
Almost all of Comtois’ shots at goal (both including blocked shots (Corsi For/CF) and not including them (Fenwick For/FF)), expected goals (xG%), and scoring chance numbers (Scoring Chances For/SCF% and High Danger Chances For/HDCF%) when he is on the ice are the same as where they were last season. The main difference is the grey bar, which is actual goal share when he is on the ice. There is little reason to believe that his actual play has dropped off, and if it has it has been marginal.
The WAR outlook paints a similar picture of a dreadful 2021-22 due to finishing, but also a young player who was clearly on the rise prior to this season.
A player like Comtois, who is young and under team control for a while, could be worth an investment of trading a prospect or draft pick with Kapanen (who somehow is projected to potentially be staring down up to a $4 million salary awarded in arbitration).
That type of move to add a piece who could be with the team for a while makes more sense for what Hextall’s mentality has been, rather than just trading a high draft pick to rent Rickard Rakell for a few months.