The smoke has cleared and the dust has settled and the NHL trade deadline has passed.
It was an active period for the Pittsburgh Penguins, which has its roots to eight days ago. For what is believed to be the first time in an organized and widespread manner, a Penguin home crowd chanted for the removal of a general manager during a game. While the team was being blown out by Edmonton on their way to losing a fourth straight game, the fan focus from near and far was turning their ire to the person whose responsibility it was to put the team together.
The next day that manager began making changes for the first time all season. Kasperi Kapanen was waived and claimed by St. Louis. Brock McGinn was waived, went unclaimed and later was traded to Anaheim. Teddy Blueger was also sent west in a trade to Vegas.
In their places, Nick Bonino was brought back to the team where he became a legend. Defense was beefed up with Dmitri Kulikov. And in by far the most controversial add, feathers were ruffled with Mikael Granlund joining the team.
There were rumors of splashier trades that went unfulfilled, as there always are. But what is done is done and the embattled GM seems to be pretty content with re-making his bottom-six forward group on the fly.
GM Ron Hextall on the Penguins' roster: "I think that we made our team better today. I think there’s lots of teams capable of winning the Cup, and we’re one of them."— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) March 3, 2023
Overall, that remains to be seen.
For housekeeping work, Hextall did well to clean up his books for future seasons — he paid very little in value in trades to cut out $5.95 million that Kapanen and McGinn would have taken up for next season. Critics would correctly point out that Hextall also signed up to give Granlund almost that whole amount instead — with one of the biggest takeaways in the week being the difference in perception between John Q. HockeyFan and his charts and NHL decision makers, to whom Granlund is “coveted”.
Hextall on Granlund: "He's a really smart player. When you look at lines, you look for guys who connect dots and make intelligent plays. He's a very responsible defensive player... When you're trying to tweak a line, you're looking for versatility. We feel Mikael brings that."— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) March 3, 2023
Make no mistake, Granlund’s successes (or lack-thereof) down the stretch will define the answer to the “did Ron Hextall do enough to save his job” question. If Granlund’s struggles and unimpressive play prove to be some sort of systemic issue due to Nashville and he plays more like he did in Minnesota (as a much younger player, let’s remember), then Hextall might look like he’s made a masterstroke.
Many will believe that when they see it — and rightfully so. The burden of proof is on Hextall to show that he can create a respectable supporting cast at this point, after he drove that area into the ground and squandered the very effective bottom-six he inherited in February 2021 (which included names like Jared McCann, Brandon Tanev, Evan Rodrigues and more effective versions of players like Kapanen, Blueger and Zach Aston-Reese).
The Penguins were an old team eight days ago, and they’re even older now after subbing out McGinn (29), Blueger (28) and Kapanen (26) on the roster that now has Bonino (34), Kulikov (32) and Granlund (31). Will that age and experience be a boost and positive attribute down the stretch? Or will potential playoff opponents like Carolina or New Jersey only make the aged Penguins look too slow to compete? It’s a fascinating question and one of many that will unfold over the coming weeks that will ultimately shape the outlook of the season.
It technically could go one or two ways for Hextall and the Pens while under his leadership. But at the moment, that lesser outcome of going off the rails and not having the depth to compete with the actual Eastern contenders is standing as a lot more likely.
Give Hextall credit for clearing out the dead wood, even if it was bad players/contracts that he largely assembled personally. This trade deadline was far from a worst case scenario or outcome. But unless Granlund is a smash success that seemingly only he is envisioning, the team probably won’t be taking too many steps forward from where they were a week ago.
How do you grade Ron Hextall’s 2023 NHL trade deadline performance (and 2023 deadline performance ONLY)?
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