Besides the Entry Draft and the beginning of free agency, trade deadline day is one of the main events of roster movement on the NHL calendar. However, more and more teams are opting to make their moves prior to the actual deadline (3PM Eastern Time today) for a number of reasons. Still, many teams will (and are) making moves on this Deadline Day, and of course we will be watching closely for movement from the Pittsburgh Penguins’ perspective.
As we have learned from our experience with Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford, he doesn’t always make his biggest moves right at the deadline (see: Kessel, Phil). Of course, last year there was the trade which brought Derick Brassard to Pittsburgh, but Brassard’s tenure in black-and-gold was so miserable that Rutherford was perhaps fortunate to flip him and Riley Sheahan to the Florida Panthers in exchange for Nick Bjugstad and Jared McCann a few weeks ago. It’s hard to know exactly why Brassard didn’t pan out, although the bugaboo of inconsistency has hardly affected just Brassard this season. Still, there’s always the off-chance of making a move like the one that brought Justin Schultz to Pittsburgh in 2016, but it took until 2017 for Schultz’s ultimate value to come forth.
This year’s trade deadline very recently became a serious matter for the Penguins, as they have lost both of their top-two defensemen, Kris Letang and Brian Dumoulin, for the foreseeable future. This after losing Olli Maatta to injury, and the Penguins are now down three of their top-four defensemen. With all the inconsistency that has plagued the Penguins this season, the top defensive pairing of Letang and Dumoulin were perhaps the steadiest part of the team. Now, even with the return of Schultz from the injury he sustained in the fourth game of the season, the Penguins blue-line corps is made up of a top-four defenseman and a bunch of guys who are typically third-pairing or lower.
Even before this, as I mentioned above, the Penguins’ chief problem this season has been inconsistency. They are just above average in terms of points percentage in the standings. On one side of the standings, they’ve had an eight-game winning streak and a four-game winning streak, then on the other a five-game losing streak, and a couple four-gamers, and then in the middle is a bunch of wins and losses. Altogether, the Penguins have been mediocre, which is an underperformance for a team that is and has been all-in for several years. As you might suspect, that isn’t something that can be necessarily be fixed with trades. The players themselves are listless and frustrated, and the core of this team has never been very good at turning those difficulties into positivity.
With that all of that in mind, I think the front office is in a position where they may make a move that perhaps they wouldn’t have considered before, and Rutherford will be quite seriously scouring the League for a trade partner to make a big move. How he manages that with scant prospects and not-very-encouraging NHL contracts will be something to see, although my gut tells me that he will be hard-pressed to make the kind of blockbuster move the team needs to get through the next five-plus weeks and into the playoffs. The best-case scenario is that the team finds strength in this massive hardship they are faced with, that everyone comes back and stays healthy, and the team puts their best foot forward in the playoffs. I have not been very optimistic about this team’s prospects this year, and it is tough to find optimism in their present situation, but there’s not much else to go on, is there?