The Penguins’ first 28 games of the 2018-19 campaign have been nothing short of a roller coaster ride.
They started off slow, going 2-1-2 with losses coming against the Canadiens (twice) and Canucks. To make matters worse, they lost 2 of those 3 games on home ice, where they have been spectacular over the past few seasons.
They then managed to rattle off 4 straight wins on their Western Canada trip. They started the trip by blanking the red hot Leafs 3-0. After that. they managed to escape Edmonton with an overtime win, but then dominated Calgary 9-1 and shutout the Canucks 5-0. It looked like the Penguins were back to being the Penguins.
Until they weren’t.
They proceeded to lose 10 of their next 12 games. Everything went from going right in every way to going wrong in every way. During this stretch Jim Rutherford threatened changes, and did in fact make a few trades. He swapped Carl Hagelin for Tanner Pearson and also later traded Daniel Sprong for defensive depth in Marcus Pettersson.
Although the Penguins have gone 5-2-1 since dropping 10 of 12, they still aren’t quite clicking on all cylinders. They are currently a borderline playoff team and cannot afford to be a .500 hockey team from here on out. I don’t think Rutherford is poised to strike tomorrow, but I do think that he will make a trade depending on how the rest of December goes.
So if Rutherford does make a trade, who does he trade, and who does he trade for? Here are a few players that may be on the trade block that have some sort of legitimate value as well as a few players Rutherford should pursue, if they are available:
On The Trade Block
Derick Brassard: When Brassard was acquired near the trade deadline last season, many felt Pittsburgh had won the deadline. A center trio of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Brassard? On paper, it seemed unstoppable, but it hasn’t worked out that way. The main issue is that he hasn’t clicked with Kessel. Sullivan clearly wanted to put Sid, Geno, and Phil on 3 separate lines a la 2016 with the “HBK line.” But Brassard never quite clicked with Kessel.
Brassard certainly hasn’t been bad, but has been invisible most nights. Being that he will be a free agent at season’s end, I would not be at all surprised if the Penguins traded Brassard before the deadline, but it would likely be for a new 3rd line center and another piece.
Bryan Rust: There could not be a more snake-bitten player than Rust. He can’t buy himself a goal right now. He is doing everything right, but the results aren’t showing. Will he break out of it? Likely. But will his lack of production increase his chances of being traded? Yes.
Rust has value. He is young, fast, and can play in multiple roles (PK, top 6, bottom 6, LW, RW). However, similar to Hagelin, Rutherford may become impatient with Rust’s lack of production and trade for someone of a similar caliber who he feel can produce more.
Olli Maatta: Is Maatta on the trade block? Maybe, maybe not. Despite many health problems experienced earlier in his career, Maatta is a young top-4 defenseman that many teams could use in their late season playoff push.
I wouldn’t trade Maatta unless the return is significant, but I think GMJR could get a team to bite. Maatta isn’t bad by any means, but he is slow, and the Penguins system is not based off of “slow.” If GMJR could flip Maatta for a similar defenseman with more speed and puck moving ability, I feel as though it would benefit the Penguins.
Tristan Jarry: Matt Murray returns from injury Wednesday night. Murray and Casey DeSmith will be the goalie tandem and Jarry was sent to Wilkes-Barre. However, Jarry is still very young, and still has potential to be a borderline starter at the NHL level.
So would GMJR trade Jarry? The Penguins have lost Marc-Andre Fleury and prospect Filip Gustavsson over the past few seasons, and have little to no depth outside of Jarry, DeSmith, and Murray. So unless GMJR could get a veteran backup and another piece for Jarry, I doubt he gets traded.
So if Rutherford were to trade one or more of these players, who are some names he could go after that would be reasonably acquirable? Below are some players worth inquiring about for Jim Rutherford:
Teuvo Teravainen: Teravainen would be a great get for the Penguins. He plays in all situations, similar to Rust, and is young and fast. The asking price may be steep, but including one or more of the players above with draft picks could absolutely get him to Pittsburgh.
Mats Zuccarello: Zuccarello is a name that has been tossed around, and I love the idea. If the Penguins wanted to keep Brassard, acquiring “Zucc” might be exactly what he needs. Brassard played a lot with Zuccarello during his time in New York and is said to be very good friends with the speedy winger. The Rangers don’t project to be a playoff team, and so they may value draft picks/prospects to help the rebuild process. Could a trade for Zuccarello impact both him and Brassard in a positive way? If so, do what you need to do GMJR.
Michael Grabner: the Penguins were in on Grabner at the trade deadline last year, but were not able to win that sweepstakes. Grabner is one of the fastest skaters in the league and a threat shorthanded. There really is no reason to not inquire about him as long as the Penguins could make the cap space work.
Andreas Athanasiou: Athanasiou is another name that has been linked to the Penguins in the past few seasons. He is a center and has dangerous speed, similar to Grabner. I would imagine that trading for a guy like Athanasiou would mean that Brassard would be gone, but Athanasiou’s speed and skill perfectly fit the Penguins’ system.
Cody Ceci: With Justin Schultz out long-term, the Penguins could really use a skilled right-handed defenseman. They got some defensive depth in Marcus Pettersson, but Ceci comes with some offensive upside and a right-handed shot. Ceci has a bomb of a slap shot, and could certainly use out of Ottawa. Who couldn’t? Ceci isn’t having any type of career year, so his value may be a touch lower than usual, and thus would be a good name for GMJR to pursue.
Trevor van Riemsdyk: “TVR” is seen as more of a defensive defenseman, but like Ceci, is right-handed. I see TVR as a young Ben Lovejoy of sorts: not all that flashy, but consistent in the defensive zone. TVR would be a solid 3rd pair defenseman, but is also fairly mobile compared to most. GMJR also has strong connections to Carolina, so it certainly isn’t out of the question.
Jimmy Howard: Howard’s name is another that has been floating around. Due to Murray’s injuries and simply a lack of putting up good numbers, many feel the Penguins should pursue a verteran backup such as Howard. I don’t feel Detroit would want a king’s ransom in return, but Howard certainly has the experience of being a starter, and could fill a long-term void if needed.
However, can DeSmith fill that role? He has proven capable thus far, and until he gets solved by the majority of teams in the NHL, I don’t see this trade for Howard happening. DeSmith comes cheap and has put up better numbers than Howard this season.
Would GMJR consider trading a guy like Kessel, who was rumored to have been being shopped by the Penguins? Absolutely not. Unless they are getting the likes of Patrick Laine or Brock Boeser in return, the trade isn’t worth it. The Penguins are still in “win now” mode, and Kessel is going to be needed to win now. Trading him for an average winger and a prospect does not help the Penguins at all this year, or even in the next 2 or 3, which is when their championship window will begin to close.
Will GMJR trade his franchise goalie in Matt Murray? Highly unlikely. Again, unless he’s able to convince a team like Tampa of an Andrei Vasilevskiy for Murray swap, don’t do it. Murray is only 23. Yes he’s had a rough last year and a half both on and off the ice. But he definitely has more to prove and more to give. There is no reason to shut the door on him yet. Plus, why trade him when his value is at it’s lowest? It just doesn’t make sense.
So does Rutherford make a huge splash and trade the likes of Kessel, Malkin, Murray, etc.? I doubt it. But is GMJR done? I don’t think so.
I don’t think so.