I’d like to open with a brief introduction as this is my first article as a Pittsburgh Penguins contributor for The Hockey Writers. I most recently wrote for Pens Labyrinth and various other websites. I’m very excited to have the opportunity to cover the Penguins for The Hockey Writers.
One thing you’ll learn about me quickly is that I’m an optimist that doesn’t dwell on negatives. I will point out the positives of a player, effort, or outcome before applying criticism. Using those principles, I hope you will enjoy my material.
On Saturday, Pittsburgh Penguins General Manager Jim Rutherford revealed the team is searching for a trade partner to acquire a first round draft pick in the upcoming draft.
“I’ll certainly pursue it,” commented Rutherford when asked about acquiring a pick.
Currently, the Penguins have only one pick (second round) in the first four rounds.
How will Rutherford convince another team to give up a first round choice? My thought process on this is simple, you’ve got to give up assets to acquire an asset of this magnitude. With this draft being deep teams know they can force the Penguins to pay a premium.
Do the Penguins have assets to give up?
Yes, but it will a challenge for Rutherford to find the right deal without losing prospects.
I believe the first player to dangle is forward Nick Spaling ($2.2 mil AAV through 2015-16). Spaling did an admirable job in his role as a bottom six forward; he brought character to the lineup, showed up for each shift, and was positionally sound.
He’s come under criticism, rightly so, due to his lack of production (9 goals in 82 games). Spaling bounced between the second and fourth lines throughout the season with little consistency in terms of linemates. The coaching staff can be blamed for that, but when injuries occur, you’ve got to move players up and down the lineup. It can also be noted that Spaling doesn’t have the “finishing ability” to be placed on the second line.
Entering the last contract year before unrestricted free agency, Spaling should have renewed motivation to make a significant impact this season. He’ll be looking to earn a raise, albeit with Pittsburgh or another team.
Spaling would need to be packaged with a top prospect for another team to consider a trade.
Brandon Sutter finished the 2014-15 campaign playing third line shutdown minutes while accumulating 21 goals and 33 points in 80 games.
Responsible defensively, Sutter has shown in spurts that he could become at top six forward. Like Spaling, Sutter’s contract runs through next season at $3.3 mil.
It’s difficult to determine how much Sutter means to the team. Is he replaceable? His emerging leadership in the locker room is immeasurable.
If Rutherford deals Sutter, it must be for a top 15 pick with a plan to target a free agent to fill Sutter’s role.
That said, I’d bet on Sutter being a Penguin in October.
Kunitz, 35, has quickly become a lightning rod of criticism. Penguins fans have grown to love the play of Kunitz over the years, but many of the characteristics (physical play, forecheck, net front presence, among others) that made him a fan favorite have began a slow decline.
Statistically, 2014-15 was Kunitz’ lowest offensive output (40 points in 74 games) based on points per game, since his rookie year.
Kunitz still has two years remaining on his contract at $3.850 mil. If he remains on the team through the summer, I’d expect his role to be relegated to the third line. A Kunitz, Sutter, Spaling third line isn’t cheap. A $9.35 mil third line isn’t a luxury the Penguins can have.
I’d expect Pittsburgh to actively shop Kunitz for a second round pick. I’m not optimistic they’d be able to acquire a first round pick for Kunitz unless a mid to high level prospect is included.
I don’t feel the Penguins can acquire a first round pick. Addition by subtraction should be the objective for Jim Rutherford as we move closer to the NHL Draft. Dealing Kunitz would benefit the team mightily and acquiring a second or third round pick would be a bonus.