General Manager Jim Rutherford and the Pittsburgh Penguins knew what they were risking with this defensive corps. I can’t say that I blame them for this summer’s plan, which was based around adding offensive depth while trusting their young defensive prospects to step in and play a greater role. But, it’s clear now that there needs to be action taken in order to address the defensive woes this team is experiencing. The team surprisingly started the season with a decent defensive showing but couldn’t score. That isn’t the case anymore.
Despite coming away with a 4-3 victory against the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday night, the game was a major wakeup call for this organization. The Sabres were without Evander Kane and Tyler Ennis but still managed to record 53 shots on goal. That total speaks for itself, considering all of those shots were in regulation and not extended play. Jeff Zatkoff was up to the challenge but like I mentioned yesterday when discussing three big concerns for this team, how many times can your goalie bail you out?
Of course, it isn’t as easy as simply saying that action is needed. What action can be taken? The Penguins have very little in the cupboard in the form of NHL-ready defensemen and as of right now, they lack the necessary assets to fetch a big return in the market. But, that doesn’t mean that Rutherford won’t try. David Perron is likely being dangled in any conversations that occur and the Penguins shouldn’t be opposed to using goaltending prospect Matt Murray as trade bait.
Potential Trade Partners for the Pittsburgh Penguins
Recent rumors had the Penguins connected to the Winnipeg Jets and Dustin Byfuglien’s name was floating around. Byfuglien is exactly what Pittsburgh needs on the blue line but there didn’t seem to be much traction behind that rumor. I can see why the two would be considered possible trade partners but this is a deal that I see Murray being a pivotal piece. The Jets’ Ondrej Pavelec has been extremely inconsistent and the Jets will be looking to solidify the future of their goaltending situation.
According to multiple reports, two teams have recently started to shop defensemen due to their defensive surplus and needs on offense. Those teams are the Calgary Flames and St. Louis Blues.
My guess is that the Blues will now be further inclined to deal from their defensive depth and find some help up front. #stlblues
— Jeremy Rutherford (@jprutherford) October 24, 2015
According to Mark Spector of Sportsnet, the Blues may be willing to go as far as moving Kevin Shattenkirk, as he’s an impending free agent. The emergence of Colton Parayko and Joel Edmundson gives St. Louis options. The Blues have recently added two veterans in Martin Havlat and Danius Zubrus on professional tryouts to see if they could help get them through their injuries up front but if things don’t work out, look for Doug Armstrong to become more aggressive.
The Flames are likely to be more aggressive in the near future, as they’re currently struggling off to a very slow start and struggling mightily to find offense. I reached out to Scott Cruickshank of the Calgary Herald to gauge the temperature of the Flames at the moment.
Disappointment, obviously, with their very poor start – and, to this point, no sign of snapping out of it.
And, on Dennis Wideman and Kris Russell, the two names most prevalent in trade talks right now, Scott had the following to say…
Russell and Wideman formed the team’s go-to pairing down the stretch and into the playoffs last season. Now, with the club mired in a funk, both of their names keep popping up in trade speculation. Wideman, with a NMC, can call his own shot. Russell, meanwhile, is a pending UFA. I’m sure they could find a taker for Russell, but he also happens to be very valuable to the team.
Wideman and Russell both fit the mold for what the Penguins prefer on defense. While many will argue that this team needs size and physicality on the blue line, they can’t afford to add those traits and sacrifice skill. It wouldn’t work out with Pittsburgh’s philosophy. If they can find a physical defenseman that’s able to fit their system then that’s a bonus.
The last question I had for Scott was simply, what are the Flames looking for in return?
The Flames need, like everyone else in the NHL, some big brute who can play the wing and score goals.
If they are indeed looking for a big bodied winger, the Penguins will struggle to fill that void.
I also reached out to Octagon Hockey, the firm that represents Dennis Wideman to inquire on whether or not the Flames had asked him to waive his no-movement clause. I haven’t received a statement but will keep an eye on the situation.
Beware of Bidding Wars
Top-four defensemen are a hot commodity in the league right now. There just isn’t enough of them to go around. In fact, Spector quoted an NHL scout in his piece stating “everyone is looking for defensemen” and it’s true. When you consider the Metropolitan Division alone, the struggling Columbus Blue Jackets are another team in search of a sturdy blue-liner or two.
The positive in the situation for Pittsburgh is that they’ve managed to win games despite their inability to play solid defense. So, while there’s a need for action, they don’t have to get wrapped up in a bidding war and overpay by mortgaging too much of the future. For the first time in a long time I’m confident that they won’t do that, considering Rutherford’s trade history so far. With the exception of trading away Simon Despres, his patience and decision-making has been pretty good.
There’s very little information trickling out of Pittsburgh’s front office on this matter. I honestly don’t expect that to change, as Rutherford and staff have been great at not leaking potential moves to the media. It’s important for the team and their bargaining that he continue to do so, even if it’s not so great for us. It’ll be an interesting story line to watch, especially if they can’t find an internal solution to this leaky blue line.
Pittsburgh Penguins writer for TheHockeyWriters.Com and PittsburghHockeyNow.Com. Youth hockey coach, and student of the game.