Was Hainsey Trade a Smart One?

It was announced this week that Kris Letang has a day-to-day injury — of course he does. With that news and the fact that Olli Maatta and Trevor Daley are still out while Justin Schultz remains questionable, the Pittsburgh Penguins’ defense became pretty much just Brian Dumoulin and Ian Cole. Stay strong, guys.

Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford responded to the injuries with a trade: a Wilkes-Barre/Scranton forward and a 2017 second-round pick for Ron Hainsey, a defenseman from the Carolina Hurricanes with over a decade’s worth of experience in the NHL. The trade was most likely a smart move for the Penguins. Here are three reasons why.

1. Much-Needed Penalty Killing Assistance

Pittsburgh Penguin Kris Letang - Photo By Andy Martin Jr
Kris Letang, one of the Penguins’ most frequently used penalty killers, is day-to-day with an upper-body injury. (Andy Martin, Jr.)

Although the Penguins’ penalty kill has been slowly rising in the standings, it’s still ranked in the bottom third of the league at 21st. The Hurricanes, however, have the best penalty kill in the league with an 86.3% success rate — the Penguins have just now climbed up to hover around 80%.

Rutherford and head coach Mike Sullivan spoke about Hainsey’s penalty-killing abilities being one reason he’d be a good addition to the Penguins’ roster. “He’s a mobile guy with good size,” Sullivan said about Hainsey just after the trade on Thursday. “He can kill penalties for us.”

2. A Subpar Draft Year

The Penguins traded their 2017 second-round draft pick to the Hurricanes as part of the deal for Hainsey. That might not be as big of a loss as it could have been in the past. This years’ draft is generally considered to lack the star power of previous years’ lineups. There’s no Auston Matthews or Connor McDavid up for auction this time. Analysts seem to be having a difficult time deciding on the order of the draft picks — they’re debating over who should make the cut for the first round at all. That fact softens the blow of losing a second-round pick.

Jake Guentzel has recently gained NHL playing time. (Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports)

The other part of the Penguins’ side of the trade, Danny Kristo, was a Wilkes-Barre Scranton forward. The Penguins have a relatively healthy offensive lineup right now (emphasis on relatively: get well soon, Conor Sheary). In addition, they already have other minor league forwards being groomed to make the jump to the major leagues, such as Jake Guentzel, who is currently playing on the Penguins’ third line. Kristo was, therefore, a bearable loss for the Penguins to take on.

3. A Bearable Cap Hit

A crucial part of this deal is the fact that the Hurricanes retained 50% of Hainsey’s cap hit. The Penguins, pushing up against the cap space, didn’t have the room to take on his $1.4 million. This salary retention made the hit bearable and allowed the Penguins to get an experienced defenseman that they otherwise couldn’t have afforded without some roster shuffling. Hainsey is also only signed on for the end of this season, making this, for now, a temporary measure.

The bottom line of the Hainsey trade is that the Penguins needed to do something. Without Maatta, Daley, Letang or Schultz, the Penguins definitely needed an experienced player to pad the defensive lineup for now, and Hainsey provides that in spades. Hopefully, Saturday’s game will illuminate whether or not he fits into the Penguins’ style of play.