There have been rumblings and rumors in recent weeks that the Pittsburgh Penguins are looking to shake things up. With mostly early playoff exits since back-to-back finals trips and a Stanley Cup victory in 2009, maybe a big shake up is needed.
While they are similar caliber players, Sidney Crosby doesn’t seem to be getting the attention that Evgeni Malkin has in terms of trade talk. The big hulking Russian seems to be the one many expect to be traded if the Penguins decide to make an offseason splash. Perhaps the Sharks would be trade partners? Comcast Sports Net Bay Area’s Kevin Kurz contemplated the idea recently, in which he mentions a trade for Malkin centering around Brent Burns.
Of course, the Penguins would want much more than just Burns, a highly skilled offensive weapon that plays both forward and defense. Burns made the All Star game this past season, but he has below average defensive awareness as a defenseman; the Sharks have been steadfast in saying they don’t want to trade away young players, prospects or draft picks.
So what would they add to Burns to get Malkin? Well, second line center Logan Couture makes the most sense for Pittsburgh’s needs and for the Sharks.
Couture + Burns = Malkin?
Couture is no doubt one of the best second line centers in the league. The 26-year old very easily could have started his NHL career with five straight 30 goal seasons. Couture scored 32 and 31 goals his first two seasons before the lockout in year three, an injury in year four, and under performing wingers this past year prevented him from getting to the 30 goal mark. In other words, Couture is a goal scorer, and a darn good one at that. However, one can make the argument that the Ontario native has plateaued. He is a solid two-way player for sure but he doesn’t impact the games like true No. 1 centers can. His career high 40 assists this past season eclipsed his previous high of 34 assists. Those just aren’t assist numbers of a center that can carry a top line. Couture is a scorer but doesn’t make those around him much better.
Malkin on the other hand, well, his 42 assists this past season were a career low for a full season. Whereas Couture averages .76 points per game over his career, Malkin averages 1.2 points per game. Of course, nobody in their right minds would argue Couture is as good as Malkin, but the difference in production is bigger than you might think.
Yes, Malkin only had five more points this season than Couture, but in 2013-14, Malkin scored 72 points in 60 games compared to Couture’s 54 points in 65 games. Possession numbers also often favor Malkin, depending on which season you look at. Though Malkin’s possession numbers were actually lower than Couture during 2013-14, you see by the above scoring stats that Malkin still crushed Couture offensively despite having the puck less often. The point to be had is that while Couture is a star in the league, Malkin is a super-duper mega-star.
Now, some Sharks fans may argue that giving up two top unit power-play guys for Malkin would have the Sharks become even more top heavy. Everyone knows the problems the Sharks have had in terms of depth players over the years: lack of quality role players have been the reason for their playoff failures, not the performances of their core stars. While the concern of becoming more top heavy is valid, this would be a clear win for the Sharks. At the forward position, Malkin is literally and figuratively a huge upgrade to their top six over Couture.
With Thornton and Joe Pavelski on one line and Malkin on the other, the Sharks would have arguably the best top six in the league. The Sharks also look like they will have solid forward depth for the first time in years. They have top prospect Nikolay Goldobin set to make an impact either this season or next. Plus, they recently signed highly rated Finnish forward Joonas Donskoi. It is highly likely at least one of these two European based players fit into the top-9 this year.
Not to mention, Chris Tierney emerged as terrific set up man at the end of last season, finally giving the Sharks a legitimate third line center not named Pavelski. Tierney tallied 14 points in his final 18 games last season. Even if he doesn’t produce at that clip over 82 games, it would be shocking at this point if he doesn’t reach at least 35 points in that role. Furthermore there is potential for the Sharks to finally ice a solid fourth line of Barclay Goodrow, Ben Smith, and Melker Karlsson if Donskoi or Goldobin can take up a spot in the top-9.
Clear Win Doesn’t Mean Clear Loss
Yes, this hypothetical deal would be a clear win for the Sharks, but it could also be a win for the Penguins. They have had issues with their defense, particularly the health of Kris Letang. Burns can come in and replace the offensive production that Letang brings to the blue-line. While he did struggle mightily defending his own zone last year, Burns has proven in the past that he can be a much better two-way defenseman. After having a year to adjust back to the position, perhaps Burns becomes an asset at even strength next season.
In terms of cap space, Couture and Burns combine for about $12 million and Malkin’s cap hit is $9.5 million according to NHLnumbers.com. Depending on how you look at it, the Penguins get some cap relief in that they get two quality players for less individual amounts than Malkin. The Sharks also gain some cap space in terms of dollars but would have to replace Burns with cheaper players. However, the latter is something I believe the Sharks can do relatively easily.
If the Sharks were to make this deal, their defense could still be much improved from a year ago. Their blue-line struggled in 2014-15, but Burns’ poor play at evens was a major factor. Moving him gets rid of that weighing it down, and a couple of shrewd signings would make for a solid blue-line. Perhaps something looking like the following:
Marc-Edouard Vlasic-Justin Braun
Christian Ehrhoff-Zybnek Michalek (UFAs)
Brenden Dillon-Matt Tennyson
Now I’m sure there will be both Sharks fans and Penguins fans ripping me for this hypothetical trade, which as we all know, is a good indication of it being a fair proposal. Leave your thoughts in the comments section below!
Andrew has been credentialed to cover the Sharks since 2010 and the 49ers since 2012. He graduated with his BA in Broadcast Electronic Communication Arts in 2013 from San Francisco State University.