Many in Pittsburgh had a knee-jerk reaction following the long-term injury to Evgeni Malkin, calling for the breakup of the Penguins’ two-headed monster.
That’s right, people are calling for Malkin or Sidney Crosby to be traded, while arguing that this model cannot work.
Before we get into the specifics of a trade, let’s look at a team that has had some moderate success with a similar model.
The Chicago Blackhawks Are a Top-Heavy Team, Just Like the Penguins
Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Brent Seabrook, Duncan Keith, and Corey Crawford have a combined cap hit of $43,643,462.
Crosby, Malkin, Phil Kessel, Kris Letang, Olli Maatta, and Marc-Andre Fleury have a combined hit of $42,083,333. That is taking into account Maatta’s new contract that kicks in next year.
Compare the players any way that you want, but this is elite talent getting paid a lot of money.
There are arguments against this thinking, however.
— Adam Bittner (@fugimaster24) March 15, 2016
Where the Blackhawks have been much smarter is utilizing their own system. As the team has had success, and players have left for bigger paydays, there have been younger, cheaper options to take their place.
The Penguins traded their young players and draft picks to acquire older, more expensive players. Mostly rentals. Chicago has had their own cap concerns, but they have been smart about their transactions and have been able to keep their core while still developing their youth.
The Saying Goes “The Team That Gets the Best Player Wins the Trade”
Trading Cosby or Malkin, unless they get a spectacular return, is tantamount to beginning a full-scale rebuild. Forget a spectacular return, chances are slim that they get even close to equal value. Unless the Penguins get Alex Ovechkin, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, or Steven Stamkos in return, they are not going to come close to getting the better player.
— The Hockey Writers (@TheHockeyWriter) July 12, 2015
Remember Kris Beech, Michal Sivek and Ross Lupaschuk? Chances are good that you don’t. These are the players that the Penguins got in return for Jaromir Jagr. Yes, the circumstances were very different than they are today, but this is still a prime example of a blockbuster trade gone wrong.
Let’s say that the Penguins talk trade with the Canadiens. Pittsburgh’s starting point would have to be Max Pacioretty, Alex Galchenyuk, Brendan Gallagher, multiple high draft picks, and multiple prospects. Would the Canadiens slam down the phone (or just push the red button on their iPhone)? Would the Penguins even want this? This is not a video game, or fantasy hockey. There is no real win in trading Crosby or Malkin.
The Definition of Insanity Is Doing the Same Thing over and over Again and Expecting a Different Result
Names and faces have changed. Coaches, managers, players, trainers, all have gone through a turnstyle in Pittsburgh. The few constants have been Crosby, Malkin, Kris Letang, and Marc-Andre Fleury. But they have had not had the expected success.
Nobody could have predicted Crosby’s concussions or Letang’s stroke. Malkin blew out his knee, and Fleury fell apart in the playoffs.
— Michael Pityk (@MPityk_PIT) March 14, 2016
Can we say that if they don’t trade their core that they will remain healthy and perform? No, but at least in the case of Crosby and Malkin, they are committed to these players, and any success will have to depend on them.
Letang’s potential health concerns, and the state of the Penguins defense keep the talented blueliner an impossible move. The only one of the core that is truly movable is Fleury. With the emergence of Matt Murray, and the potential of Tristan Jarry, Fleury could be moved in his prime for a solid return.
Is Jim Rutherford the Man to Make These Decisions?
Like many who follow the Penguins, I have mixed feelings about the job that Rutherford has done as general manager. Obviously the Simon Despres trade was a huge flop, but he cannot be blamed for every poor outcome. Everyone loved it when he brought in Phil Kessel, Nick Bonino, and company. The fact that those players have not lived up to expectations is not his fault.
I’ve been a Kessel advocate all season. He is what he is. The problem isn’t that he isn’t scoring 40. It’s that he’s muffing prime chances.
— Mike Necciai (@Michael29Angelo) March 9, 2016
I can tell you that I was never a huge fan of acquiring Kessel. I was much more in favor of targeting T.J. Oshie, who is having some success in Washington. But it was still an exciting deal. The lack of production is on Kessel, not Rutherford.
The rest of the “core” aside, the players that you cannot trade are Crosby and Malkin. They are two of the best players in the NHL. They are the face of the Penguins. They ARE the Penguins.
All of this being said, a trade is not impossible. But it couldn’t just be a Home Run. It would have to be a walk-off Grand Slam in game 7 of the World Series.
Look back to history at teams that traded a franchise player. How did that work out for most of them?
Until next time.
Follow me on Twitter at @Greg_Thornberry
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Greg is a Pittsburgh Penguins writer for ‘The Hockey Writers’.
He is a Pittsburgh area native who has written for multiple Penguins news and opinion sites. In addition to hockey writing, he is also an experienced YouTube creator.
Greg started with THW in 2015 as a Blue Jackets writer, and spent time as a Fantasy Hockey analyst.