Pittsburgh Penguins General Manager Jim Rutherford is adamant that his team has all the pieces they need to be competitive this season.
Sorry, but I don’t see it.
Don’t get me wrong, I love just about everything Rutherford has done this summer.
His shrewd business plan has landed the Penguins a quality group of bottom-six forwards, most of them on one-year deals, that should make the Penguins an all-around deeper and more well-rounded team than the one we saw in 2013.
And while his decision to deal winger James Neal to the Nashville Predators has drawn the ire of some Penguins fans, Rutherford made the most out of a sticky situation, getting rid of a locker room cancer and gaining some valuable pieces in return.
However, despite the improvements to the third and fourth lines, I can’t help but notice a glaring hole in Pittsburgh’s top-six forward core, namely a second-line left wing to play with center Evgeni Malkin.
As they sit right now, Pittsburgh’s line combo’s look a little something like this (or at least, how they should look):
Sidney Crosby‘s right wing is bound to flip around a bit in 2014. Judging by his comments after signing with Pittsburgh, it seems almost imminent that Steve Downie will see more than his fair share of shifts on the first line with Crosby and Chris Kunitz.
First-round draft pick Beau Bennett has had trouble with injuries the past two years, and while his performance when healthy has been underwhelming, his high draft status and natural skills would make him the logical candidate to get the first crack as Crosby’s wingman.
There’s a logjam, no doubt. But at least they have options.
Malkin’s line, however, is still a bit of a question mark.
Assistant Coach Rick Tocchet has been adamant that left-handed shots will play the left side, and vice versa. Sticking by that model, the only two left-handed shots with legitimate top-six skill and experience are Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis.
Could a Dupuis-Malkin-Hornqvist line work? Sure it could. After all, everyone remembers the year Dupuis had playing the opposite side with Crosby in 2012.
But still, I’m skeptical. After all, Dupuis is 35 and coming off of re-constructive knee surgery that saw him miss the bulk of the 2013 campaign. The chances of him staying healthy all season aren’t great.
Jussi Jokinen was a great fit on Malkin’s wing, and a guy that I would have loved to keep around. The the four million dollars a year he got from the Florida Panthers was way more than the Penguins could have or should have offered to re-sign him.
So how do the Penguins fill his void?
They struck out in free-agency, failing to land rumored target Nikolai Kulemin, who chose to take more money and sign with the New York Islanders.
And with no real quality wingers left unsigned, it looks like a trade is the only option left should Pittsburgh choose to fill the hole from the outside.
Bobby Ryan would be everyone’s first choice, however the 27-year-old sniper has one year left on his $5.1 million deal with Ottawa.
Ryan is far and away the Senators best forward, so the asking price would most likely be too steep for a rental player who many anticipate the Sens to re-sign come next summer.
One things to keep in mind: any trade the Pens make to bring in another scorer would most definitely involve a big name going the other way.
Dealing Rob Scuderi for futures would alleviate a lot of pressure, as well as open up a roster spot on the blue line. But it would take someone of much higher value as a centerpiece to get anyone of value in return.
Paul Martin‘s name has been thrown around, and while Rutherford has been adamant that Martin would be moved, his departure would make sense if the deal was right.
After all, Martin, 35, is in the last year of a deal with carries a $5 million dollar cap hit. The arrival of Christian Erhoff would soften the blow of his departure.
It’s a long way away from the trade deadline. Anything is possible between now March, and hopefully the Penguins can figure out the right mix come playoffs.