The summer of 2013 is one that has already come back to haunt the Pittsburgh Penguins.
After suffering a sweep at the hands of the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference Finals, failed trade-deadline deals left Pittsburgh without a first round pick in the 2013 Entry Draft, depleting the system of quality forward prospects.
They handed out massive extensions to two franchise corner stones: Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang.
Malkin’s was a no-brainer, but a stroke and bum wrist kept Letang out of the lineup for most of 2013, and now with the 27 year-old defenseman’s health in constant question, his $58 million extension could pose a serious issue if he can’t stay healthy.
The loss of Matt Cooke through free-agency weakened Pittsburgh’s bottom-six depth, but instead of going out and acquiring a couple of decent bottom-six forwards, former General Manager Ray Shero re-signed 36 year-old Craig Adams and decided to ink 35 year-old defenseman Rob Scuderi to a four-year, $13.5 million dollar contract.
Fast-forward a year, and new GM Jim Rutherford has started to clean up Shero’s mess on the third and fourth lines, but the Scuderi albatross still remains.
After missing 29 games with a broken ankle in his first season back with Pittsburgh, Scuderi’s play when healthy was so poor that many have called his signing one of the biggest failures of Shero’s tenure.
What’s more, he still has three years left on a contract that carries a $3.375 million cap hit. It’s an remarkably bad contract, one that blocks any one of Pittsburgh’s talented, young, defenseman from making the jump to the NHL.
Pens fans have been clamoring for Scuderi’s trade since the season ended to free up some much needed cap space, but what value, if any, does Scuderi have? Let’s break it down.
Any positive benefits Scuderi brings to a team are largely of the “intangible” variety. He was brought in to Pittsburgh to be a veteran presence, which is really his only asset that hasn’t deteriorated with age. He’s a very vocal leader in the locker room, and has won two Stanley Cups in the past six years, so if you’re a GM who places a value on that sort of thing (Shero did), then maybe you can stomach the contract.
Scuderi plays (or at least used to play) a shut-down, stay at home style of defense with an emphasis on penalty killing. Unfortunately, Pittsburgh’s system under Dan Bylsma was one that emphasized speed, of which Scuderi has none. He was a square peg in a round hole.
I suspect that if placed in a different system (the New Jersey Devils come to mind), Scuderi would enjoy a bit of a revival, but after what we saw last season, I’m skeptical to say the least.
Where do I begin.
Scuderi was brought in to provide an even keel on the blue line and bolster Pittsburgh’s penalty kill, however his presence on the ice had the opposite effect.
Of the eight Penguins defenseman who had at least 50 minutes of 4 vs. 5 penalty kill time last season, Scuderi’s 2.923 Goals Allowed/20 minutes (GA/20) was dead last, despite seeing the second-most PK time of any Pens blue liner.
If you extend that out to the entire league, Scuderi’s numbers are equally as bleak: of the 119 defensemen who played at least 100 minutes on the penalty kill, Scuderi was 115th in GA/20.
Their penalty kill was more successful without Scuderi as well, albeit with a much smaller sample size: 91% PK% without, and 81% with.
What’s more, Pittsburgh literally did better without Scuds in the lineup in 2013, finishing with a win percentage of 72.4% in the 29 games he was injured, compared to 58.4% in 53 games when he was healthy.
Scuderi was the weakest link on a penalty kill that was otherwise very good, and by far their weakest defenseman at even strength.
It’s brutal, to say the least. Finding a team to take on the last three years of the deal would be a miracle. Oh yeah, one more thing: he has a modified no-trade clause. If Pittsburgh wants to trade him, it can only be to one of the five teams Scuderi has agreed to. In other words: Jim Rutherford’s hands are tied.
$3.35 million for three more years is simply too much for a player of Scuderi’s standing, especially when you consider guys like Johnny Boychuck and Johhny Oduya make the same amount.
Obviously Shero didn’t anticipate Scuderi missing 29 games due to a broken ankle. After all, prior to that he hadn’t missed a game in over two years. But nonetheless, it doesn’t take a physician to realize that once you hit 35 your body is more prone to injury and takes longer to recover once an injury is sustained.
It was only a matter of time before it happened, and only a matter of time before it happens again.
So after all that, is a trade possible?
Anything is possible I guess, but it’s highly, highly, highly unlikely. The Penguins would most likely have to throw in another prospect or high draft pick just to net a low draft pick in return. What’s more, it would have to be to one of the teams Scuderi agreed to, all of which are most likely contenders, and all of which would most likely not be interested.
Maybe he bounces back and increases his value a bit and they deal him by Christmas, or maybe they just bite the bullet, bury him in the minors, and buy him out next June and deal with his dead cap space for two more years. Either way, it doesn’t look good.