With all due to respect to Ryan Kesler and all of the fantastic writers that cover the NHL, acquring Ryan Kesler would not solve all of the Pittsburgh Penguins' problems. According to Rob Rossi, Pittsburgh Penguins beat-reporter for the Tribune-Review, the Pens have already made an official offer for Kesler. The offer, according to Rossi, would "send Kesler to the Penguins in exchange for center Brandon Sutter, two 2014 draft picks — likely a first- and third-round — and the Canucks' choice of defensemen Simon Despres or Brian Dumoulin."
The trade would be yet another blockbuster on the resume of Penguins' general manager Ray Shero's resume. A resume that includes trading for Marian Hossa, Bill Guerin, James Neal, and Jarome Iginla among others. Last year, the Pens didn't just trade for Iginla, they traded for three other well known names in an attempt to build a super team so to speak. It didn't quite work as the Pens were swept by the Boston Bruins in the eastern conference finals. Part of the reason for that was the lack of scoring depth, among other things. Both Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were held without a point in all four games and the Pens scored just two goals in four games. Much of the same has been going on this year, as the Pens are 3-11 when Crosby fails to register a point. Except now the Pens have even less depth to work with.
Now, as the Pens once again sit as one of the two top favorites int the eastern conference, they are desperately looking to make another splash at the trade deadline. Because of a mixture of injuries and the salary cap, the Pens are not anywhere near as deep as they were when they went to the Stanley Cup Finals. The Pens third line, lead by center Jordan Staal, was one of the best third-lines in the entire NHL, posing the ability to play fantastic two-way hockey. Perhaps the best part of their bottom-six lines throughout 2007-2009 was their ability to provide a hard forecheck and generate offense through cycles in the offensive zone. That is something the Penguins have gotten away from thanks to changes in strategy and mostly because of a lack of talent.
The Bottom Six is bad.
Brandon Sutter, the current third-line center for the Pens, is by far their best bottom-six forward. After Sutter it's a huge drop-off in terms of talent and production. Sutter, currently has 21 points on the season, the next two bottom-six forwards, Tanner Glass and Joe Vitale, only have two more points than Sutter combined. Deryk Engelland, who has been moved to forward from defense for part of the season, is next in line in terms of points. Considering his salary, I would suggest that the Pens move Engelland, who can provide a physical presence, to forward permanently.
Right now, the bottom-six features two veterans that have looked embarrassingly bad as of late. Chuck Kobasew, who made the team thanks to a veteran tryout, has looked incredibly slow the last two games and has provided little to nothing to this team. His skating ability, or lack-thereof, has caused him to become a huge liability on the ice. During the season, the Pens also acquired another veteran player, Taylor Pyatt, from waivers. In my opinion, the Pyatt acquisition has been a huge bust. There was hope that his size and grit, mixed with his former ability to provide secondary scoring would help the bottom-six forwards out, but he hasn't. He's looked out of place for the most part and has a knack of taking really bad penalties.
Don't just take my word for it. Take a look at this article and chart from Tyler Dellow, from mc79hockey.com. Dellow's chart shows the ever popular corsi and goals-for/against for all the third-and-fourth lines from each of the top-seven teams in the NHL. As you can see, the Pens are at the bottom in terms of comparing third and fourth lines with the other top-six teams in the NHL. This has doom for the Penguins written all over it. Especially when you look at the Boston Bruins in comparison, the team that swept them last year, and is standing in their path once again this year.
Kesler Will Help But.....
Acquring Kesler will help the Pens a lot. He's a huge upgrade over Sutter, who is a decent third-line center in his own right. Kesler is a former Selke award-winner who has also scored over 40 goals in a season before. So far this season, Kesler has 21 goals and 39 points, which would be good for fourth and fifth on the Pens. As the very talented Mike Colligan wrote, Kesler would once again give the Penguins that three-center mold that was so imperative to their success from 2007-2009. Like Staal, Kesler would create a matchup nightmare for opponents. Kesler would help make the third line become an actual copontent line
Another reason Kesler will help is his defensive game. Again, Selke award-winners don't grow on trees. Staal was a finalist, but the fact that Kesler won the award in an era that has featured guys like Pavel Datsyuk and Jonathan Toews speaks for itself. Kesler can be a bastard to play against. He's a pest, a very talented pest who can go out and shutdown his opponents top line. Again, this is what the Pens have lacked since Staal left. On top of that, like Staal, Kesler is a wizard on the penalty-kill and faceoffs, as he leads the Canucks in shorthanded time and faceoffs won. Another area that the Pens drastically need to improve.
The biggest reason I'm in favor of getting Kesler, besides all of his attributes is he's not a rental. In fact, Kesler still has two years left. As Colligan pointed out, Shero wanted to re-sign Staal badly because he knew how important and effective that three-center mold was. Surprisingly, Kesler, who for what it's worth is a better player than Staal, makes $1 million per-year less than Staal, who makes $6 million per-year with the Carolina Hurricanes. Having Kesler for the next two seasons, along with Malkin and Crosby would be completely unfair in all honesty. Especially with an increasing salary cap, which will allow Shero to acquire a bit more depth at forward, which once again is this team's biggest weakness right now.
Even though the Pens will give up a lot in order to obtain Kesler, they'll need to get at least one more forward. Lets's face it, Pascal Dupuis' injury killed this team. No offense to Brian Gibbons but he's not the player that Dupuis is. Gibbons has done ok, but he's in no way good enough to be playing on the top line for a team trying to win a Stanley Cup. Kesler has played some right wing this year, but the point of getting Kesler is to play him at center on the third-line, especially if you're going to trade Sutter away as part of that trade. So right wing is still a need. Beau Bennett is coming back in 3-4 weeks, but he's been injury prone and is still unproven, especially as far as playing on the first-line goes. Although, getting Bennett will help as far as depth goes. Another internal move the Pens need to make is to place Kobasew on waivers and bring up Jayson Megna. Megna played well with his limited time up with the big club earlier this year, scoring goals, as well as showing good toughness and skating ability. Megna is good enough to play on this team every night, and should be playing ahead of both Kobasew and Taylor Pyatt.
That leaves one more external move to make. Since the Pens are giving up a good bit in terms of assets to try and acquire Kesler, they are limited when it comes to making another move. Two guys come to mind to fit the mold of being cheap but being able to play on the Crosby-line. Those guys are Brad Boyes and Alex Hemsky. According to reports, it wouldn't take much to get either. Boyes would be cheap to acquire, a 2nd or 3rd round pick, and his $1 million cap-hit is a steal considering that Pyatt is making more than that. Boyes would be a rental but he'd be good for a nice postseason run. Hemsky, who has completely fizzled out during his time with Edmonton would be cheap to get as well. Possibly a 2nd or 3rd round pick and possibly a prospect.
Going off of Shero's track record, it's very likely that he'll get the guys that he wants. He's one of the most aggressive general managers in the league and has made other GM's look quite silly in the past. However, part of the problem with the lack of depth stems from the fact that Shero hasn't done a very good job drafting at the forward position to say the least. This needs to change and the Pens need to obtain as much depth as possible now and going forward at both wing and center. If the goal is to win the Cup, more than Kesler is needed.
If this all comes true, the Pens could be looking at a lineup like this:
Kunitz-Crosby- Boyes or Hemsky