It was an uneventful draft weekend for the Pittsburgh Penguins. With a league low four draft picks, including just the 46th overall in the first four rounds, the team wasn't expected to make much of a splash at the draft podium. Expectations were high that they'd dominate the news on the trade front, where the team openly admitted they'd be trying to add a top six winger. The weekend came and went without a trade being made, though not from a lack of trying. An uncorroborated report had the team offering up Pouliot, Kunitz, Scuderi, and a 2016 first round draft pick for Phil Kessel, which the Maple Leafs declined. Jim Rutherford was hailed for his patience by not forcing a trade, especially with so many options being available on the market. Like last year, there wasn't a need to rush into a trade on draft day, but unlike last year a trade wasn't forced through just for the sake of getting it done.
However, giving Jim Rutherford credit for "patience" solely because he didn't pull the trigger on a trade is misguided. That assessment is completely relative to what, exactly, took place this weekend. If the Leafs demanded Maatta and Pouliot for Kessel, and Rutherford responded by offering a package that consisted of Pouliot and a 2016 1st round pick among others, how exactly is he being patient and not resulting to rash behavior trying to facilitate a deal? In fact, that would seem to be the exact opposite. Rutherford is infamous for locking onto a player and doing what it takes to see that player in his team's sweater. From the reports this weekend, it seems like Rutherford had his tunnel vision trained on Kessel. Whether from a new found restraint, the lack of assets, the protestations of those at the draft table, or a rival front office that just wouldn't indulge Rutherford's self-destructive ways, the Penguins now find themselves in a position to regroup and reassess the trade market, especially with respect to what they can actually afford to offer.
The young defensemen in the system have been a source of organizational strength for years, but defense no longer is a deep position for the Penguins. If the team trades Pouliot, that will leave them with a likely second pairing of Ian Cole and Ben Lovejoy. That's a third pairing for legitimate Stanley Cup contenders, and one where a trade deadline upgrade could be a consideration. That's behind a top pairing of Kris Letang and Olli Maatta that has very legitimate health concerns. The Penguins need to ADD a top four defenseman already; this would put them in even more of a precarious position. The team can't trade Pouliot and gamble that free agency will fix the hole; it's beyond reckless and striking out in free agency would doom this team.
Phil Kessel is a hell of a player, and one who doesn't seem to fully get the credit he rightfully deserves. Pairing Kessel on Sidney Crosby's wing would form a dynamic tandem that would give the best of defenses fits. But it's just not a good fit for the Pittsburgh Penguins. The $8 million cap hit is a large amount for this team to add, especially when considering that one of their best cost-controlled assets would need to go the other way, and the trade would further weaken what's, on paper, one of their weakest blue lines since Crosby and Malkin's early years. And while Marc-Andre Fleury had a career year last season, he still found himself in the middle of the pack when compared to the rest of the league. It's enough to ask for him to replicate those results; gambling with a weakened defense will make the task even that much more monumental.
|Based on goaltenders with a minimum 1,500 minutes TOI|
The pressure to win will always be enormous while Pittsburgh has Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin playing at an elite level, but that pressure needs to be tempered with a healthy dose of reality. The last trade deadline saw the team shipped out numerous assets to chase a Stanley Cup with a middle of the pack club largely because of an unrealistic view of where the team stood against the rest of the league; it was a short sighted move that wasted assets that could certainly have helped facilitate a better trade now. It's important again to make sure the team isn't making another move that harms the future while leaving them well short of their goal.
At the end of the day, it'd be wrong to suggest a trade package including a player like Pouliot and a 1st round pick would be an over payment for Phil Kessel, but it'd also be wrong for the Penguins in the position that they're in. If the cost of a Kessel trade includes Pouliot or Maatta, which is highly likely, then the front office needs to explore the other options that are currently available. But while the patience might be a product more of other front offices than Pittsburgh's, it's still the right course of action for the time being.