Over the next few blogs I am going to go through the roster and try to sort out different tiers of players and how I think the team should handle their status moving forward. The first tier up today is the untouchable tier. These players could be untouchable because they are elite or they could be untouchable because losing them would create way too many problems attempting to replace them. Here are the players I am not contemplating moving on from for the 2021-2022 season.
He is Sidney Crosby
What does moving on from him for next year even look like? I have yet to hear a competent argument for moving on from Evgeni Malkin for the 2021-22 season . Even the arugments for moving on from Malkin after this year are lacking substance. Malkin started slow (due to conditioning?) during this weird COVID season and when he got his legs under him he looked terrific again. A knee injury wrecked his season. He fought through it to return and was the Penguins second leading point getter in the playoffs on one leg putting up five points in four games. He is an ultimate team player and still capable of being a top end second line center, which is probably his floor for next year.
He is a pending UFA and all indications are the Penguins want to give him an extension and they should. Remember all the talk about maybe John Marino being able to step into Letang’s role during his solid rookie season? It didn’t age well. There is evidence of Letang showing signs of decline this season, but how in the world do you replace him? You can’t. Much like Malkin there really isn’t a trade market that makes sense for the Penguins. Teams who would be interested in a pending UFA like Letang are going to be in the same boat as the Penguins. They aren’t going to be looking to give up impactful roster players. Futures for Letang is putting up the surrender flag on the era.
No polite way to say this so I’m going to be direct. Anybody looking to move Jake Guentzel doesn’t understand the sport. You are talking about one of the best goal scoring wingers in the NHL who is in his prime. Oh, and by the way, his contract value for the next three years is superb. If we are being extremely generous the Penguins window will last the next three years. What on earth could you possibly be looking to get in a Jake Guentzel trade? Another high-scoring winger in their prime with a great contract which lasts for the Penguins window? It is lunacy to bring Guentzel’s name up in a trade. It is crazy in 2021 people still don’t understand how hard it is for ANY player to
consistently score goals in the NHL
. The elite players go through crazy scoring droughts in the playoffs. Guentzel’s high-danger shot attempts per 60 were 15.44 this year in the playoffs. The year he led the playoffs in goal scoring (2017) he was at 9.44. He shot 20.0% in 2017 and shot 0% this year in six games. In 299 games he is a career 16.2% shooter. That is incredible. Yet, we have people looking to throw all that away because of a six game sample. Bonkers.
I am fully aware he is an impending UFA. I am fully aware the Penguins could “lose him for nothing”. So what? The Penguins are clutching and desperately grasping to their Stanley Cup window at this point. You can’t be looking to get rid of your top right winger because you *might* lose him for nothing at the end of the year. If that happens it happens. Treat him like a deadline rental you didn’t have to spend any assets on. He makes 3.5M and has been great the last couple of years. You aren’t finding better value in a trade and you certainly aren’t getting another player with similar outputs with term. What other team out there are looking to move a pending UFA who makes 3-4M and has done a great job for them? What hockey trade exists that makes sense for the Penguins and the other team? Listen, I can't account for other GM's being wackadoodles ie Hall for Larsson the trade is one for one
If another GM wants to be an idiot then sure, trade Rust, but if we are dealing within the realm of basic logic/reality... draft picks and prospects aren’t relevant right now. Jim Rutherford pulled the lever and put the Penguins on the all-in track when he burned through futures and assets like he knew he would never have to be around for the consequences. This is the reality of the situation. Bryan Rust is the Penguins best right winger and only makes 3.5M. I’m not moving him. Teams looking to move impactful players who are pending UFA’s don’t scream contender.
By putting him here I suppose I am implying I would protect him in the expansion draft and I would. Think about where this team would have been without Jeff Carter the last part of this season. Think about how many assets Jim Rutherford absolutely torched with gasoline chasing Nick Bonino’s replacement. Carter was a best case scenario trade for the Penguins and makes peanuts (2.636M) comparatively to his value to the Penguins. If you lose Carter via expansion you have just created another enormous hole for a roster with a minimal window for success. Carter was a steal, plays in all situations, and it would be foolish to do anything other than pen him into the starting 3C role next year.
If a player you like wasn’t on this list it doesn’t mean they aren’t good or don’t have a future on the team. The players I have on the list today are the players I view as having situations which make no sense to move on from. They would either create bigger problems or there are no realistic scenarios to improve the Penguins 2021-22 situation by moving them. Time is not the Penguins friend and creating big holes to fill doesn’t seem like a practical way to operate.
Thanks for reading!