Mega Roundtable Part III: Should Ray Shero Wheel and Deal at the Deadline?
The gang wraps up their epic chat with everyone’s favorite topic: the trade deadline.
Click here for Part I
Click here for Part II
Once again, our haggard crew:
Sean Conboy, Pittsburgh Magazine’s digital overlord and contributor to SI.com and Wired.
Rob Rossi, reporter for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Russian bias.
Sean Gentille, National NHL writer for The Sporting News. Supplied beers with expense account.
Chris Mueller, co-host of 93.7 The Fan’s afternoon program. Stupifies drive-time Yinzers with big words.
Brian Metzer, NHL.com/Beaver County Times contributing writer. Penguins Live Radio host. Show-off.
Derek Rocco, co-founder of the hilarious Pensblog. Lives in his own home, thank you very much.
Mike Colligan, NHL analyst at Forbes/The Hockey Writers. Could break down your life in 30 seconds.
Jesse Marshall, co-owner of Faceoff-Factor.com. Honk if you’re CORSI.
Conboy: It’s March 4. Your alarm goes off: Beethoven. You roll over. Your wife: beautiful. Your life: unreal. Your shaving cream: luxurious. Your bathrobe: cheetah fur. You look in the mirror. YOU’RE RAY SHERO. OK, deadline day. Wheel and deal and win Mario another Cup. Go.
Metzer: There’s a little known kid from Kladno, Czechoslovakia currently lighting it up for the New Jersey Devils. I can’t believe I just said that.
Rocco: There is only one man the Penguins can bring in …
Just kidding … but not really.
Conboy: 13 goals and 24 assists at age 41. Unrealistic. If Jagr put up those numbers in my NHL 14 franchise mode, I’d personally call up EA Sports and tell them that their game was broken.
Rocco: If I am Shero, my first move is to try and get David Morehouse fired. Second, I remember that my best move last year was Jussi Jokinen, so I try a smaller move like that instead of trading away Simon Despres or Derrick Pouliot.
Metzer: I’ll agree with that. I don’t want Ray to add just because he can or to make a big splash at the deadline just because he has the ability to outwit many of his peers around the league. Let’s not forget that one of his biggest acquisitions during the run to the 2009 Cup was a simple waiver claim that turned into Craig Adams.
Conboy: True. But. Obligatory: Winger for Sid, right?
Marshall: Ray Shero needs to find a replacement for Dupuis barring any sudden, phoenix-like rising of Brian Gibbons as a top line fixture. Beau Bennett’s wrists have haunted him since he left Denver, and the book is still unwritten there.
Conboy: Rossi has a good update on Bennett’s injury. The gist is that Shero had hoped to give him a shot on Crosby’s wing, but Bennett won’t be game-ready until after the Olympic break. That leaves Shero with three games to see what he can do before the deadline. How can you trust a 22-year-old kid to be a staple of a Cup run?
Rossi: Shero originally wanted a third-line winger to play with grit, preferably somebody with size. Then Dupuis was lost, and now he might look for a top-line fit with Crosby. If he can find the next James Neal or Chris Kunitz — a long-term fit — he’ll move a young defensemen to get it. But those deals always have other factors beyond just Shero targeting a guy. Dallas was broke and couldn’t keep Neal, so Shero pounced. Anaheim was in love with Whitney based off of his Game 5 performance in the 2008 Cup Final and had been chasing him for months. When they agreed to add Eric Tangradi — yes, Eric Tangradi — Shero made the deal.
Conboy: Ha. The fact that Eric Tangradi was responsible for bringing Chris Kunitz to Pittsburgh is proof that nobody knows anything. The trade deadline is a gongshow.
Metzer: That’s the thing with the armchair GMs. Case in point: Matt Niskanen. That might be the best trade that the Penguins never made. Who knew that wide-eyed kid who seemed a bit overwhelmed upon arriving in Pittsburgh was capable of becoming such a leader? Not sure the Penguins blue line weathers the injuries to Scuderi, Martin, Orpik and Letang without Niskanen being able to perform in all situations. People had him out the door this off-season and now he leads the NHL in plus/minus.
Gentille: Mike Cammalleri’s name is going to keep coming up; it’d be pretty hilarious if one of the staples of the “Malkin to the Kings” stuff wound up here eight years after those never-ending rumors. He’s going to get moved — he’s a pending free agent on a terrible team — and may actually be the opposite of a Brian Burke Player. He’s also playing really well right now.
Rossi: Shero doesn’t want a rental. For one, he’s told me several times that he thinks the price on rentals will be high this year. This is a hockey trade year.
Conboy: Does that have anything to with the Iginla and Morrow trades?
Rossi: Well, I think the organization feels that often rentals are playing for contracts instead of integrating into the team. When guys are going to leave in a year, there’s a chance the locker room will tune them out. Remember, most of the Penguins’ best deals, aside from Guerin, have been non-rentals. They really believe they have a chance find the next Kunitz or Neal this year.
Conboy: So who is that guy?
Rossi: They love Blake Wheeler, that’s for sure. They scouted him so much as part of the Team USA process that they already think of him as a Penguin. This is kind of Ray’s matra — guys being “Penguins players.” There’s a certain type of guy.
Gentille: Wheeler is a textbook Bylsma player; he’s big, a fantastic skater and at least theoretically capable of moving up and down the lineup. His contract makes him a long-term acquisition, which fits with Rossi’s theory. Evander Kane is probably a pipe dream for Pittsburgh fans, because he’s the youngest with the highest upside. His contract, though, is one of the better ones in the league, and everyone watching him last Saturday should’ve had a lightbulb go off.
Rossi: I don’t think the Penguins are as in love with Evander Kane as many people think, but here’s the thing: The salary cap is about to go up significantly. Theoretically, you could have James Neal and Evander Kane, two 30-goal scorers, for a grand total of $10.25 million in combined salary. That would be a steal under the future cap. That’s what many people don’t get: Shero resigned Dupuis with the assumption that he would become a third line guy sooner rather than later. Because the cap is about to rise so much, that’s what you’ll be paying for a third liner, about $3.75 million. The Penguins are about to have a lot of room to maneuver thanks to those Crosby and Malkin deals, which will become steals under a bigger cap.
Metzer: What’s the Penguins’ chip in a Winnipeg deal, though? Simon Despres won’t do it, that’s for sure. The main problem I see with any kind of Winnipeg deal is that they don’t really need what the Penguins have to offer — young, puck-moving defensemen. Winnipeg currently has Dustin Byfuglien, Tobias Enstrom, Zach Bogosian and Jacob Trouba.
Rossi: For Wheeler, you’re talking something like Derrick Pouliot, Beau Bennett and a first-round pick. Pouliot and Olli Maatta were essentially in a race to see who would develop into a complete player quicker. Pouliot got a lot better at the World Junior Championships as the tournament went on, and he can be a game-changing type player offensively. But the Penguins already have one of those in Kris Letang. Maatta won the race in becoming a two-way player.
Colligan: Wheeler is a stud. I don't really understand why his name recently popped up in trade rumors other than the fact that Winnipeg is struggling. From everything I've heard, he wants to be in Winnipeg (he wouldn't have just signed a six-year deal if he didn't) and I don't see why the Jets would trade a 6'5" goal-scoring winger in his prime. If a trade does need to happen, for whatever reason, Winnipeg will demand a lot in return. In my opinion, the Penguins don't need forwards that badly that they'd be willing to pay the price necessary to acquire him.
Conboy: Maatta for Wheeler, straight up. Does Shero pull the trigger? You’d be selling incredibly high on Maatta. Remember how good Tyler Myers was at 19 before the wheels came off.
Rossi: Hmm. He’d consider it. That’s a tough one. Wheeler is a stud.
Conboy: That’s titillating.
Rocco: I’m all jammed up.
Conboy: Whatever happens, Penguins fans should thank Jordan Staal. The assets Shero was able to acquire for Staal reloaded Shero’s arsenal. Don’t forget about Brian Dumoulin, who was also a part of that haul.
Rossi: That might end up being the key thing that sets off whatever chain of events happens at the deadline. The Penguins like Dumoulin a lot. They think he could be a second-unit power play guy in the future.
Gentille: Here’s another name: Sam Gagner. He signed a three-year extension last summer with a no-trade clause that doesn’t kick in until the summer. As Elliotte Friedman reported, if Craig MacTavish moves him, it’d come with a “soft landing.” Doesn’t get much softer than Pittsburgh. Gagner’s somewhat prone to mental lapses, but he’s a talented, versatile player who could play on a top-six wing or, given how bad the Penguins’ third line has been, at center. Edmonton is looking for top-four defenseman in return, and Simon Despres fits that descriptor.
Rossi: Shero would move Despres for just about any decent hockey deal right now.
Conboy: I like that Gagne’s only 24 — but another 5’11”, 200-pound guy? Just imagine 6’5” Blake Wheeler coming down Crosby’s wing with a head of steam. He’s exactly what this team has needed for the last three seasons. But it could cost them Olli Maatta. Good Lord. I’m officially jammed. This is why Shero makes the millions.
Rocco: Just trade Joe Vitale for a bag of Sun Chips, and I’ll be happy.
Mueller: Double J. Believe.
Conboy: Let’s do some quick-hitters before we all move on with our lives.
Dollar-for-Dollar, the Most Valuable Penguin
Rossi: Marc-Andre Fleury. For $5 million, he’s been their most consistent and valuable player, and his downright dominance at home is the biggest reason they are running away with the division.
Rocco: If we want to get technical, Joe Vitale is actually the most cost-effective Penguin this season. His salary is $575,000, and with 13 points, that equals out to $44,231 per point. That makes me sick though. So other than Jokinen, who is at $65,625 per point, I’ll go with Chris Kunitz. His salary is 3.7 million, and at 48 points, his cost per point is $77,604. Not bad. For reference, Sidney Crosby is at 14 on the list, at $183,615 per point.
Marshall: Matt Niskanen. At a cool $2.1 million, the guy everyone wanted to jettison at the start of the season, a guy viewed as a fifth or sixth defenseman at best, stepped right in and lead a very young group of defensemen into battle and procured above average results in the process. Brian Dumoulin said it best: I don’t have to wonder how to prepare, I just have to watch Matt Niskanen do it and take it from there.
Mueller: Yep. Matt Niskanen. End of story. Excellent when everyone thought he’d be traded.
Metzer: Marc-Andre Fleury has been a huge reason for their success this season. Though I still can’t get over his home/road splits, he has given the team a chance to win in almost every game I have seen him play this season. The guy is leading the league in wins and will likely break 30 with more than two months left to play. He is on a pace that will likely see him finish with career highs in almost every statistical category and the fact that he is doing that in the face of what happened last spring makes it even more remarkable.
Colligan: A guy who never played a game: Tomas Vokoun. Hear me out. Vokoun’s preseason health issue allowed the Penguins to use his injured reserve cap dollars to 1) hold off on potentially trading Matt Niskanen, 2) give Olli Maatta a shot on the NHL roster and 3) sign Chuck Kobasew. Three replacements for the price of one and zero goals against. I’ll take it.
Dollar-for-Dollar, the Least Valuable Penguin
Rossi: This is brutal because he’s now out for the season, but Pascal Dupuis at one point had one goal in a stretch of 20 games. And that was happening in the first year of a contract that pays him $3.75 million annually. The irony, of course, is that at $1.4 million each of the last two seasons, he was their best bargain. Oh, hockey …
Rocco: The least valuable, in terms of people you’d actually think should score, is none other than Kris Letang. At 3.5 million, his 13 points equal out to $269, 231 or roughly 10,000 pairs of designer jeans and bad hair products.
Marshall: I have to say Pascal Dupuis here. Seemed to be missing the pop he previously provided in other areas of the ice. Had a very large stretch of phantom-like games this year.
Mueller: I’ll say Brandon Sutter here, just to drive home two points: 1. I am an idiot who knows nothing and 2. The flashes of offensive brilliance he shows are tantalizing and utterly skew my view of what the Penguins need him to do.
Metzer: I know it’s only $550,000, but I think that money could be better spent on someone other than Chuck Kobasew. For a cap team who already has Zach Sill, Harry Zolnierczyk and a few others who could plug-and-play in the bottom six at a Kobasew-like level, why bother bringing him in?
Colligan: Agree with the votes for Dupuis or Sutter. Both had uninspiring first halves of the season.
Excluding Boston, the Penguins’ playoff Kryptonite would be …
Rossi: Anaheim or Los Angeles would be really tough Cup Final opponents, more so than Chicago, against whom the Penguins would be better suited. The East is a giant pile of flaming trash outside of Boston, and the loss of Dennis Seidenberg tips the scale significantly toward the Penguins.
Rocco: Detroit. Gulp. They are hovering in that wild-card spot. They haven’t been great this season, but that would be as bad a matchup as you could get in the first round.
Marshall: St. Louis. Any team coached by Ken Hitchcock is likely to employ the same strategies that have frustrated the Penguins in the past. This is a fast, physical team that is staunch defensively and has great goaltending. Stop me if you’ve heard that one before.
Mueller: New Jersey. I’d love to see them get to a Chicago series, which would be equal parts amazing and terrifying.
Metzer: Yep. Chicago. Even though I am dying to see that series.
Colligan: St. Louis, no question. They have everything needed to totally dismantle the Penguins: mobile defensemen, four lines of punishing forwards, three starting goaltenders, and a chess grandmaster in head coach Ken Hitchcock. Fortunately for the Penguins’ sake, the Blues will just be lucky to survive the Western Conference playoff gauntlet.
Conboy: This has been ridiculously fun. Thanks to our outstanding crew for their insight. If you missed Parts 1 and 2 of the Mega Roundtable, click the links below. Zamboni Time.