Penguins Latest Trade is a Shot Worth Taking
High-profile trades for well-established players like Jason Zucker include an element of unpredictability, but this was still a deal the Penguins had to make.
Jason Zucker wanted to get out of Minnesota, the Wild were agreeable with moving him and the Penguins wanted a Zucker-type addition.
Still, the trade the Penguins made this week was anything but simple.
Especially for Zucker and the Pens.
His Penguins debut on Tuesday night against the Lightning was the 457th game of Zucker’s NHL career, not including the playoffs, and the first he hadn’t played for the Wild.
“Very weird,” Zucker acknowledged. “I was looking down at my socks and everything getting dressed.
“It was very bizarre.”
There will be adjustments to make beyond getting used to the new color scheme, for Zucker, and for the team.
And that isn’t going to happen overnight.
Head coach Mike Sullivan and General Manager Jim Rutherford both referred to their prized acquisition as a “top-six forward,” even though Zucker was presumably brought aboard to play on the first line with Sidney Crosby.
But Crosby also wasn’t willing to commit to as much long term after Zucker skated on Crosby’s left wing against Tampa Bay.
“Regardless of who he plays with, I think he’s got a ton of speed,” Crosby offered. “I think he fits the way we play as a group.
“If it ends up us being together, he’s got a ton of speed.”
So it isn’t going to be as simple as lose Jake Guentzel, plug Zucker into the void.
Then again, it was never going to be.
Zucker can’t score goals like Guentzel.
And even high-profile trades for well-established players include an element of unpredictability.
The Penguins thought they’d hit a home run with Derick Brassard in 2018, but that turned out not to be the case.
Their previous regime, likewise, struck out with Jerome Iginla in 2013.
And in 2008, General Manager Ray Shero’s bold move was to acquire Marian Hossa. The Post-Gazette’s coverage of that trade noted, rather matter-of-factly, that the Penguins “also received Pascal Dupuis from Atlanta.”
The PG was far from alone in barely acknowledging Dupuis in the deal.
Who knew Dupuis would turn out to be the guy with staying power, the guy who’d become a Stanley Cup winner and the perfect fit in Pittsburgh?
So hold off on planning the parade.
Still, this was a trade the Penguins had to make.
The cost, which included a No. 1 pick and top prospect Calen Addison, might wind up being prohibitive, but only if the Penguins don’t win another Cup in the Crosby-Evgeni Malkin Era.
And that wasn’t going to happen this season without Rutherford doing something dramatic.
Not in an Eastern Conference that also includes the Bruins, the Lightning and the Capitals.
It still might not.
Figuring out whether Zucker is best suited to be Crosby’s left wing or not might be the least of the Penguins’ concerns (again, the Bruins, Lightning and Caps are all standing in the way of even getting the chance to play for another Cup). But Zucker will make the Pens a better team, even if the details of his role have yet to be sorted out.
One reason why is that skating ability Crosby mentioned.
That won’t achieve separation for the Penguins as much as it will help them keep up.
“The league is a fast league now,” defenseman Kris Letang emphasized. “I think a lot of teams play the same way. So I think every time you have a chance to increase that speed on your team, you want to do it.”
More important than that, Zucker has also brought “a defensive conscience” with him from Minnesota, according to Sullivan.
That’s something Sullivan has been trying to re-instill in his team ever since last season’s sweep out of the postseason. And that’ll have more to do with how long this season’s playoff run lasts than skating fast.
And then there’s this on Zucker from goaltender Matt Murray: “I hear good things about his character, so we’re thrilled to have him.”
That’s more than enough while the Pens figure the rest of it out.
Assuming Zucker remembers not to wear green socks the next time he pulls on his new black jersey.