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The Penguins Need A Defenseman…But There’s A Lot Of Questions

Matt Greene (left) and Francois Beauchemin (right) could upgrade the d-corps

If you talk to anyone about the Penguins for longer than two minutes, invariably it will come up that the Penguins should get a stay-at-home defenseman at the trade deadline for the playoffs.  I’m not so sure the modern NHL, and especially the Mike Sullivan-led Penguins, have room for the prototypical hulking, sluggish type that most people envision.  (Complete your Hal Gill flashbacks, shudder, move on).

If the Pens do get anything more than a depth d-man that will rotate as the 6th/7th guy, this leads to a whole series of questions.  Like…

WHO GETS BUMPED OUT OF THE 6 SPOTS?

I always like to use process of elimination in these cases.  Assuming full health, neither Kris Letang or Justin Schultz are going anywhere.  I don’t think anyone has a major malfunction over Ian Cole, either, so I’ll put him in the ‘safe’ pile.  That leaves Olli Maatta, Trevor Daley, and Brian Dumoulin.

Let’s see how these three guys look by the Corsi For% (indicating how they control possession when on the ice…even though it is teammate-based, this is the best we have at present).  These stats are prior to the 2/14 game and from Corsica Hockey:

Dumoulin 52.01%
Cole 51.49%
Maatta 49.25%
Daley 47.54%

Dumoulin has his detractors, but I’m not one of them.  I think he’s a very solid, non-flashy type of d-man.  For me, if there’s talk of upgrade, both by stats and eye test, it would come down to Maatta or Daley.  As it were, both of them are typically paired together and have been recently the 3rd pairing of defense.

If I had to pick one to sit in the case of a hypothetical trade, it would be Trevor Daley.  I think Father Time is catching up to him a wee bit this season at age 33.  Couple that with the fact that he’s an unrestricted free agent at the end of the year and he’s the more ‘sittable’ of the two.  Waiting on Maatta is turning into the hockey version of Waiting For Godot, but he’s still just 22 and there’s hope that he’ll regain his rookie season form that led to him getting the 6 year/$25M deal last year.

WHO’S AVAILABLE ON THE TRADE MARKET?

Kevin Shattenkirk ($4.25M) is the biggest name for defensemen out there.  He’s a two-way player and would improve any defense corps.  He’s on the market because he’s an unrestricted free agent at the end of the year.  The Blues are in the playoff picture, especially after they recently fired coach Ken Hitchcock (replacing him with Pens alumni, Mike Yeo), but their position is far from solid.  They could be interested in picking up a player or picks for Shattenkirk and looking towards the future.

In terms of more pure defensive defensemen, there’s a list of guys that don’t achieve perfect consensus, but appear on most people’s lists.

Marc-Edouard Vlasic ($4.25M) of the Sharks comes up frequently.  He’s under contract for next year, as well, but has a full no-trade clause.  There’s also the matter that the Sharks are again comfortably in the Stanley Cup contender mix and don’t have much probable interest in trading him.

Christopher Tanev ($4.45M) of the Canucks is under contract through the 2019-20 season and is just 25.  The Canucks are out of the playoff picture, but trying to build towards the future.  Tanev is the exact type of person they want to keep on their blue line.

Niklas Hjalmarsson ($4.1M) is under contract for two additional seasons with the Blackhawks.  The Hawks have been a little under the radar this year, but they’re still a contender, and Hjalmarsson at age-29 is right in his prime for them.

Since those three guys are all on teams with Cup dreams or future cornerstones, who’s left on the consensus lists that may be in play?

Francois Beauchemin ($4.5M) is laboring away on the Avalanche, who are tracking well for the #1 overall pick in the draft.  The 36-year is getting long in the tooth and is under contract for next season, so there’s a risk in having a 37-year old Beauchemin aging before our eyes next year.  His Corsi For % of 46.83 is not an improvement over the Maatta/Daley duo, but that could be as much a factor due to his castmates than to his own play.

Matt Greene ($4.0M) and Jake Muzzin ($2.5M) are both on the Kings.  Muzzin, however, is on the IR with an upper body injury he sustained last month, so his availability is not in play.  The Kings are barely holding on to the last playoff spot right now and have a real problem with scoring goals.  Perhaps a challenge trade of a winger for Greene (52.37% Corsi For) would be possible?  That’s a high quality foreshadow, right there.

WHO WOULD THE PENS GIVE UP IN A TRADE?

The Penguins have no cap space.  Like, literally, none.  They’re relying on Pascal Dupuis’s Long Term IR placement to balance the cap sheet out.  That’s why I included the dollar figures with the players above, as the Pens basically have to trade a player (or players) back of equivalent value.  They can’t just throw draft picks at it.

When you look at the team’s cap sheet, there’s one name that stands out to me as expendable enough in a trade, if you’re serious about upgrading the defensemen unit.  Carl Hagelin ($4.0M) is on the books for the next two seasons, as well.  He’s not been as dynamic this year (6 goals, 13 assists, 19 points in 51 games), although his speed has not wavered.  He’s currently as of this writing out with a concussion, but barring some significant setback, he should be back in action prior to the trade deadline.

Maybe the Kings would like his speed as a spark to a moribund offense and are willing to move Greene to make it happen.  This would be a 1-for-1 deal with perfect cap sheet balance.

I know some of you reading this would say to trade away Maatta and his $4.1M cap hit, but I’m not willing to actually move him in a deal just yet.  However….

HOW DOES THE UPCOMING EXPANSION DRAFT FACTOR INTO THIS?

Ah, yes, that pesky Vegas Expansion Draft.  All deals at this year’s trade deadline are going to require some second-tier thinking.  Specifically, teams are going to have to ask “am I willing to protect this player come June?” if that player acquired is not an unrestricted free agent at the end of the year.

The Penguins are most likely going with the 7 forwards, 3 defensemen, 1 goalie protection scheme.  At this point in time, Letang and Schultz seem like definite protections.  That leaves either Maatta or Dumoulin as the third protection.  If the Penguins acquire Matt Greene, under contract next year for a $4M cap hit, are they willing to protect him in the Expansion Draft, at the risk of losing Maatta or Dumoulin?  Or, conversely, are they willing to expose Greene in the Draft and risk losing him after just having him for a couple of months and giving up Carl Hagelin (theoretically)?

If I were the GM of an expansion team, I would prioritize high upside youth, so I would take Maatta.  However, I’m wondering if the Pens are going to risk exposing him anyways, as I’m curious if they have any buyer’s remorse for signing him to his deal long-term.  If they feel his development has stalled out, they may put him in the Expansion Draft and protect Dumoulin (or whatever d-man they acquire).

About Kevin Creagh (289 Articles)
Nerd engineer by day, nerd writer at night. Kevin is the co-founder of The Point of Pittsburgh. He is the author of Creating Christ, a sci-fi novel available on Amazon.