The Penguins are, by and large, an excellent team that should go far in the playoffs to defend their Stanley Cup. But that’s not to say they don’t need a tweak here or there. One of the glaring needs for the Penguins is in the faceoff circle. For a team that predicates their play on possessing the puck, they start off play more often than not needing to re-gain it. These are the faceoff percentages of their four centers:
- Matt Cullen — 52.3%
- Nick Bonino — 48.7%
- Sidney Crosby — 47.9%
- Evgeni Malkin — 42.8%
Crosby and Malkin are not going anywhere, obviously, so any improvement would have to be an upgrade over either Cullen or Bonino. But it’s hard to upgrade over Cullen (who’s out for 4 weeks with a foot injury from blocking a shot), so that leaves Bonino. I suppose it would be possible to get someone now in a trade while Cullen is out, with the intent to limit the 40 year old’s minutes down the stretch, but with Eric Fehr and his 53.4% faceoff percentage (in limited attempts), it would be a wash.
This then raises the question of — “Is it worth it?” to replace Bonino and disrupt a productive 3rd line in the form of the H-B-K line. Maybe, maybe not. It depends who’s out there and available.
Here’s the current top 10 faceoff guys in the NHL (stats as of 1/20/17):
We can rule out most of these players for one or two reasons: existing salary and their team is a competitive team. The Penguins have zero cap space available; the only way they are currently cap-compliant is by putting players on Long Term Injured Reserve (Dupuis, Dumoulin). The only player on this list with a potential salary that could be accommodate the Penguins (meaning trading them a player of roughly equivalent value that isn’t a core guy) is Bryan Little of Winnipeg, but that would entail moving Carl Hagelin ($4M) and someone else (Pouliot?) to balance the salaries.
So we have dig deeper on the teams that are most definitely out of it: Arizona, Colorado, Buffalo, New York Islanders. Arizona has Martin Hanzal on an expiring $3.1M salary that draws at 54.2%. Colorado has John Mitchell on an expiring $1.8M salary at 54.4%. Buffalo doesn’t have anyone else over 50%. The Islanders don’t have anyone that fits salary-wise or worth upgrading in terms of their faceoff percentage.
John Mitchell would represent an incremental upgrade over Bonino in the faceoff department and their salaries are virtually a wash. Mitchell had been a reliable 10 goal scorer in past years, but his performance has cratered to just 1 goal this season that has seen his ice time drop to just 12 minutes a game. The Pens would have to add a sweetener to deal for the Avalanche, as Bonino’s expiring contract does nothing for their long-term future, so perhaps the extra 5th round pick they conned Ottawa out of in the Mike Condon deal would do it.
I still come back to question of is it worth it, though. With Mitchell’s anemic offensive output, he would essentially be a faceoff specialist. There’s real value to that, of course, but is it a luxury the Penguins need?